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[Image: The Labour Party.]

Jeremy Corbyn has won one of his strongest victories over Theresa May in the last Prime Minister’s Questions of 2016 – on the battleground of social care.

Mrs May had lost an exchange on social care only a few weeks ago on November 23, so we would have been within our rights to expect a better showing this time. But she had nothing but the same lame answers, along with proof that she had not done her homework since last time.

Mr Corbyn said:

Social care is crucial. It provides support for people to live with dignity, yet Age UK research has found that 1.2 million older people are currently not receiving the care they need. Will the Prime Minister accept that there is a crisis in social care?

No, she didn’t – Mrs May is a Conservative; social care is not her forte.

So she produced the first of the lame answers we had previously heard – that the Conservative Government is investing in social care through the Better Care Fund.

The Better Care Fund is a pooled budget, initially £5.3 billion, announced in the June 2013 Spending Round and intended to save £1 billion by keeping patients out of hospital. As This Blog pointed out on November 23, the number of patients who could not be transferred from hospital due to inadequate social care has increased by one-third in the last four years, so it is clear that the Better Care Fund has failed.

The next lame answer was her mention of the Social Care Precept. This allows local authorities to increase council tax by up to two per cent in order to fund adult social care, meaning that this service has now become a postcode lottery.

Oh, and the Social Care Precept was announced at the same time the Conservative Government said the local government central grant is to be cut by more than half, from £11.5bn in 2015/16 to £5.4bn in 2019/20, a drop of 56 per cent. Meanwhile, councils were expected to increase self-financed expenditure (from revenue and business rates) by 13.1 per cent over the same period, making council services another postcode lottery.

Her comment about delivery, “The integration of health and social care across the country”, is of course an attempt to steal Labour’s thunder, as Labour has been promising an integrated health and social care system for several years but has yet to return to government and carry it out.

Mr Corbyn quoted more research:

The Care Quality Commission warned as recently as October that evidence suggests we have approached a tipping point. Instead of passing the buck on to local government, should not the Government take responsibility for the crisis themselves? Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to inform the House exactly how much was cut from the social care budget in the last Parliament?

No – she tried to claim the Tories “have been putting more money into social care and health”, and then a lot of flannel: “It is about delivery; it is about reform; it is about the social care system working with the health system” – so it is about stealing a Labour policy and ruining it, then.

Mr Corbyn simply came back with another fact – the one that proved Mrs May had not done her homework:

The Prime Minister does not seem to be aware that £4.6 billion was cut from the social care budget in the last Parliament.

His next comment referred to the Social Care Precept, although this could have been more clearly-presented:

Her talk about putting this on to local government ought to be taken for what it is—a con. Two per cent of council tax is clearly a nonsense; 95% of councils used the social care precept, and it raised less than 3% of the money they planned to spend on adult social care.

And he reiterated a point he made on November 23:

Billions seem to be available for tax give-aways to corporations—not mentioned in the autumn statement—and underfunding has left many elderly people isolated and in crisis because of the lack of Government funding for social care.

Mrs May tried to counter by claiming – evidenceless – that Labour-run councils could have benefited hugely by using the Social Care Precept.

This played right into Mr Corbyn’s hands, giving him a chance to emphasize the “postcode lottery” aspect of this Tory policy:

Raising council tax has different outcomes in different parts of the country. If you raise the council tax precept in Windsor and Maidenhead, you get quite a lot of money. If you raise the council tax precept in Liverpool or Newcastle, you get a lot less. Is the Prime Minister saying that frail, elderly, vulnerable people in our big cities are less valuable than those in wealthier parts of the country?

Attempting to respond, Mrs May suggested that Newcastle City Council had no problem because it saw “virtually no delayed discharges in September”. That’s nice – what about July, August, October? She then said councils like Ealing, that are not using the Social Care Precept, were performing badly (but did not provide evidence).

The claim had to be that the extra money provided by the Social Care Precept made all the difference – but then Mrs May destroyed her own argument by saying “That is not about the difference in funding; it is about the difference in delivery.”

Oops!

It was time for the knockout. Mr Corbyn said-

Actually, you can watch him say it yourself.

Mrs May had nothing to say, other than to rehash a lame response – again from November 23 – claiming that Labour’s 13 years of government had produced no social care solution.

Mr Corbyn’s answer on that day was that health spending trebled under the last Labour government – and the levels of satisfaction with the National Health Service were at their highest ever in 2010. Mrs May didn’t have a response then and she didn’t have one today, either.

It was a performance with which the Labour leader ended a spectacular year with a bang – and from which the Conservative prime minister probably slunk away with a whimper.

Adding insult to injury, the chair of the Health committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston, undermined Mrs May even further when she asked her own question: “Is it not time that, rather than having confrontational dialogues about social care funding, all parties work together – across this House – to look for a sustainable long-term solution for the funding of both integrated health and social care?”

When you can persuade your enemy’s supporters to take your side, you have won a convincing victory indeed.

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