The way elderly residents currently pay for social care in England is “fundamentally immoral”, the former leader of St Helens Council said during a heated debate.
Currently, publicly funded adult social care is means-tested and primarily funded through local government.
Residents in St Helens pay for this via an adult social care precept, which is worked into their council tax bill.
During the Spending Review last week, the government said it would allow councils to increase the precept by 2 per cent to help raise an additional £500 million.
A heated debate on the issue of adult social care funding took place at St Helens Council’s audit and financial monitoring overview and scrutiny panel on Tuesday.
It began when Labour’s Michelle Sweeney questioned Jon Ridgeon, the council’s business support manager, about the impact of a 2 per cent precept increase.
Mr Ridgeon said the increase would not address current budget pressures, adding that the government’s long-delayed social care green paper needed to be brought forward to tackle some of the council’s underlining issues.
Tory councillor Rob Reynolds then brought up the council’s decision in July to invest £500,000 from its reserves to boost grassroots Rugby League in St Helens.
Coun Reynolds asked Mr Ridgeon, who is an officer employed to implement policy, whether those funds could have been used to fund adult social care instead.
Labour’s Derek Long, chairman of the scrutiny panel, waded into the debate, calling the current situation around adult social care funding a “national scandal”.
Coun Long said: “I do think there is something fundamentally immoral with the approach that assumes that areas should charge their residents regardless of their abilities to pay for their care.
“There is something fundamentally wrong with that because the National Health Service doesn’t operate on that basis – we fund the National Health Service through taxation – and I think we should fund social care through taxation on an equal basis.
“And to make the assumption that people who don’t have resources should therefore pay more money to pay for their own care is fundamentally immoral.
“I would hope that we have a rapid change in the administration so that we finish up with a situation whereby social care is paid for out of public taxation.”
At this point a visibly irate Coun Reynolds interrupted the scrutiny panel chairman.
Coun Reynolds said: “Excuse me, are we not diverging away from the officer’s responsibility here?
“And if you wanted a change of administration, your party’s just had the opportunity to vote for a general election twice and failed to do so.”
Coun Long responded: “I’m sorry Coun Reynolds – you started it.”
The former council leader then doubled down on his previous comments.
Coun Long said: “In terms of the approach, there is something fundamentally immoral with charging the residents of St Helens, who through the labour of their sweat supported this country through the Second World War and all the way through the trials and tribulations we’ve had over the last 60 or 70 years.
“I think when you reach a point of being of mature age you should not be scrambling around to pay additional money to cover care you paid in for when you were younger.”
Coun Reynolds interjected again, prompting a brief back and forth exchange between the pair before Coun Long stamped his authority as chairman.
The West Park councillor said: “Excuse me Coun Reynolds, I’m the chair of this committee. You’re interrupting me. I’ve let you speak all the way through this.
“I represent he residents of West Park, many of whom are aged.
“Many of whom do not deserve the responsibility of paying for their own care having contributed all that they have done in terms of their lifetimes work to this country, to suddenly find that the country is pulling up the ladder and refusing to support them appropriately in their old age.
“And I’m sorry, I think that’s immoral. If you’re comfortable with that, that’s fine. But I think that’s immoral and I’m saying so in terms of this.”
The former council leader insisted he was not making any other party-political points, which prompted a snigger from Coun Reynolds.
Coun Long continued: “I do recognise there are enormous difficulties in terms of working out and dealing with social care budgets, but we can’t duck this.
“We have to deal with this, and we have to deal with it sooner rather than later.
“And if the current administration is not going to deal with it – and you can’t say they haven’t had opportunities – you’ve been in power for ten years now, ten years of opportunities to deal with it.
“If they aren’t going to deal with it then I would hope somebody else comes in who are going to deal with it in a more sensitive way for the people of St Helens, for the people I represent.”
Keen to have the last word on the matter, Coun Reynolds said: “Can I equally point out Labour had the preceding 13 years to do something about it and failed to do so.
“And have just had the opportunity to call a general election twice and again, failed to do so.”