Friend or Foe? Truth or Dare? Social Care Tax Row Takes New Twist.

This Daily Express article poses many more questions than answers (Credit: Author)

Recently, I called for a grown-up discussion on tax as a remedy to the funding crisis in health and social care. Seems, fortunately, I wasn’t the only one, for now Surrey County Council has announced plans for a referendum of its residents on this very issue.

There are no half measures here – agreement is being sought for a 15% increase in Council Tax.

This is neither a surprise nor rocket science. Social care costs. Central government grants have been cut. Demand is rising. It seems to me entirely right and proper that the question is posed. Indeed, for those who see devolution as a way to revitalise our politics and re-connect with voters, it is surely something of an exemplar.

So what’s not to like? Quite a lot it seems.

The Daily Express went large on this. A big story devoted to excoriating the council, the decision and the concept of local democracy.  The ‘paper called in the Tax Payer’s Alliance in support.  The language used was “fruity”, you might say. “Bananas” might be more accurate – the TPA told councillors to “hang their heads in shame” at ripping off poor old Mr and Mrs Resident yet again.  Council Tax is a “huge burden” – well, try personally funding social care for your adult and aged relatives.  That seems quite burdensome to me.

UKIP (who hold 2 seats on the 78 member Surrey County Council) weighed in to say the referendum itself would cost a £1m that could be better spent – and why does government not take more from the International Aid budget.

With apparently no trace of irony, the Express ran a telephone poll on whether readers would pay more in council tax to fund social care.  After all, why back a real vote when a proxy poll would do just well.

We get the picture – this should be for central government, and they too should fund this at nil extra cost to the taxpayer.  The Express offed an editorial comment on this matter too – something along the lines of a half-hearted hand-wringing “something must be done”.

Whilst the ‘paper has sadly and predictably added a millimetre to its reputation and nothing to the debate, there are other concerns and objections to the Council’s plans.

These perhaps can be best summarised as acting in bad faith. No-one will vote for a 15% Council Tax hike and this is therefore grandiose buck-passing. The Councillors can then say “look, you didn’t want to pay for this care and that’s why haven’t prioritised it. There you are Government, you must do something.”

But I think we need to be indebted here to the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee, who researched the  dynamics of this carefully for her detailed piece published today.

It turns out that all 11 MPs in this country are Conservative – as are 57 of the 78 county councillors.  Council leader David Hodge says (a) cuts and demand means he has no option, and (b)he has the support of most of his group. Local Government finance experts CIPFA say he has the numbers  spot on, but according to Toynbee, the DCLG Permanent Secretary offers what might be topically termed “alternative facts.”

David Hodge has grabbed our attention and deservedly so.  We know that social care needs to be better connected to health care. We know that government should take a lead in both encouraging integration and ensuring adequate funds are available.  But residents cannot wait for someone to blink first or be reshuffled/voted out of office.

This is more than “truth or dare.”  It is closer to life or death.

This piece also appears in The Huffington Post

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