18th June 2012
A call for a national debate on Social Policy
The Chief Minister recently stated that tackling the Island’s social policy was one of the major challenges for this administration. This acknowledges that as the Government works hard to both hold back spending and grow the economy, the overall demand on the social budget continues to grow exponentially.
Taken as a whole, it is growing around anything up to £10m annually just as Departments are being asked to cut their budgets. This situation is totally unsustainable and capable of destabilising our best efforts - but why is it happening?
Minister for Social Care said:
“Looking at my department, which is the biggest spender, the increases are coming from:
The growing take-up of benefits. An increase in services to the growing elderly population.
A growth in unemployment benefits. The progressively expanding public sector housing deficit.
An increase demand in a range of important adult and children and family services.
By way of an indicative comparison, the cost of Health and Social Services expressed as a percentage of total departmental spending in 2007/2008 was approximately 44% yet on current policies it is anticipated this would rise to around 64% by 2015/2016, left unaddressed this would ‘crowd out’ a whole swathe of spending in other departments and seriously damage our ability to rebalance the national budget. (I have shown the Health and Social Care Departments together here simply because in 2007/2008 they were still one combined entity).
Mindful of the serious nature of this situation, the Council of Ministers have declared that dealing with this must be a key policy priority and my Department has been charged with the task of bringing social spending back into balance whilst at the same time fully protecting the truly vulnerable, engaging in a significant re-enablement strategy and ensuring outcomes across the service are seen by the public as both fair and equitable.
This is no small task and to that end my officers are heavily involved in a thorough ongoing and wide ranging review of current policies within the Department as well as being engaged in a joint working party with Treasury officials and these work streams are well under way.
To deliver on this remit, to overcome the problems and inadequacies inherent in the current system, will require fresh thinking and a new approach, but crucially it will also be extremely important to achieve the full engagement of the people of the Isle of Man in the process.
Accordingly, once the principle architecture of the policies has been matured sufficient to bring it into the public arena, I intend to initiate a major public debate. I expect to be able to start the process further into the summer and for the debate to continue on into the autumn so that everyone who wishes to do so can express their views prior to a full Tynwald debate which I hope to take to the December sitting. I do hope once this debate starts people will get involved.
In closing I wish to thank all those who responded to that element of our policy formation process which is running somewhat ahead of the rest – namely the Housing Policy Review consultation. I am extremely pleased to say that as it closes, over one thousand responses have been received and are now being carefully considered."