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Public spending on adult social care in England

IFS Briefing Note BN200

Key findings

- Local authorities are responsible for co-funding care services for adults who cannot afford to meet their care needs. In 2015–16, they spent £16.8 billion in England on these services.

- Local authority spending on adult social care in England fell 8% in real terms between 2009–10 and 2016–17, but was protected relative to spending on other local authority services.

- The population has been growing, so spending on adult social services per adult fell by 13.5% in England over the same period. This doesn’t take into account that the population is ageing, which will have put additional pressure on adult social care services.

- Cuts have been greatest where spending, and needs, were previously highest because of how the allocation of grants from central to local government has worked in the last few years.

- Under current plans, councils are set to receive a growing pot of funding intended for social care, which could be worth £5.4 billion in 2019–20 if councils make maximum use of powers to raise council tax.

- These new funds potentially give councils enough money to reverse by 2019–20 all the cuts that have been made to social care since 2009–10: spending in 2019–20 could be 3.2% higher than it was in 2009–10 (but still 4.8% lower per adult). This is conditional on local authorities choosing to raise the funds and using them for social care.

- The current government has delayed the implementation of reforms to social care funding proposed in 2011 by the Dilnot Commission, and instead provided short-term injections of funding for the current system. The problems identified by the commission remain. Even if an incoming government does not attempt wider reform, planned reforms to local government funding mean that it is crucial to consider whether our expectations of the social care system are consistent with funding these services through local taxation.