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It is a great pleasure to follow Damian Green. I found myself agreeing with many of the priorities that he set out; that gives us some hope about cross-party consensus.
I wish to talk about three things: first, the proposal by Derbyshire County Council to close the Spinney care home in Brimington in my constituency and six other homes throughout Derbyshire; secondly, the wider implications of Government funding decisions over the past 10 years; and finally, the role of carers and the impact of councils’ use of private sector agencies to reduce council budgets on the quality of care provided.
First, the Spinney is a care home built in 1974 and run by Derbyshire County Council. Up until the Conservatives took over in 2017, it had been rated good by the CQC and was full; since 2017, the council has stopped taking new residents, and gradually numbers have fallen as residents have passed away. All the residents and their families to whom I have spoken speak warmly of the quality and culture of care provided by the Spinney and oppose the council’s call for closure. In the past two years, five of the rooms in the Spinney have been fitted with en suite bathrooms—the lack of en suite facilities being one of the reasons given for the closure—but none of those rooms has been used. Now, Derbyshire County Council says it will close the home and allow the residents to live more independently.
The comments from residents make it clear what they feel. One said:
“I have no relations, no family, the carers and staff are my family…I want to live the rest of my days here it has all come crashing down around me”.
“People will not get more than 10 minutes three times a day” if they leave and go independent. They went on to say that
“this doesn’t stop people roaming the streets and the police having to bring them back.”
A family member said:
“My mum lived independently till she was 96 years of age. We all rallied round to look after her, but she was only safe once she was here at the Spinney.”
There are many, many more stories.
I note that the county council had a £5.7 million underspend last year in its social care budget, so I roundly condemn it for its decision, and I hope that it listens to reason when the consultation finishes and that it agrees to improve the Spinney rather than to let it close.
More broadly, we all know that the money available to councils for social care has been savagely cut during the nine years of austerity. Indeed, at the very time when our ageing population were demanding an increase in care spending, the Government were cutting £5 billion from council budgets for care. The money that the Prime Minister has promised, welcome as it is, is simply one step back up the mountain.
The failure to provide care for some of our most vulnerable citizens is not just morally repugnant and does not just shame us as a society, it is also economically illiterate. Failure to care for people in residential or domestic settings and leaving them to fend for themselves means that they end up in A&E. It means that they end up being treated more expensively in our hospital system. The 148 people who were left in hospital beds in Derbyshire because there was no care package available for them were costing us more than they should have done as a result of cost savings. Cuts in care are not only barbaric, but economically crazy too.
There is no way that a Government who have reduced council spending by 50% in real terms over 10 years can be anything but complicit in the care crisis that faces us, but providing ring-fenced money for care alone will not be the step required to make this right. There must be a whole-system approach that addresses the many causes of the crisis in care. Those causes include the inadequate number of GP appointments available, particularly in more deprived areas; the crisis in the recruitment of GPs, nurses and carers; and the casual and unprofessional way that carers are recruited, trained and employed, which means that workers at McDonald’s are given greater job security and better rates of pay than someone who plays a crucial role in the health of the most vulnerable citizens in our society. There is also the crisis in A&E, which sweeps up the greater share of the NHS budget. That crisis is then exacerbated by people taking up hospital beds when they could be at home receiving care, and so the vicious cycle continues.
Finally, I would like to touch on the issue of how carers are employed. Council budgets are a part of this equation, but, in truth, councils were outsourcing these services long before council budgets were shrunk. It should never be said that people who provide care on behalf of private companies—or, in many cases, those companies themselves—have any less capacity to care or any less empathy for their customers than people who do it in the public sector. However, many councils are signing tenders that can only lead to the provision of inadequate care.
Hillcare Group, a nursing care home provider in my constituency, wrote to me recently to say that the funding provided by Derbyshire County Council was £150 per resident per week less than in other local authority areas, and that ends up having an impact on the care that is provided. I have an idea: when councils set tenders, they should be setting a rate of pay at the time they use private companies. The reason for using private companies is not just about saving budget, but about that company providing care in a better way. It is not just a way of undercutting the wages of unionised council staff. If rates of pay across the sector were set by the councils, we would not find council contracts being provided by private companies in such an inadequate way.
This is a multifaceted and real problem. Residents and families of the Spinney are just the latest victims of our failure to take this matter seriously. I hope that it will be solved, because our older people desperately need it to be.