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Philip Hammond was bouncy as he delivered his Spring Statement, describing himself as ‘positively Tigger-like’ while announcing the economy had grown every year since 2010, however his speech gave no joy to the care sector.
With a more upbeat 2018 growth forecast of 1.5 per cent (revised up by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) from 1.4 per cent), the forecast for borrowing is now £45.2bn in 2017-18, revised down from £49.9bn.
But if anyone thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer was going to loosen his grip on the nation’s purse strings, he soon debunked that myth.
Ignoring demands from some MPs in his own party as well as Labour, to use the extra cash from tax receipts to ease pressure on cash-strapped councils and social care, the Chancellor instead took the chance to poke fun at his critics, who he likened to the Eeyore character from the Winnie The Pooh children’s books.
During his 26-minute speech, he told the nation: “Every Wednesday we have to listen to the leader of the Opposition relentlessly talking Britain down.
“If there are any Eeyores in the chamber, they’re over there. I, meanwhile, am at my most positively Tigger-like today as I contemplate a country which faces the future with unique strength.”
But while the Chancellor’s eyes were focused on the Opposition bench, it was the countless ‘Eeyores’ in the social care sector who were left feeling forgotten and ignored.
The National Pensioners Convention (NPC) attacked Mr Hammond for failing to mention the ongoing crisis in social care funding and dismissing the call for some short-term financial support for the sector.
Chancellor has ‘no idea’
Jan Shortt, NPC general secretary said: “Another statement from the Chancellor and another opportunity missed to address the terrible crisis in our social care system.
“The fact that he remained silent on the issue actually speaks volumes and proves the Government has no real idea of what to do.
“In the meantime, 1.2m older people are no longer getting the help they need, over 40,000 homes are sold every year to pay for care and all the Government can offer is more consultation in the summer.
“The key is to be bold enough to do something about it, and today the Chancellor has let Britain’s older population down.”
’Chancellor has room to deliver extra money’
The Chancellor confirmed a rise in the National Living Wage to £7.83 in April.
Employment is high. The OBR has said inflation will fall to the Bank of England target of two per cent by the end of the year.
Mr Hammond said borrowing is forecast to reduce to 1.8 per cent of GDP in 2018-19, to 1.6 per cent in 2019-20, 1.3 per cent in 2020-21, 1.1 per cent in 2021-22 and down to 0.9 per cent in 2022-23.
In response, Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, which represents independent care providers, said: “The Spring Statement shows the deficit is being reduced, so the Chancellor has room to deliver extra money for a long term solution for social care”.
With no red briefcase photo call opportunity on 13 March - as the Government has decided its one fiscal event a year will take place in Autumn - Mr Hammond had already said the Spring Statement is not a fiscal event in itself, so tax and spending announcements will not be made until the Autumn Budget.
How long will social care be stuck in tunnel?
“There is light at the end of the tunnel, because what we're about to see is debt starting to fall, after it's been growing for 17 continuous years", he told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show two days before his speech.
"But we are still in the tunnel at the moment. We have to get debt down."
For 2018/19, Mr Hammond said national debt will peak this year at 85.6 per cent as a proportion of GDP, before falling to 77.9 per cent in 2022/23. This year, the national debt will hit £1.8tn. The actual amount of debt is expected to rise from £1,783bn to £1,893bn.
So many listening to the Spring Statement were left wondering just how long the tunnel was for councils with costs cut to the bone, with at least one council near bankruptcy and demand for social care amongst those over 65 rising by 14 per cent.
But for anyone confused over what the point of Mr Hammond's Spring Statement was, the Treasury decided to get out its blue and yellow colouring pens to draw a pretty picture (see above video).
Mr Hammond used his Spring speech to appeal to the public with the words: ‘Judge me by my record’. Ultimately, as far as critics go, it is history who may become Mr Hammond’s harshest Eeyore.