Health and Social Care

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:28 pm on 16th January 2020.

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Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Conservative, Ashford 2:28 pm, 16th January 2020

It is always a pleasure to follow Liz Twist. As somebody who is in the early weeks of their seventh Parliament, I can say that I have therefore sat through many waves of maiden speeches over the years. The quality of the speeches that we have heard not just today—we have just heard from my hon. Friend Laura Trott and from several Members from the Labour Benches—but throughout this debate over the past few days has been breathtakingly high. As somebody who has been round the block a few times, I can say that that is not only very welcome, but slightly alarming.

What I want to do is concentrate specifically on the social care element of today’s debate. It is a hugely important part of the wider health agenda and also obviously vital in its own right. I welcome a number of elements in the Government’s approach. The first is the recognition of the urgency of the need to solve the issue of social care, which has been left on the backburner for far too long. The second is the desire to work on a cross-party basis. I appreciate that that is going to be challenging for the Opposition Front Benchers over the next three months, because they will have other things on their mind, but for the past 18 months I have been working from the Back Benches with both Labour and Lib Dem Members. Although none of them are here at the moment, there are Lib Dem Members who are interested in this issue. I think that that cross-party approach is the best one. The third element is the Government’s recognition that the system today is incredibly fragile and needs extra money to tide it over. I am glad that the Government are helping local authorities with £1 billion in the coming year, but although it may be the world’s most expensive sticking plaster, it is still a sticking plaster, and we all know that we need a much more wholesale approach.

Many aspects of the problem need solving. There is the question of where the workforce are going to come from. Home adaptations will be needed so that more people can live in their own homes for longer. We will need the provision of extra places in care homes, where a shortage is developing. There are also problems when it comes to dementia patients. I think the Alzheimer’s Society has sent many Members a briefing for this debate, and everything it says is very sensible, but beneath all these questions is the issue of money. Where is the extra money going to come from? If there were a simple solution, a Government would have adopted it a long time ago.

I warn Ministers against reaching for the simplest and easiest solution, because the easy solution is to say, “We’ll make it free and we’ll fund it out of general taxation.” That is easy and seductive, because many people think social care is free anyway, but that would be wrong and unfair. It would be wrong not just because of the public spending implications, but for intergenerational fairness. If we fund the solution from the taxation paid by working-age people, we would be telling 20, 30 or 40-somethings not only that we are going to tax them to pay for their own social care if they need it in the future, which would be fair enough, but that we are also taxing them to pay for the social care of their parents’ generation, which would not be fair. That would be particularly unfair in this country, where there is a preponderance of wealth among the baby boomer generation. So much of the wealth in this country is tied up in housing, and that generation are far more likely to own their own homes than their children’s generation.