Mar 23rd 2020, 16:27
Blog 23rd March 2020
In this blog, I discuss the additional funding that the government is making available for public services to manage the Coronavirus pandemic. I refer to: Coronavirus & COVID-19; Health; Social Care; Rishi Sunak; Local Authorities; Robert Jenrick; NHS England; CIPFA; Public Finance; homelessness; Shelter; Centre Point; Islington Council; and Education.
The Coronavirus pandemic is obviously having a major impact on all public services.
Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced a £5.0billion Coronavirus Fund as part of his recent budget. Of this, £1.6billion has been allocated to local authorities while £1.3billion has been allocated to the National Health Service.
The Coronavirus pandemic is placing increased strain on local authority services, including adult social care services and other services for the most vulnerable, including homeless people. The fund has been allocated to help to fund the responses of local authorities to the crisis and the increased need for services.
Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities & Local Government, stated that:
“The work of local authorities to deliver social care and other vital public services has never been more important than it is now – and will be – in the days and weeks ahead… That’s why we’re giving local councils £1.6billion of additional funding to spend where it’s needed most, to ensure they can meet the cost of the increased demand for social care, and continue to protect the most vulnerable people in society.”
The £1.3billion allocated to the National Health Service will be used to enhance the discharge process for patients who no longer need urgent treatment, in a bid to free up 15,000 hospital beds. This will be used to cover follow-on care costs for adults in social care, and costs for people who need extra support after being discharged.
Pinderfields Hospital at Wakefield, West Yorkshire.
Unfortunately, both the National Health Service and local authority Adult Social Care services were already under operational and financial pressure before the Coronavirus pandemic struck. Before the winter started, there were hopes that the incidence of seasonal influenza would be low because it was feared that the National Health Service would not have been able to cope with a severe outbreak. In the event, the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic is dwarfing the impact of any influenza outbreak since 1919. It is already being reported that the National Health Service lacks equipment that is necessary to care for people seriously affected by the Coronavirus.
Meanwhile, local authority Adult Social Care services were already looking at the so-called ‘graph of doom’ that shows that, by 2022 and with current projections of funding and need, local authorities would not be able to fund social services even if they ceased to provide all other services.
Eleanor Roy, Health and Social Care Policy Manager at the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy told ‘Public Finance’ that:
“We’re glad to see recognition of the pressures on local government in responding to this outbreak through the allocation of the COVID-19 Response Fund. This will provide vital additional support to services, which have a pivotal role to play at this time… The requirement relating to hospital discharges will clearly place a significant burden on already strained social care services, and it is encouraging to see that the government has provided assurance that it will fully fund the cost of social care support packages related to this.
“What is needed now is detailed information on how the funding for local government will be deployed – and more importantly when it will be available to allow them to act as swiftly as possible… Clarity on the additional resources available to those supporting vulnerable people will be vital as we go forward."
The homeless, who were already facing serious problems are very vulnerable to Coronavirus. The government has announced funding of £3.2million to help rough sleepers to self-isolate, but homelessness campaigners say that they should go further because rough sleepers do not live in surroundings where self-isolation is possible.
Coronavirus poses a significant threat to the homeless.
Homelessness charities are warning of the problems that rough sleepers must deal with. For example, the closure of tube stations in London, some of which close with no notice, make it difficult for rough sleepers to get to food banks. Some food banks face closure or have closed already due to reduced food donations and staff volunteer availability. one north London soup kitchen no longer allows people to ‘sit down and have a chat’ as they eat. Instead they operate a takeaway. The ‘London Homeless Info’ blog reports that soup kitchens could close with little warning, and that some are now offering less food than before.
Polly Neate, Chief Executive of ‘Shelter’ told the ‘Metro’ that:
“Rough sleepers face a whole range of physical and mental health challenges, they also are not living in an environment where they can self-isolate and they’re not living in an environment where they can wash their hands every five minutes singing Happy Birthday like the rest of us.”
Sevi Obakin, Chief Executive of Centrepoint, the Manchester-based youth homelessness charity, said that:
“These are welcome steps but there are still significant gaps in the government’s response. We are already hearing reports of housing offices closing leaving those who face homelessness, including those being made homeless as a direct result of coronavirus, with nowhere to go to seek support. This is unsustainable and will undoubtedly put lives at risk – the government must provide local authorities with advice on how to safely keep these functions running during the pandemic.
“We are also concerned that keyworker status alone is also not enough to guarantee the safety of our colleagues and their families: we need to ensure hostel teams are provided with personal protection equipment similar to that offered to essential frontline staff in similar sectors.”
The ‘Manchester Evening News’ has reported that:
“Thirty homelessness charities have collectively written to the Prime Minister warning that they face ‘unprecedented challenges’ which will ‘overwhelm them’ if the government doesn’t act fast.”
Some local authorities are already taking action to protect homeless people during this outbreak. For example, Islington Borough Council is providing temporary accommodation for homeless people to self-isolate. Other councils are following.
The closure of schools is causing concern about whether children who are entitled to free school meals will be fed adequately during the Coronavirus crisis. This is being addressed by Councils and charities. In view of staff shortages and the need to protect staff and service users, councils are also closing reception areas, housing offices, day centres and other points of service.
The Coronavirus pandemic is certainly underlining the importance of public services, the dedication of public servants and the vulnerability of our public services to a crisis such as this.