By Graham Smith
Cornwall Council is considering the introduction of means-testing its children’s services, forcing families to explain why they cannot pay for help from the private sector before offering assistance from County Hall.
The move is outlined in the council’s “One Vision” plan for children and young people, a consultation document published last month to describe how the council and NHS Kernow might work together in future.
The services cover a wide range of support for young mothers and mothers-to-be, and include help for pre-school children and health visiting. The merger means the council is grabbing the opportunity to introduce charges for NHS services which had previously been free. It also suggests what might be in store if the council succeeds in its ambition to take over all health commissioning in Cornwall under any of the various “Accountable Care” models.
The council’s website says: “One Vision sets the foundation for which we will shape the future integration of education, health and social care services for children, young people and their families in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.
“It is an ambitious plan but, by bringing together all of the people and services that work with and support children and young people, we can break down barriers that can prevent each and every child and young person from being safe, healthy and have equal chances in accessing all available opportunities to achieve brighter futures.”
Cornwall’s children services are currently rated as “good” by Ofsted, despite being one of the lowest-spending authorities in Britain. The amount spent on children in Cornwall has been slashed by 30% since 2010. The cuts were started under a Conservative-led administration but have been continued by a Liberal Democrat-Independent coalition. Last year’s budget imposed a further £6 million cuts.
Last year the council also began the process of privatising its children’s services and started considering “Alternative Delivery Models” – of which the favourite appeared to be a not-for-profit arms-length company, owned by the council. Some other local authorities have gone even further, outsourcing children’s services to tax-dodging private companies like Virgin. Council chiefs in Truro now appear to be backing away from these sorts of models, and next week will suggest an in-house Integrated Children’s Services Directorate instead.
Page 21 of the 52-page One Vision document considers “funding opportunities” and talks of where the money might come from. Officials want to encourage even more support from “the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector” but it is talk of means-testing which has already triggered a fierce row on social media.
The document says the council could “Introduce means tested charging for a range of family support services….(and) …Increase take up of traded services to schools and colleges.”
The current system for funding social care throughout the UK has its origins in the 1948 National Assistance Act. But unlike the creation of the National Health Service, which was funded through general taxation was free at the point of use, National Assistance has always been means-tested.
The merger of the two systems in Cornwall could have been seen as an opportunity to make all children’s services funded on an NHS model, free of means-testing. But instead the council is now steering firmly towards a means-testing model, which has always been controversial because of its connotations with degrading inquiries and medieval Poor Laws.