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Social Care

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:09 pm on 25th February 2020.

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Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Labour, Luton South 6:09 pm, 25th February 2020

I am pleased to speak in this debate as a serving councillor still on Luton council, because we know how much social care needs are impacting on local councils. We have heard much from many colleagues, but I want to bring a bit of lived experience to the debate.

Luton council set its budget last week, but we have been struggling, like many councils up and down the country. Our revenue support grant has been cut by about £100 million since 2010. We have made £130 million-worth of cuts and efficiencies over that time, but we are facing rising demand-led service pressures, predominantly for the vulnerable, especially in children and adult social care services.

But as social care demand rises in our communities the Government are hamstringing the capabilities of councils such as Luton to deal with the pressure by slashing central funding. We cannot expect local councils to deliver social care without the necessary funding. Allowing councils to raise the adult social care precept to 2% does not satisfy the rising financial pressures facing many councils, and it shifts the responsibility on to individual council tax payers without taking into account their ability to pay.

Councils such as Luton, which has a low council tax base due to 80% of our properties being band A, B or C, cannot raise enough tax to meet the demand. A 1% rise in council tax equates to about £700,000, so the maximum of 4% is around £3 million, but the Luton council budget has faced growth pressures of over £7 million in adult social care and children services. So as these demands increase, our ability to meet that demand diminishes. Fundamentally, there is a structural deficit there.

One thing I want to talk about in terms of lived experience is being at the frontline as a local councillor; I want to bring that to the Chamber so that Members here can understand what is happening on the frontlines. For two years I had lead responsibility in the public health commissioning arena as a senior councillor, and we worked very closely in jointly commissioning services with our CCG. Ultimately, I want to praise council staff, CCG staff and health staff providing both domiciliary and nursing care, as well as those working in other social care settings, for all the hard work they do supporting people in my constituency. As has been raised by other Members however, there is a difficulty in that councils are insisting that we only pay certain rates for the provision of care. So we are forced into desperately looking at what prices are to provide care, rather than looking at the whole picture, wanting to provide good-quality, safe and compassionate care. I put the fault for that fundamentally on the Government and the crisis they are putting local councils in.

One of the things we often had to do was look at the provision of the market of social care in our town. It pains me to talk about a market in providing care; it should be a service, publicly provided. However, we are in the situation we are in, but we struggled sometimes with some service providers beginning to fail, and therefore as a council we had to step in and support them, which meant having to bring in better providers, which obviously charge more. That put increased pressure on our budgets, meaning there is a never-ending cycle when we are being significantly underfunded.

There are plenty of other points I could raise, but most of them have been made by fellow Labour Members, so I want to finish my contribution to this debate by recognising all those who provide care to elderly family and friends as unpaid carers, such as my friend Barbara. She spent the last few weeks caring for our friend Ray, who died on Sunday morning. He did not have any family, and he did not live in a house that he could put an annexe on; he lived in a one-bedroom council bungalow. And Barbara, who in the day had a full-time job working in social care, still went to see him every evening to make sure he had the additional support and dignity that he needed. So I spent much of Sunday supporting Barbara because she was sad that he had passed away and she was not there. But, luckily, in the care home where he spent his last few days, the nurse sister who was on that shift was with him. So I praise everybody, whether they are working in social care or like my friend Barbara who was looking after Ray unpaid, because they are bearing the brunt of this crisis and it is not right.