It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. It is an important debate, so I thought the tone set by the Opposition spokesman at the start was a real pity. The shadow Secretary of State, Andrew Gwynne, ran through things in a very selective manner. It was almost as though he had been in a time machine and missed out certain periods and certain significant challenges faced by the country. He did not acknowledge the situation in which the Labour party left the public finances in 2010, with a deficit running at £150 billion a year and the Government borrowing £1 of every £4 that they spent—the taxpayer was footing the bill for that. Nor did he acknowledge that at the time, unemployment was rising and employment was going down, so people were losing their jobs.
Something had to be done, and the ship had to be steadied. We have seen the results of that, and we now have record employment, record low unemployment and rising wages. Achieving that has involved many difficult decisions. I, for one, know how hard local government has worked, the sacrifices that it has made and the sacrifices that people have made. I pay tribute to councillors across the country, and particularly to Conservative councillors, who operate better-run authorities at lower cost. I also thank council officers, who have worked extremely hard to deal with the challenges that we have faced. They have made a massive contribution to the reduction of the deficit.
I am concerned that so far, this debate has been one-sided. The hon. Gentleman talked about the reduction in revenue support grant and direct money from Government, and that has certainly happened. However, he did not mention the other side of the equation, namely business rate retention and council tax, and he tried to present a distorted picture of individual local authorities’ funding. The reality is that the authorities that he described as worse off actually have the highest spending power.
I am setting out the approach that the Opposition have taken, but I think they should instead have looked at the challenges and considered how we might address them in a sensible and measured way. I am certain in my mind that we need to put more money into local government, and the Government are starting to do so. Spending power is on the increase, and since 2017 up to £10 billion has been made available to local authorities to fund social care. The Opposition’s motion mentions £8 billion being put into social care during this Parliament, but the Government are already putting in more than that.
There are significant pressures on social care, whether it is children’s social care, where there are more looked-after children; adult social care, where we have an ageing population—that is a great thing, but it means that we have to support more people in their later years—or the important group of people of working age who require social care, such as adults with learning disabilities or people with complex needs who need support. Those groups are all growing in size, and we need to make sure that they are looked after for the future.
In addition to increasing demand, services face challenges from rising costs. The national living wage is going up, and companies now have to pay additional pension costs. That is a good thing, because it means that additional money is being paid to people who do the extremely important and difficult job of supporting the most vulnerable. We need to make sure that those employees are paid more, that they are trained well and that the job becomes more professional, so I welcome those things, but they present challenges. We need to work out in a sensible and measured way how we will pay for the additional provision that is, and will continue to be, required.
The Opposition spokesman talked about how the Labour plans for social care were blown out of the water by the Conservatives during the 2010 general election. I thought that was a bit rich, because that is exactly what the Labour party did to the Conservatives at the 2017 general election. If we are going to have a debate, let us have a sensible, measured and proper one, rather than just talking about how big our pile of cash is and listening to the other side say, “We will create a bigger pile of cash to pay for social care.”
We have to acknowledge who is going to pay for social care, and we have to get the balance right. We cannot expect young people who have just entered the labour market—people who are starting work and trying to make their way in life—to pick up the whole tab. We cannot expect older people who have worked all their lives and built up assets to lose all those assets because they need care. We have to look at the matter carefully and proportionately, and try to make sure that there is a balance. We must provide the support that people need but reward people for doing the right thing.
Clearly, local authorities provide much of social care, but we need to look at how that fits in with other social care provision. For example, I always find that continuing healthcare is a real bone of contention. The system is opaque and hard for relatives to navigate. It is hard for people to figure out why their relatives are not eligible when somebody in the neighbouring bed is eligible. It can take forever for a claim to go through. I have known a number of cases in which, unfortunately, relatives passed away some time before a continuing healthcare claim was settled.