Jane Lock, Somerset County Council’s Leader of the Opposition, has weighed into the debate following the Panorama programme on Somerset’s social care crisis by describing the situation as “one created nationally by the Government but made far worse by short-sighted thinking at a local level”.
“The programme was a searing depiction of the daily suffering of some of the most vulnerable people in our society,” she says, “and an indictment of the way social care has been neglected by the Conservatives ever since they came to power – the sharp end of a disastrous austerity policy that has left our nation poorer, sicker and more divided.
“It was a very thoughtful and powerful depiction of the challenges faced here and the appalling effects of starving a vital service of funds year after year…. the tragic impact that is making on the lives of vulnerable people and those who care for them.
“In it, Panorama recognised that adult social care in Somerset was short of £9million last year – and why is that? In large part, because Somerset Conservatives froze Council tax for six years following 2010 - which has left the base budget short of £24 million a year.
“Somerset was the first County to freeze Council Tax (before it was Government policy) and the last one to drop the freeze. With the exception of Northamptonshire, which has problems of its own, no other authority is in such dire straits as Somerset.
“It's no good for Council Leader David Fothergill, as he does in the programme and has done since, to blame the Lib Dems for being part of a coalition government that voted in a council tax freeze. We subsequently supported the Conservatives at a national level when they decided that it was time to lift the freeze.
“The Conservative-led council here in Somerset decided to carry on gung-ho with the freeze, and that is why Somerset is ahead of the curve on making cuts.
“As admirable as it was for Mr Fothergill to invite the BBC in and see the situation from all angles, his laments that the Government has let him down won’t wash.
“They have – literally - made a drama out of crisis.”
But says Jane Lock, blame most also lie with the Conservative-led Government’s continued reduction in support of local authorities at a time of rising demand for adult care services – and their inaction to deliver a long-term solution.
“Watching this crisis unfold has been like watching a train come off the tracks in slow motion… it might continue going forwards for a time but eventually it is going to crash.
“One of the first things David Cameron did on becoming Prime Minister was to set up the Dilnot Commission on Funding of Care & Support – and then promptly ignored the findings. That reported almost eight years ago and offered a way forward to provide fair and adequate funding. Ever since then, the issue has been kicked down the road time and again.”
Even if the long-promised Green Paper appeared tomorrow, she says, it would take years for those receiving care to see any improvements.
“This is a very large tanker that won’t be turned around quickly by policy changes. It requires a very large lump of money to be pumped into the system now.
“However, with the Government totally preoccupied by Brexit and the internecine warfare within the Tory Party created by the leadership contest, I have very little hope that this will happen.
“Every day that passes, more and more people are being left neglected and without the vital services they need. Every day that passes, the social care crisis puts even more pressure on an already overwhelmed NHS.
“It could have been very different for residents here in Somerset and I feel devastated for the people who depend on the County’s services, our staff and the officers who do their very best in difficult circumstances not of their making.”