Local Government and Social Care Funding

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:34 pm on 24th April 2019.

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Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Shadow Minister (Mental Health and Social Care) 6:34 pm, 24th April 2019

Today, we have heard from many hon. Members about the disastrous impact of the Government’s relentless and short-sighted cuts to council budgets from Hull to Westminster North, from York to Nottinghamshire, from West Ham to Lewisham, from Birmingham to St Helens, from Sheffield to Exeter, Burnley, Hartlepool, Tyneside, Chesterfield and many others. Nowhere, as we have heard in the debate, has that disastrous impact been felt more acutely than in social care. I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) and for Crewe and Nantwich (Laura Smith), whom we heard from in the past hour, on presenting such powerful stories about family carers and the role of care staff, the absolutely vital two parts of the backbone of social care.

Social care is one of the most important pillars of support for vulnerable people up and down the country. I pay tribute to all our dedicated and hard-working care staff, many of whom are in the dilemma my hon. Friend Rachael Maskell just talked about. It is sad that the cuts mean we are in a situation where care staff have to go on strike for their pay, because many of them go above and beyond in the most difficult of circumstances to make sure that older people and disabled people get the help they need. We think a lot about NHS staff, but let us face it: without our 1.4 million care staff the care system would simply collapse. My hon. Friend Ms Rimmer raised the crucial fact that there are 110,000 vacant posts in the care workforce. That vacancy rate is deeply concerning, because it makes the situation for the staff who are doing the job much, much worse.

The Government should be shouting from the rafters about the value of social care, but most of the time there has instead been a wall of silence. It is only by securing this Opposition day debate today that we have been able to raise this issue. There is very little coverage of the issue elsewhere. My hon. Friend Anna Turley talked about the vacuum around Government policy on social care, and she was right to do that. Ministers seem not to want talk about a vision for social care. That is not surprising, I guess, following the Government’s litany of broken promises about reform. Let me just touch on some of them.

The Government dropped the cap on care costs, due to come into effect in 2016—we had legislated for a cap on care costs—leaving thousands of people unexpectedly having to pay for their own care. Then, at the general election in 2017 we had the so-called dementia tax, a disastrous proposal which lasted only four days before being abandoned. I have met family carers who are still desperately worried about that policy, because they think it is still around. Now, more than two years after promising a social care Green Paper, with the hope of better support for families across the country, the Government are still no nearer fixing the crisis that they have made. Let there be no doubt about it: this crisis has been made so much worse since 2010. We were told there would be a Green Paper in summer 2017 and then by the end of 2017, but it never arrived. It was then delayed till summer 2018 and then autumn 2018. Winter came and still no Green Paper. The Secretary of State told us at the start of the year that it would arrive by 1 April. It has not arrived and there is still no sign of the Green Paper. Perhaps the Minister will tell us when we are going to see it.

Now, when councils need an extra £1.5 billion to close the funding gap, the Government have offered derisory short-term funding. Last winter, the Government offered a measly £240 million for adult social for winter pressures. That would pay for only three months of home care for the older people the Secretary of State said it would help, but that is not enough. That was hardly enough for the harsh conditions of last winter, which, if you remember Mr Speaker, lasted very much more than three months. This year, councils will receive a further £410 million to be shared between older adults, working-age adults, and children’s social care services. The Secretary of State is leaving councils and councillors to make the invidious choice between caring for the most at-risk children, vulnerable adults with disabilities, and our most frail and isolated older people. Throwing small, one-off pots of money at this problem every year will not deal with the crisis in the long term. As my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston said, it is a sticking plaster on a gaping wound.