Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:34 pm on 25th February 2020.
Let me begin by welcoming the new Minister to her post. I sincerely hope that she enjoys her time in the role, and that at some stage in the future she will be able to look back and see herself as the Minister who truly transformed social care. That transformation is desperately needed, which is why we called today’s debate. I think it has been a thorough and thoughtful debate on both sides of the House.
We have had 16 Back-Bench contributions, including from my hon. Friends the Members for Leicester West (Liz Kendall), for Blaydon (Liz Twist), for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins), for Warrington North (Charlotte Nichols), for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes), for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins), for Putney (Fleur Anderson) and for Liverpool, Wavertree (Paula Barker), as well as from Damian Green and the hon. Members for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris), for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), for Peterborough (Paul Bristow), for Bury North (James Daly), for Watford (Dean Russell) and for Meon Valley (Mrs Drummond). I also want to pay tribute to all who work in our social care services, whether they work in the national health service, for our local councils or for an agency, and whether they are paid or unpaid carers.
This is the third time I have closed an Opposition day debate on the crisis in social care. Someone on the Conservative Benches said earlier that they had a sense of déjà vu, and I have that same feeling myself. Just as I said last time in my closing comments, we have still seen no plan from the Government, despite the Prime Minister using his very first speech at 10 Downing Street to pledge to solve the social care crisis. I want to remind the House just what he said:
“I am announcing now, on the steps of Downing Street, that we will fix the crisis in social care once and for all, and with a clear plan we have prepared to give every older person the dignity and security they deserve.”
We have seen nothing. It is now 1,079 days since the Government announced their Green Paper on social care. That is 1,079 days in which we have been told that the Government have been working on their plan for social care. However, only a couple of months ago the Minister for Women and Equalities and Trade Secretary, Elizabeth Truss was asked:
“Does the Green Paper actually exist?”
She shook her head and told the room:
“Not as far as I’m aware.”
After years of promises and failure to deliver, we can understand why many within the sector have very little trust in this Government, so will the Minister please clear this up now? Was the Trade Secretary misinformed, or was the Prime Minister not correct when he told the country that he had a plan for social care? If it is the former, surely the Minister will appreciate our concern that the Minister for Women and Equalities and her office have not been involved in the development of a policy that will impact on so many disabled and vulnerable people who depend on care, and on the predominantly female workforce who deliver it.
The Prime Minister might speak of levelling up as though he were playing a computer game, but his lack of action is having real impacts on real people. It is a national scandal, and the Government should feel ashamed that 1.5 million people are now not getting the necessary help to carry out essential tasks such as washing and dressing themselves. Millions are suffering because nobody cares for them. One in five people have gone without meals because of a lack of care. One in five people have been unable to work because of a lack of care. One in five people feel unsafe moving around their home because of a lack of care, and more than a third are unable to leave their home because of a lack of care.
This neglect does not only hurt those who need the care. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester West set out, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South said when she spoke so passionately about Barbara and Ray, it is important to remember the 7.6 million unpaid carers who have stepped up to look after family and friends. One of those people, Frances from Harrogate, told the Care and Support Alliance:
“Dad has now passed away but his needs, with two broken hips and pneumonia, were not met in the slightest by either the NHS or social services. I feel if care had been better he would still be alive. Mum is in a care home and I have had to give up my job to care for them and I have received very little acknowledgement of this.”
At the very least, I hope we will hear from the Minister today how she plans to give unpaid carers the support they deserve.
We are yet to hear a Minister properly acknowledge the scale of the crisis. Instead, we heard once again from the Secretary of State in his opening speech the Government’s claim that they are addressing the problems in the system by investing £1.5 billion into social care this year. That has to be shared between adult and children’s services and winter pressures, and it is one tenth of what this Government have cut, according to the Health Foundation. In 2018, the Local Government Association warned that the funding gap for adult social care alone would grow to £3.5 billion by 2025, and the LGA revealed yesterday that pressure on children’s services has pushed overspending to £3.2 billion over the past five years.
We also know from LGA research that the new funding will not even be enough to cover the increasing costs that will come from the rise in the national living wage from April. Unfunded increases in the national living wage in social care have been shown by the Low Pay Commission to lead to an increase in failing businesses, insecure working conditions, and a reduction in care quality. Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, has called on the Government to take responsibility for this situation, saying:
“If government fails to support this uplift then services may close, jobs will be lost and support to people in need will be reduced at a time when more people need social care. The social care system has endured chronic underfunding for many years and we call upon the government to fund not only the increases in the Living Wage, but the sector’s long term sustainability.”
Instead of the Government taking responsibility and recognising the scale of this crisis, their recent immigration announcement threatens to make it even worse. I endorse the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester West, who said that we need to recognise the value of migrant labour to the social care services on which our constituents rely. Care roles fall below the salary threshold. The Minister knows that. The Government’s reluctance even to fund the costs of the increases in the national living wage does not give me much hope that they will fund the obvious solution—valuing and paying careworkers more for their vital work. It was worrying that the Home Office’s policy statement outlining the new migration policy failed to mention social care.
Councils led by all parties are facing a funding crisis, with devastating effects on key public services for children at risk, disabled adults and vulnerable older people. The services we all rely on, such as clean streets, libraries, children’s centres, street lighting and pavement repairs, are being cut back to pay for those people-based services. This is not a party-political issue. The issues are self-evident. In the recent state of the sector report by the Local Government Information Unit and the Municipal Journal, only 3% of councils said that they are happy with Government progress on local finances and only 2% said that they were happy with the Government’s work on social care. That is near-universal disappointment from council leaders and chief executives. Seventy-six per cent. said that they lack confidence that the Government are taking this problem seriously and prioritising a solution.
The Government’s delay is already costing lives. Last year, 2,000 people a day died while waiting for a decision on their application for social care. That should shame us all on whatever side of the House we sit, and there is only so much longer that this sector can wait.
This is the reality. Unless this issue is given the attention it demands, more councils will fall under financial pressure, more social care providers will fail and more of the most vulnerable people we are all here to represent will go without the support they need. It cannot go on like this. We need a plan, and I commend this motion to the House.