I welcome the Government’s White Paper “Caring for our future: reforming care and support” and its priority of putting the well-being of the cared for and their carers at the heart of its approach. As the Member who represents the constituency with the highest proportion of elderly people in the north-west of England—there are 72,000 carers in Cheshire—I particularly welcome the proposals.
For the first time there will be a clear legal basis for the cared for and their carers having their own individual care and support plans, a tangible recognition of the utterly invaluable contribution that some 6 million carers make, many of whom often work more than 50 hours a week, at great personal cost. With 2 million people moving in and out of caring roles each year, the Government are right to recognise that giving carers a right to personal assessments and plans is a priority so that their own health and well-being are supported and recognition is given to the fact that they, too, have lives to live.
I am also pleased that the Government have already allocated £400 million for carers’ breaks over the current five-year period, but it is important that that is reviewed to ensure that the effectiveness of such payments is maximised. I welcome the new duties placed on local authorities, which will substantially help the cared for and their carers to access appropriate support, as the fragmented health, housing and care support services that have existed until now have caused at best frustration, and at worst despair.
Clearer dissemination, and the duty on local councils to provide advice and preventive services, should go a long way towards alleviating the problem described by one volunteer in the care sector, when she said that social workers just do not have time to help signpost carers to information, advice and support.
The Government are to be commended for their commitment to work towards the assurance of quality care standards through improved training provision for care workers, the introduction of a new code of conduct and of minimum standards for care workers and the appointment of a chief social worker, and for their aim of doubling the number of care apprenticeships to 100,000 by 2017. In that respect, I commend the excellent work of the apprentices on Cheshire East council’s A-Team, who are already blazing a trail through their apprenticeships as carers for the elderly in our community —soundly rebutting the myth that younger people do not care for our elderly or give them the dignity and respect they deserve.
I also welcome the Government’s proposals to fund adaptations to keep the homes of the elderly safe, because the NHS is estimated to spend £600 million a year treating injuries caused by hazards in inappropriate housing—the majority of cases associated with falls. The Government’s new care and support housing fund of £200 million over five years, to support the development of specialised housing and adaptations of homes, is particularly welcome.
I welcome also the Government’s commitment to abolish per-minute billing for care visits. That will be music to the ears of a distressed care worker who came to my surgery and said that she was seriously considering leaving the profession, because not only was she unable to provide within the time frame allocated the care needed for those she visited, but there was nothing like the necessary allocation of travel time between the homes that she needed to visit. In some cases, they were even in different towns. She showed me her timetable, and I can only say that I entirely agreed with her.
I welcome in particular in the White Paper the Government’s recognition that if we are to address this massive challenge and make a reality of good quality, comprehensive care provision for all, which I am sure is everyone’s aspiration across the House, we will do so only if we harness the energy, resource and skills of the whole community, including community groups, many of which are highly professional and which work very hard to support carers and the cared-for.
I am very pleased that the Government have committed to working closely with Age Action Alliance jointly to find practical approaches to improving the lives of older people; that they have decided to invest funds through Big Society Capital, so that social enterprises, charities and voluntary groups can access greater resources in order to make a difference in communities; and that they have decided to involve those communities in strategic decisions on health and care services through local health and wellbeing boards. That will be particularly welcomed by Crossroads Care Cheshire East, whose director told me, shortly after I was elected in 2010, that
“we could do so much more and add so much value if we were more involved in strategic discussions about care provision.”
The Government’s proposals in the White Paper are to be welcomed.