Disability Benefits and Social Care

Part of Opposition Day — [2nd Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 4:08 pm on 20th June 2012.

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Photo of Paul Burstow Paul Burstow The Minister of State, Department of Health 4:08 pm, 20th June 2012

I cannot give way during this debate. A question was asked about whether Professor Harrington will continue to undertake reviews. He will be conducting a third and final review—the legislation commits to two further reviews—but I think that after three reviews he gets time off for good behaviour. The Government are not telling him to go—if he wanted to stay, we would be happy for him to do so. The reality is that he has done a good piece of work on behalf of this Government and we want to make sure that that is followed through.

Ian Lavery asked a number of questions, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham and others, about Remploy. Let me be clear about the consultation process: the objective is to preserve jobs. We made a number of announcements, on wage subsidies and on the £10,000 to support employee-led bids. We did that in response to expressions of interest that we have already received. Discussions have taken place between Remploy and bidders, as part of the normal commercial process. My hon. Friend asked about social enterprise businesses, and there has been engagement with them. The whole process will run for five and a half months. The previous Government’s modernisation plan was meant to turn this sector around, but we still face a £68 million loss, which is why we are making the changes that we are having to make now. My hon. Friend asked whether the consultation report will be published. Yes, it will. We are also making sure that when individual discussions are taking place with employees, there is a discussion about the contribution that the £8 million support package constitutes. The hon. Gentleman also asked a question about the accrued rights of existing members of schemes, and I can assure him that those will be protected.

Mr Doran made a very good point about independent advisory groups, and there will be one to examine all the business plans and advise the Remploy board prior to decisions being made about those plans. I also understand the importance of ensuring that any conflicts of interest are carefully handled, and my ministerial colleagues at the Department are certainly very focused on that.

I am the Minister responsible for social care and so I want to address those parts of the debate. We should be honest: successive Governments have failed to tackle social care. In the past 13 years, in a time of plenty, Labour failed to get a grip on the issue. We have a system in this country governed by laws that were written in the 1940s and look back to Poor Law principles. Social care and social work should enable disabled people, older people and their carers to live the lives they want to and that is why we will shortly set out a comprehensive overhaul of social care law in this country, placing people’s wellbeing at the heart of decision making and focusing on goals that matter to individuals. We will build on the excellent report by the Law Commission on social care law reform to ensure that we have a legal framework that supports a much more personalised approach.

As the Government consulted with charities last year and worked with families, carers and others we heard many criticisms of the social care system we inherited. We heard a long and deep-seated set of concerns about the variability of quality, about people feeling bounced around different systems and not always getting the personalised support that they wanted, and about the system being focused too heavily on crisis and not enough on prevention. We will address those issues in the White Paper we will publish shortly.

My hon. Friend Matthew Hancock and others spoke about funding reform and we will publish a progress report on that matter. We certainly understand the point made in the debate about the unfairness inherent in the system we have today. The flaws in that system penalise thrift and hard work and lead to people facing catastrophic costs. Those hon. Members who have said that we need a cross-party solution are absolutely right and the Government are committed to talks so that we secure just that.

Some hon. Members have talked about social care funding. The truth is that the Government took some difficult decisions during the spending review, but they were the right decisions and social care budgets were protected through the investment of an extra £7.2 billion up until 2014. It is clear that councils that have broadly the same resources available are making very different decisions. Some are cutting services, but many are being smarter and are working with disabled people, older people and carers to come up with better ways of delivering care and support in their communities. Indeed, the most recent survey of councils by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services found that councils were getting smarter and finding more efficiencies than they had in previous years, as well as fewer cuts. Indeed, this year 77p in every pound that councils have saved in social care budgets has come from smarter working and greater efficiency.

My hon. Friend Dr Poulter rightly talked about the need to break down the silos in health, social care and housing and we will break them down to ensure that people are not bounced around the system and are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.

In conclusion, I want to talk about carers, who have been mentioned—rightly, as this week is carers week—by my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham and others. It is right that we should pay tribute this week to the immense contribution of family carers, but, as others have said, we need to ensure that we do not focus on carers only in carers week. That is why the Government have committed £400 million through the NHS to provide breaks for carers and it is why we are requiring primary care trusts to draw up the plans to demonstrate how they will provide support to carers. This September, they will have to publish those plans and set out how breaks will be provided for carers as well as how many will be provided. Just this Monday, I had the opportunity to visit Crossroads Care in Cambridgeshire to see for myself the difference that those breaks make. A scheme has been introduced whereby GPs can prescribe carers’ breaks. We have discussed carers staying in employment, and tomorrow we will host with employers a carers summit to focus specifically on how we break down barriers so that we can ensure that carers do not feel tipped into crisis and find themselves out of work as a consequence.

The coalition Government are clearing up the mess left by the previous Labour Government—a huge deficit and an unbalanced, debt-ridden economy, after tough decisions had been ducked time and again. The Leader of the Opposition’s motion lacks vision. It shows Labour running away from its responsibilities and record, but the coalition Government are committed to reforming the way in which the country works so that people are in a situation in which work pays. We will ensure that disabled people are included in society and able to contribute to it, and that social care, after decades of neglect by successive Governments, is at long last reformed.