Sheffield councillor calls for better government funding on care for elderly and vulnerable adults
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Green Party Coun Angela Argenzio chairs Sheffield City Council’s adult health and social care policy committee, which oversees city care and support for adults with disabilities and special needs, as well as elderly people.
She said that 13 years of government underfunding of the social services that councils have to provide have left budgets stretched and the council looking at how to cope with rising demand for services with less money.
Social care for adults and children is now the biggest single cost that councils face.
“It’s undeniable this is the reason we’re all doing more with less money,” said Coun Argenzio, “We have to be creative in how we enhance what we do.
“We’re spending less by being cleverer and doing the right thing for people ultimately.”
Coun Argenzio said that the £9m funding gap isn’t the biggest one her committee has had to face, however: “Last year we had £26m to find, part of £47m overall savings that the council had to meet.
“That’s why we got ahead in terms of how we worked together. I want to give credit to my colleagues from Labour and the LibDems.”
Last year Coun Argenzio asked Labour colleague George Lindars-Hammond, to work with her as he had been the health and care representative on the council cabinet, before the cabinet system was scrapped following a city referendum. Coun Lindars-Hammond lost his Hillsborough ward seat at the May council elections, so LibDem Coun Sophie Thornton is now deputy chair.
Coun Argenzio also praised the work of LibDem councillor Steve Ayris.
They all work closely with the council’s strategic director of adults’ care and wellbeing, Alexis Chappell. Coun Argenzio said: “She is very determined but does not rub people up the wrong way. She takes people with her.”
Coun Argenzio outlined the key challenges facing the service. “We have an ageing population, which is inevitable. There is also a huge increase in people with complex needs, particularly learning disabilities.
“The biggest challenge we are addressing is changing the way we do things. We need to do things differently.”
That includes communicating better with people what services are available for them so that more early prevention and intervention can give people better outcomes without having to resort to more expensive services down the line.
Coun Argenzio said it has also been important to break down barriers between different teams of workers so that they can work together more effectively and cut out wasteful practices and repetition.
“The amazing thing is how we are all talking to each other,” she said.
Working to put services in place early to help people stay as independent as possible in their own homes is vital to help them live happier and longer lives, as well as less expensive.
“Going to a care home should be a last resort because people who go to care homes live less unless people make that decision themselves,” said Coun Argenzio. “They can live for years in the right context.”
Coun Argenzio said she tries to be hopeful and positive, otherwise her role would be too depressing. She has cut down her working hours by moving to a job as a financial officer at City of Sanctuary in order to cope with the workload.
She explained that during the Covid pandemic, lots of service packages were increased, especially for older people, hugely increasing the amount spent. At that time there was no option to do any reviews to see if the services provided were still needed.
It has taken time to clear the subsequent backlog of reviews to look at what people receiving services actually still need now, she said.
The total spent on adult social care services now stands at £293.445m, with £134m of that provided by the council’s corporate budget.
Coun Argenzio said: “Adult social and health care services is not a ‘sexy’ kind of topic. You only know about it when you need them or someone close to you needs them.”
A lot of work is being done on recruitment and retention so that the council can keep as many of its staff as possible, including supporting them to deal with tough issues. Coun Argenzio said there is a shortage of workers in the care system as a whole, so councils nationally are competing with each other to recruit the people who can both manage and deliver services.
In Sheffield, all management roles are now fully staffed.
She added that it is also vital to recognise the job that unpaid carers do and help to make that job easier for them, including what benefits the council can offer. The council is working closely with organisations that support unpaid carers as well.
The council works alongside community and voluntary sector organisations that deliver services: “We also need to fund them,” said Coun Argenzio. “If they deliver services for us, we need to recognise that – not telling people what to do but saying ‘what do we need to do together?'”
Coun Argenzio said one problem involves the NHS, which is moving to a longer-term early intervention and prevention model for services but at the same is being held to short-term targets, causing conflicts.
However, the way the government works provides the biggest barrier to service delivery.
“I’m worried because what we really need, what councils generally need for social services, is longer-term funding,” said Coun Argenzio. “What we get is a year of funding.”
Coun Argenzio called for government funding settlements to be made longer term and announced in time for when councils are actually budgeting for services. Often councils do not know until the last minute whether the amount of funding they are expecting to receive will actually be the amount they get.
“Central government doesn’t really understand local government,” said Coun Argenzio.