THE INTRODUCTION of a living wage could leave maintaining the current level of social care in West Sussex ‘open to doubt’ without extra Government assistance.
In a recent letter Peter Catchpole, West Sussex County Council’s cabinet member for adult social care and health, said he wanted the authority to play its part in making the ‘national living wage’ a reality, but warned that without additional funding they would be ‘left facing some very difficult choices’.
This will undoubtedly impact on the care sector but will also have some implications for a number of other sectorsPeter Catchpole, West Sussex County Council’s cabinet member for adult social care and health
Chancellor George Osborne announced that workers over 25 would be entitled to a minimum £7.20 an hour from April, 2016, rising to £9 by 2020 in his emergency Budget last month.
This is different to the level set by the Living Wage Foundation (LWF), which currently has the living wage set at £7.85 an hour in the UK, and at £9.15 in London. This has already been adopted by some local authorities and companies across the UK.
According to the LWF, its calculations are based on the cost of living, while the Government has used median earnings.
West Sussex county councillors actually voted against a Labour notice of motion calling for it to introduce the living wage for its staff back in April, 2014, by a margin of 37 to 12 with ten abstentions.
After the vote, Labour county councillor Michael Jones, who put forward the motion, described it as a ‘missed opportunity’ and felt the Conservatives’ response had been ‘very disappointing’.
An officers’ report argued that since staff costs represented a large proportion of the council’s expenditure any increase in the cost base would be ‘unacceptable’.
But writing to West Sussex Partners in Care, an umbrella organisation for providers of health and social care in the county, last week Mr Catchpole said it would be unlawful for the council and its contracted providers not to pay the national living wage from April, 2016.
This would also have to be taken into account when it decides what rates it will pay for all forms of social care, he added.
The letter continued: “The more difficult question is the affordability of that additional cost, which is why I am pleased that you copied your e-mail to the West Sussex MPs.
“You will be aware that bodies like the Local Government Association (LGA) have already estimated that the NLW will add £1bn to local authorities’ expenditure by 2020/21.
“Unless Government provides additional funding on the grounds that it accepts that as an eligible cost under its New Burdens principles, it follows that the county council will be left facing some very difficult choices.
“Our forecast budget gap already stands at £124m by 2018/19. In that light, without Government assistance, the sustainability of the county council’s current service offer in social care could be open to doubt.
“Consequently, it would be very useful if we are able to work with you to develop a more informed understanding of the likely financial implications.”
Mr Catchpole also proposed to establish a small working group made up of council officers and social care providers to work together to look at the potential implications.
The letter was in response to an email from West Sussex Partners in Care. Mr Catchpole ‘welcomed the national living wage as a way of addressing the issues of low pay in some sectors of the county’s economy’.
He added: “This will undoubtedly impact on the care sector but will also have some implications for a number of other sectors and indeed, some Council staff employed in local schools.”
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