Adult Social Care

Part of Opposition Day — [4th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 9:40 pm on 16th July 2012.

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Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Shadow Minister (Public Health) 9:40 pm, 16th July 2012

I am afraid that I will not be able to give way, because I want to leave sufficient time for the Minister to make her remarks.

We also have to address the issues of dementia and Alzheimer’s. They are largely dealt with as social care issues but in fact they are an increasing challenge for people as they grow older.

The Minister called social care Bevan’s orphan and I think that that is a little unfair. The world we face today is very different from the world of William Beveridge and the framers of the first national health service. People live much longer and do so with all sorts of long-term conditions, whereas changes in the role of women mean that there is no longer a vast, mute and hidden army of carers. There are also issues with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

The Opposition want to be collaborative rather than party political, but I would be failing in my responsibilities if I did not draw to the attention of Ministers the one message given to my colleagues and I as we have gone up and down the country talking to local authorities about the new public health arrangements and social care. Those in town halls, whether they are Labour or Conservative-led, have said that local authorities are under unprecedented financial pressure. Some of the things we heard from Ministers seemed to suggest a certain carelessness about or unwillingness to face up to the financial pressures that mean that local authorities are making real decisions that are affecting real people and real families. Ministers heard what local authorities are trying to do to make the money stretch. On the one hand, there are more stringent criteria, so people need to be in greater need to get social care at all, but on the other hand, they are squeezing the money and the standards. That is the only way it can happen.

If I could say only one thing to Ministers, it would be that they should listen not to the Opposition spokespeople or to Labour councillors but to their own Conservative councillors, who are trying to make them address the scale of the crisis that they face. They are very alarmed—we know that they are—that Ministers appear to be poised to place additional responsibilities on them without any ideas of how to provide funding.

I remember what the Prime Minister told this House in February 2010, speaking about social care. He said:

“What we want to know is: where is the money coming from?”—[Hansard, 10 February 2010; Vol. 505, c. 904.]

I have to say that councillors and families up and down the country, as well as Members of this House, want to know what is behind the fine words and what Ministers will do to fund the proposals outlined in their White Paper.

Precisely because I do not want to be party political, I will refrain from talking about the Conservative party’s party political broadcast on the death tax and the posters that said:

“Now Gordon wants £20,000 when you die. Don’t vote for Labour’s new death tax.”

I am not a party political person, so I shall leave that. I shall put it to one side.

We support Dilnot in principle, but we are a little concerned about the Secretary of State’s pick-and-mix approach to the recommendations. We are worried that although the White Paper reads well, it makes too many vague commitments. I would be grateful if the Minister could give me an answer on the question of loans, in particular. On that question, as she will be aware, the 1999 royal commission—sadly, we did not address the issues of funding that it raised—said that

“there would need to be an initial outlay of potentially between £1bn and £2.8bn…the scheme would be complex to establish, and to administer, probably very expensive initially and would leave the state with an uncertain liability. If Local Authorities administered it, they might be left with a complex burden of assets which would differ greatly from one part of the country to another. The Commission consider there little overall benefit to be gained from such a scheme.”

I would be grateful if the Minister could tell me —[ Interruption. ] It is a deferred payment scheme at the discretion of local authorities—[ Interruption. ] We want to know how the Government will fund the upfront costs and about the levels of interest. Members will appreciate that elderly people, in particular, are very concerned about issues of debt. On that and on a range of other issues, we are waiting for a little more detail from Ministers. They can sit on the Front Bench and make party political remarks, but that is no help to families throughout the country who are worried about how they can fund social care in the future. It is no help to local authorities, which say that in a very few years the cost of social care will have inflated so much that they will not be able to meet other needs from their budget.

There are many things in the White Paper that we welcome, not least because many of them were in the White Paper introduced by my right hon. Friend Andy Burnham on building a national care service. We say to Ministers that it is easy to score points. It is easy to talk about what could have been done in the past, but we need to meet the challenge of how we care for our elderly, our disabled and our young disabled. That is the challenge that the nation is facing now. The White Paper reads well, but Age Concern and all the stake-holders are asking how Ministers will fund it. We stand ready to enter talks. We stand ready to work with Ministers. All we ask from Ministers is that they act in good faith.