Skip to navigation Skip to main content
Jeremy Cooper

Social care precept: The local implications of a national debate


Yesterday it was reported that Theresa May is considering allowing councils to increase the social care precept to cover the cost of adult social care. As the details emerge, there will be lots of debate about the pros and cons of the policy.

I suspect much of the debate will be about two issues:

  1. Frustration that however much it could raise, it will not cover the adult social care funding gap. “Too little, too late” has become an almost universal response from commentators and will still be true.
  2. The unfairness of the distribution. Those with a low council tax base will benefit much less.

While both are absolutely valid criticisms, my worry is that they detract from actually getting on and making the most of the policy locally.

Up until now, for reasons outlined above, the sector has been ambivalent to the social care precept.  However, despite reservations, all but eight areas opted to take the precept. After years of 2% cap on council tax, this was completely blown this year with no national headlines. The public seemingly have accepted the argument. I can’t think of any other new (almost) national tax that has had as little resistance. As Alastair Burt, the social care minister who oversaw it’s introduction said “I haven’t received a single letter complaining about the increase in council tax that has already come in” (quoted in the Times, 12th December).

If, as is being reported, the cap for the precept is raised to 3% or above, councils will have significant work to do. There will be two main parts to this:

  1. Opening a much more active dialogue with citizens about what they are prepared to pay for social care. Only two councils this year opted for a figure other than the 2% allowed. It is unlikely to be a binary decision this time around.
  2. Working hard on the numbers. What does sustainable social care actually cost in local areas? Councils have said they don’t have enough, but what percentage extra will actually make a difference and what will councils do with it?

3% precept increase worth to each council per 100,000 of the population (2016 figures)

Top 20:

Top 10 3%

Bottom 20:

Bottom 10 3%

The full list is available here.

Managing the politics and the engagement of the precept could be a distraction from the important work that is needed to manage demand, promote independence and deliver savings.

However, this extra work is also something the sector has been calling for: The chance to change the political and public debate about social care. The social care social contract has already started to shift more than we have realised. For councils that get this right, the precept is the opportunity to give the social care social contract a big shove. Councils that get this wrong will be dealing with a local political storm with adult social care firmly at the centre.

Other relevant insight

It’s Time to Care!

The NHS Time for Care scheme will be fully rolled out over the next three years following a successful pilot, but what is the extent of avoidable demand? I share my views on this much needed scheme.

April 17, 2019

Ealing’s ASC placement spend down 5% – how did they do it?

The second instalment of our EDGEWORK Series – launched today – is a guide to Primed Performance Management (PPM), and includes a case study detailing how the use of PPM in our work with Ealing Council helped them to reduce costs and improve outcomes.

April 11, 2019

New Children’s Commissioner report highlights a national scandal

'Early access to mental health support' report shows that there is insufficient lower level preventative support available

April 10, 2019


Sign up for the latest thinking on delivering sustainable change and better public services

No spam; unsubscribe easily at any time. Learn more in our Privacy Policy.