Comment

Social care – Labour can do it alone and they know it

Barnet Forum for Independent Living with a response to Barnet Labour leaders

Image of Hendon Town Hall - where Barnet Council holds its council meetings
Hendon Town Hall

The response from Barnet Council leader Barry Rawlings and cabinet member for adult social care Paul Edwards to our exposing of their shame tells us why they have failed to deliver their manifesto pledge to focus on “developing a new model of social care that puts the service user at its heart.” Professionals have stopped them, saying their pledge would be ‘unworkable’. Also, they now say reform is only possible alongside major increases in funding.

Neither is true. 

The change required to put service users at the heart of the system is as follows:

  • Instead of the council “demeaning service users by telling them what their needs are and then doing so to suit their budgets” as Cllr Rawlings described the current model in 2021, all needs the individual requires for their wellbeing would be identified and costed. The council would then be honest about how much of that need could be met within its budget. 
  • This will make it possible for the individual to have control over how their needs are identified and prioritised. Then the unmet need that would be identified will inform future budget setting. 

This simple model would deliver the Care Act’s vision to make lives the best they can be. 

The Forum has spoken with a number of legal experts. None has said the model would be unlawful. On the contrary, it is the current model that defines need to ‘suit the budget’ that is unlawful. 

The reform would not require a single penny for new services, in fact it could enable far better use of current resources.

It does, however, require our councillors to have the integrity to want to know the scale of needs in Barnet that cannot be funded or that aren’t being recognised. 

They will then know the size of budget and the best use of it, for all to have the best wellbeing possible for them. 

Cllrs Rawlings and Edwards state the reason the model cannot be delivered is because “The eligibility determination is a statutory duty under the Care Act.” 

But they know that the Care Act says that 

  • first ALL needs must be assessed against 9 areas of wellbeing (Section 9:4)
  • THEN once that initial assessment is complete, all needs are looked at for eligibility. (Section 13).

In a speech to the Adults and Safeguarding Committee in 2020, Cllr Rawlings set out how councils had not yet grasped this change to historic practices brought in by the Act. Eligible needs are not ALL needs. He believed Barnet should take the lead in fully delivering the Act as it should be. It is the focus on eligibility that results in resources, not the person, being at the heart of decisions. 

All councils work as Barnet does. This means there is no information about unmet need nationally. The gap is filled by academic estimates. As Cllrs Rawlings and Edwards note, these fluctuate wildly – from £7Billion to £14Billion. They have no credibility and have had no impact on budget setting at either the national or local level. 

Quoting these figures at the same time as claiming all needs under the Care Act are being met simply doesn’t add up.

Real information about unmet need is required to give meaningful credibility to claims for more funding. 

Cllrs Rawlings and Edwards say they merely pledged to “look at the feasibility” of a new model. This is plainly false. The pledge is crystal clear.

The ‘engagement strategy’ and ‘charter’ they refer to do not remotely change the model of social care. Resources, not the person, continue to be at the heart of an unchanged model. 

So why has Labour caved in? 

Over the past four years of challenge from the Forum and Labour, the council’s senior officers have shown an unshakeable determination to defend the status quo. Their actions are catalogued in detail in a published dossier titled Unveiling the Truth.

They have good reason to do so. It gives them the power over how needs are defined. They need this to

  • ensure spend matches whatever the budget happens to be
  • whilst claiming not a single need under the Care Act will be unmet

The professionals require only passivity from politicians, who can then reap the political benefits.

Labour in opposition believed the status quo to be not only unlawful, but a serious moral, political and professional wrong. 

Cllrs Rawlings and Edwards now say Barnet cannot do it alone. But they can. They are choosing not to. 

The status quo is a policy choice. It is not a legal requirement. Reform will require Cllrs Rawlings and Edwards to find the political courage to insist that policy is a matter for politicians, not officers.


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