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Local authorities need funding and power if they are to help citizens age well

Local authorities continue to struggle to provide adequate social care for their population. Whitehall urgently needs to publish the long-awaited Social Care Green Paper.

Writing a blog in The Times Red Box, our Chief Executive, Dr Anna Dixon, calls for central government to give local authorities more funding and power to help citizens age better.

You might be forgiven for not knowing that local elections are taking place across most of England. The news agenda is dominated by the ins and outs of Westminster party politics with hardly a column inch given to the local elections. Ignoring local issues in favour of national ones means the local elections suffer low turnout, and voters have low expectations of local politicians.  

With continuing Brexit turmoil and the possibility of having to run European elections, local politics are at risk of being ignored once more by Westminster and Whitehall.  

It needn’t be like this. May’s local elections are an opportunity to rethink our approach to problems that have life-changing consequences for whole generations and to rejuvenate local economies and communities. Whether it’s struggling towns that missed out on globalisation’s benefits or coastal communities that have for too long been at the periphery, local political leaders have the opportunity to create thriving communities for people of all ages. But they also need national politicians to give them the funding and devolved powers to succeed. 

Local authorities continue to struggle to provide adequate social care for their population. Whitehall urgently needs to publish the long-awaited Social Care Green Paper. It’s now nearly two years overdue. Without agreement on a sustainable funding settlement for adult social care, local authorities will continue to struggle to provide even the most basic care for those in highest need. As a result, much of the burden of care falls to family members and relatives. Ministers need to do more to protect people balancing work with caring responsibilities. For example, introduce paid carers’ leave and a right to return to their jobs if they take time away from work.  

In just 15 years, the UK will have 1.2 million more people aged 85 and over, an increase of nearly 70% in this age group alone.

Local authorities are developing local plans and want to rapidly increase the amount of housing. Some are foresighted enough to want to ensure that the homes that are built are fit for the future and built to accessible standards. Unfortunately, they face opposition and resistance from powerful home builders. Unless national regulations make these standards mandatory, local authorities will struggle to require developers to build homes suitable for people of all ages. While councils have been given funding through the Disabled Facilities Grant to fund the capital costs of home adaptations, unless the revenue funding to match is provided, delays will mean people continue to struggle to remain independent in their own homes. 

Many local authorities are committed to become age-friendly and want to create communities in which people of all ages can participate and contribute. Investment is needed in public transport infrastructure to ensure people of all ages can get out and about. Local authorities need funding in order to be able to maintain local community assets such as libraries, village halls and community centres. Without these spaces and places to meet communities will suffer. 

Brexit is a huge undertaking, but we can’t afford to wait around on everything else. In just 15 years, the UK will have 1.2 million more people aged 85 and over, an increase of nearly 70% in this age group alone.  

Let’s make sure that Brexit doesn’t just detract from local issues, but that the lack of action in Whitehall and Westminster doesn’t hamper local authorities from getting on with the business of creating thriving communities where everyone can have a good later life.

First published in The Times Red Box.

Transforming later lives – our strategy

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Anna Dixon
Chief Executive