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I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the statutory and broader local government responsibilities for public services, including social care.
In the coming weeks and months, it is right that the Government focus on the fight against coronavirus. Local government will be on the frontline of that fight. Local services, from social care and public health to bin collections and now, most importantly, support for volunteering, will help us to overcome the challenge.
It is a time of uncertainty for many people across the country, and the Government need to provide as much certainty as they can. One thing we know is that older people, and those with underlying health conditions, are at greater risk from coronavirus than the rest of the population, as is clear from the social distancing guidelines issued for those groups this week. That means that, in the coming months, social care will be more important than ever because it not only helps to keep hospital beds clear for those who need them, but touches the lives of some of the most vulnerable. Care staff, therefore, will often be on the frontline of our efforts to stop the spread of the disease.
We are particularly concerned about home careworkers, who might provide care for up to a dozen older and disabled people in their homes every day. We want all necessary measures to be taken to protect care staff and the people they work with. As with the NHS, an important part of the solution is personal protective equipment and measures for infection control.
Care providers will face extra costs due to the need for more personal protective equipment and for enhanced cleaning of care homes and people’s own homes, and other measures to minimise the spread of infection—for example, zoning some staff in care homes. Last week, I raised with Ministers the fact that providers have faced great difficulty in obtaining personal protective equipment, and that also applies to infection control products, hand wash and disposable hand towels.
The care sector is extremely worried about being able to get essential supplies such as personal protective equipment. Commissioners can mitigate that by funding the extra costs and by helping providers to access personal protective equipment, perhaps by using some of their own contracts. The Government need to give guidance to local authorities and care providers, however, on the provision and use of personal protective equipment for careworkers and on whether help with accessing supplies can be given to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
We have just had a debate on statutory sick pay, which is particularly important for care staff, who are on the frontline of the outbreak. If they are ill, it is vital that they follow the public health advice and self-isolate, but the reality, as we heard, is that many care staff, like other staff, cannot afford to do so. Even if they are eligible for statutory sick pay, which we do not think they all will be, it is only £94 a week. The Minister needs to set out now what the Government will do to ensure that no careworker has to choose between doing the right thing and facing overwhelming financial problems.
Care providers are also facing increased cost pressures due to staff self-isolating or being off sick. It is right that statutory sick pay will start at day one, rather than day four, but that will increase employers’ liability for statutory sick pay. Requirements for workers to self-isolate will further increase financial pressures on employers. Given that, in virtually all cases, care providers will have to backfill sickness absence to ensure the continued delivery of support, that represents a real cost pressure on providers. With local authority budgets stretched, how can they support care providers to provide for extra statutory sick pay, the cost of backfilling care staff and the personal protective equipment and other materials that will be needed to get through the crisis?
My hon. Friend is making a compelling case for why the Government should announce specific support for the social care sector. I noticed yesterday that the Chancellor did not make specific reference to the social care sector which, as my hon. Friend points out, is in a fragile state and under enormous pressures. Is it not time for specific support for the social care sector to be announced?
I agree with my hon. Friend. It is great to hear that the NHS will get what it needs, but what about the social care sector?
We know, as my hon. Friend just said, that many care providers were already on the brink of collapse. Many will not have reserves to fall back on. I ask the Minister, as my hon. Friend just has: what will the Government do to sustain care provision and ensure that care providers are able to carry on delivering care at this time?
My hon. Friend is making a good point about social care in the broader sense. I want to raise the needs of local charities, some of which provide social care, and others provide a range of other services. Does she know whether some of the funding that the Government have allocated to local authorities will be earmarked to support continued funding of those local charities and community groups, or whether that has not yet been considered?
That is a very good question, and we should ask it in addition to the questions that I will ask, because the independent and voluntary sector is vital in our communities and in care provision.
I want to touch on the issues facing care homes across the country. We know that the Government are asking older people to avoid social contact for the next three months, but we need to be clear—clearer than we have been—about what that will mean for people in care homes. Will the Government recommend that all visits from friends and family be stopped until June? Can the Minister tell us what guidance on visits they are giving to organisations running care homes? Providers and their networks do not seem to have had any clarity yet.
The Care Quality Commission has announced a pause in its inspections, freeing up staff time to focus on care, but today it has published its independent review of Whorlton Hall. That was a shocking scandal. People with learning disabilities and autistic people and their families will want reassurances that, once this crisis passes, the CQC will focus its full efforts on ensuring that something like Whorlton Hall never happens again.
Many older and disabled people do not receive formal social care. Instead, they rely on unpaid friends and family. I know that many unpaid carers are worried that they will contract coronavirus or have to self-isolate and be unable to give the care they normally do. What steps should any unpaid carer who has symptoms of coronavirus take? If they are being asked to self-isolate, what alternative care can be provided at short notice? If someone cares for a person they do not live with, what steps can be taken if the carer has to self-isolate or if the Government have to further restrict travel, as many unpaid carers live some distance away from the people they care for?
Young carers—children and young people—may need more support than others in managing the changing situation in their lives, especially if their local supermarket or pharmacist does not have supplies. It is important that, if schools or years within schools close, it is understood which children within those schools are identified as young carers. It is often the case that a school or a teacher within a school is the only person who knows that one of their pupils is looking after someone at home. Schools could nominate a lead person to make regular contact with young carers during this difficult time when they are not in school.
Another major issue facing carers is the supply of medicines, hygiene products and food. Carers have to source supplies such as antibacterial wipes or disinfectant themselves. Unfortunately, we have seen panic buying of those goods, making them far harder to acquire. What can the Government and local authorities do to ensure that unpaid carers and the people they care for do not have to go without crucial supplies, including food?
The Government’s reasonable worst-case scenario implies that we can expect to see one in five workers off sick at the same time. There are an estimated 122,000 vacancies across social care currently—a workforce problem that we know forces existing care staff to cut visits short or work beyond their paid hours. It is understandable that people receiving care and unpaid family carers are very concerned about how care can be provided if we get to a situation where large numbers of care staff are off sick or self-isolating.
In the coronavirus Bill, the Government want to make changes to the Care Act 2014 to enable local authorities to prioritise the services they offer, in order to ensure that the most urgent and serious care needs are met, even if that means not meeting everyone’s assessed needs in full or delaying some assessments. I am sure that we will discuss those measures when we consider the Bill next week, but the guidance on the Bill says:
“Local authorities will still be expected to do as much as they can to comply with their duties to meet needs during this period and these amendments would not remove the duty of care they have towards an individual’s risk of serious neglect or harm.
These powers would only be used if demand pressures and workforce illness during the pandemic meant that local authorities were at imminent risk of failing to fulfil their duties and only last the duration of the emergency.”
I know that people who are worried about this will want to hear any further guidance on the circumstances under which the powers would be used. Finally, I want to touch on some of the issues facing specific groups who are receiving social care.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way to me a second time. Is there not also a broader point about certainty of future funding for local authorities and certainty about which of the additional costs they face from coronavirus will be met by central Government going forward? My local authority, which is not by any definition well off, is concerned about when it will receive clarity from the Government on which costs it can reasonably expect Ministers to cover.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We will need certainty about those things when we look at the coronavirus emergency Bill, which we will do shortly, but this lands on local authorities at a time when they do not have any certainty. There is much about their financial position that needs to be made clearer to local authorities. I also agree with my hon. Friend: my local authority has had budgets cut by more than 50% since 2010, and we were in what we were calling a crisis in social care even before this happened.
I want to talk more fully about people with dementia and people with learning disabilities. There are a million people with dementia in this country and many people with learning disabilities. Not all of them will be able to comprehend the importance of self-isolation and then act appropriately. What measures and guidance will the Government introduce to help people with learning disabilities or dementia to self-isolate? Many working-age people with disabilities may be more vulnerable. Conditions such as Down syndrome or multiple sclerosis could increase the risk of respiratory infection, and the guidance suggests that people with these conditions would self-isolate. Can the Minister tell us what financial support will be available for them and their families if they have to stop work to do that?
We understand that this is a difficult and challenging time for all, but the Government have talked of using volunteers in health and social care services. People with disabilities and older people who need care have some of the most complex care needs. How will the Government ensure that people with complex needs continue to receive the support and care they need to stay in their own homes?
In this crisis we need to make the most of volunteers and that spirit in the community of helping out, but at the same ensure that things such as Disclosure and Barring Service checks are done appropriately and that vulnerable people are kept safe from other risks, including those of unscrupulous interveners.
I thank the right hon. Member for that intervention. I think most of us are concerned in our constituencies to ensure that we have enough people to help out, but do not have the wrong sort of people getting involved. We do not want to start seeing scams and people defrauded, because that would be a terrible way to proceed.
We need to look at how far we can stretch the idea that volunteers can help in health and social care, because in certain situations—for example, an elderly person with very poor skin condition, with sores, who needed particular lifting, or somebody who was PEG-fed, using percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy—we cannot even use DBS-checked volunteers.
There are people who genuinely want to help and do their best for their community, but I am concerned to ensure that DBS checks are in place—an issue that has been alluded to—and also about infection control, which fits nicely with what my hon. Friend the shadow Minister has just said about some of the procedures that people may be asked to help with. There are real questions about the training and the infection control that need to be in place if we use volunteers.
Very much so. I am following all the social media input from my constituents, and I am glad to see that people are very keen to help. However, we must be careful, because we are talking about very vulnerable people, often with complex care needs, and we do not want to put them into difficulties through the efforts of volunteers, so we need guidance on that point.
Let me turn to self-isolation. I had to self-isolate for five days last week, and I know it is not easy, but it will be particularly hard for people with anxiety disorders, who rely on a routine to cope. Both now and once we are on the other side of this, what support will the Government be offering to help address the mental health consequences of the pandemic and of self-isolation or shielding for long periods? I noticed in the media that there were programmes showing what is being done in Wuhan in China, with hundreds of counsellors talking to people on a phone helpline, talking them through the difficulties they were experiencing. I think we may have to be thinking about something like that. In particular, many older people are now looking at several months potentially locked down in their own home, so what can the Government do to ensure that those people do not become lonely and isolated, with all the mental health consequences that would cause?
The challenges facing local government over the coming months are not limited to social care. The Government finally published yesterday the public health grant for the next financial year. Between 2014-15 and 2019-20, budgets were cut by £870 million, although there has been an increase to the grant this year. While the publication of the allocations finally provides some certainty to local authorities, the reality is that their public health functions are likely to be focused on coronavirus for the foreseeable future. Public health services such as smoking cessation are vital to prevent people from acquiring long-term health conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which can make a future case of coronavirus more serious. Will the Minister commit to allocating further money to public health if local authorities need it to keep people safe during the crisis?
The other major area of concern is homelessness. The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government announced a fund yesterday to help local authorities provide accommodation for homeless people who might have coronavirus, which is welcome, but given the scale of the homelessness crisis in this country, can the Minister tell us whether that fund will be topped up if needed? We do not want local authorities to have to ration support now because they think they might need some of it later.
I understand we are expecting a statement at 5 o’clock on education, and the Government are not yet closing schools—we may hear more at 5 o’clock—but we do see more teaching staff off work ill or self-isolating. Schools are being closed for certain years, and other closures look increasingly likely. I have seen that in my constituency. For many children, school is a place where they can get breakfast and free school meals. If children have to stay at home, they may go hungry. What support will be put in place to protect those children if schools are closed, whether that means providing food for them or ensuring that social services are monitoring their condition?
Lastly, I want to mention bins and waste collection. The safe handling of waste that could be contaminated by coronavirus will be a major challenge for public health and for the protection of the staff who work in that vital service. Will the Minister tell us what action is being taken alongside local authorities to ensure the continuity of waste collection services, given that the staff who work in those services will themselves be subject to illness and self-isolation?
We also need to think about council tax. If the Government are giving business rate relief for coronavirus, why not council tax relief for the general population? If people are out of work for an extended period, council tax is a big cost. Councils would need reimbursement for lost income, as they would with business rates. Additionally, we need councils to show some restraint with pursuing council tax arrears through the courts. Although loss of income for councils could be a very big issue at a time like this, depending on how long everything lasts, everything points to Government support and action for that. I should say to the Minister that I am happy to supply him with a list of all the questions I have asked, because it is very difficult for him to answer everything all in one go.
Coronavirus poses a unique challenge for this country. We will all need to work together to tackle it. The work that local authorities do will be central to addressing the crisis and will help to hold communities together as we do so. It will not be easy, and I am sure there are many issues we have not foreseen. I thank everyone working in local government and in social care and all our teachers and teaching staff, because they are a vital frontline service. I hope the Minister can reassure the House that local authorities will get all the help they need in the weeks and months ahead to tackle this crisis and to carry on providing the services that people rely on every day.
I thank Barbara Keeley for the constructive and collaborative tone she has taken in this debate. She has raised a number of very sensible and serious questions. I will do my best to answer as many as I can, and I will try to make sure the ones I cannot answer are answered in the wind-up.
I join the hon. Lady in putting on record my thanks to local authorities across the country for their wholehearted response to the coronavirus crisis and for reassuring and supporting residents. I have seen that with my local authority, and I am sure Opposition Members have seen it with their local authorities, too. I know hon. Members on both sides of the House will join me in recognising the contribution local authorities will make in the weeks and months to come as we move through this difficult time for our country.
As the Prime Minister has said, this is the worst public health crisis in a generation. We are committed to responding, and our measures are comprehensive. We are offering UK-wide support to ensure people in all four corners of the country receive the help they need. Our fiscal action will support public services, households and businesses, and whatever resources the national health service needs, it will get.
I am working closely with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government and with ministerial colleagues across Government to ensure councils get the funding they need to see their residents through this crisis. Our priority response is to provide security and support for those who get sick, and for those who are unable to work, through the direct funding of public services. Of course, we stand ready to do whatever is necessary to support councils in their response to the coronavirus.
The Secretary of State addressed over 300 council leaders in England on Monday and outlined the three priority areas on which we are asking them to focus in the weeks and months ahead: social care, supporting vulnerable people and supporting local economies.
I welcome this as a nudge in the right direction. Although I appreciate the “dear colleague” letter we have all received and what the Minister has just said, there is still a vulnerable group of people who risk being overlooked by the Government’s initiatives, and that is the elderly and vulnerable who live on their own, whether or not they are ill. There is a risk that they will be inadvertently overlooked in such a scenario and in such extraordinary times. As a society, we have to reach out to them.
I urge the Minister to look at this again because, at the moment, that group does not feature in any Government initiative. The Government should be sending a clear message that they will provide whatever support it takes for local councils to reach out to those people. Many may be in rural settings, but there may be a lot in the city, too. Local councils should reach out, locate them, identify them and offer help, if necessary tying in local charitable causes or charities to help them in that assistance. The message must go out to local government to reach out, because we do not want anyone to be left behind.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I give him my assurance that the work has already started. We are already starting to compile those lists and, of course, we are working with local resilience forums and councils, which will be the fundamental units in administering that support. We will, of course, talk more about this in the weeks ahead.
I do not want to test the Minister’s patience, but I want clarity on this issue. This is not just about those who may be self-isolating or who may be ill; it is about people living on their own who we simply do not know about, whether or not they are healthy. We have to reach out and find out. Is that what the Minister is saying from the Dispatch Box?
Yes. I can absolutely give my hon. Friend that assurance. Our response measures sit alongside the well-versed contingency plans and frameworks we have for times of difficulty. Everyone here will appreciate that, perhaps now more than ever, we rely on our public services, and I am confident they are up to the task.
This is such an important topic, as the Minister appreciates, and our local services and local authorities are very much on the frontline. What will happen in terms of emergency legislation for the powers that local authorities have, and how will the democratic process work in this crisis?
I hope the Minister and the House will take this opportunity to pay tribute to all the workers involved in local authority services, including those in the care sector—not only care workers but cleaners, too—as well as those who cleanse our streets and who collect our refuse. None of them can work at home, and all of them are putting themselves at risk by being in the public space to do their job to keep society safe and to keep society going. It is important to send out the message that we appreciate them, just as we appreciate our wonderful NHS staff, too.
I thank my right hon. Friend for those words. She is absolutely right: we should commend our public servants and local authorities hugely for the work they will be doing in the days and weeks ahead, and I would like again to put on the record my thanks to them. If Matt Western will bear with me, I will touch on his point a little later.
We have already outlined an extensive package of support to combat the effects of this crisis. A lot of the points made by the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South and other hon. Members were, rightly, about future funding for local authorities. I completely understand that, and perhaps it is worth addressing that at the start of my remarks.
The Chancellor announced last week that £5 billion would be made available for the public service response, with more to come if and when it is necessary. Let me say right from the start that we know that councils are under considerable financial pressure in responding to this crisis. We know that they will need more financial support from the Government, and we will give them that support. We are still having conversations with the sector—the Local Government Association and councils —to refine exactly what that might look like, but we will outline further steps we intend to take in this area very shortly.
Local councils do not get their income only from business rates and council tax; we should recognise that, in the context of 10 years of austerity, many have used their trading opportunities to generate income. For example, Luton Council relies on passengers going through our airport to generate income that funds council services. With the massive changes to airlines, that income will drop off. Obviously, that will need to be taken into account in any support offered by the Government.
I thank the hon. Lady for putting that point on the record. She is absolutely right to do so. I very much hope that we will outline imminently the steps that we are looking at taking to support councils further.
Yesterday, the Chancellor announced in the House a series of measures to support communities in response to the crisis. The funding he announced amounted to more than £330 billion of financial support, equivalent to 15% of UK GDP. The £10,000 grants to small businesses that are eligible for small business rate relief and the £25,000 grants to retail, hospitality and leisure businesses operating from smaller premises will no doubt help to alleviate pressure on local businesses across the country, but we understand the pressures that are about to come. The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will write to all local authorities in the coming hours to set out how exactly those are to be delivered and the mechanisms by which they can be administered.
I am interested to hear that. My concern is that my council, Hull City Council, is under enormous pressure trying to deal with the surge that it seems we are about to see with covid-19. Will local authorities receive additional resources to allow them to do all the things that the Government are asking them to do to support the business sector? Are councils getting sufficient money to enable them to do that?
I am sorry to give the hon. Lady a similar answer to the one I gave Rachel Hopkins, but we will outline a package of support very shortly. I can assure her that that guidance will be out by the end of tomorrow. I very much hope that by that time her local authority will have security to start financial planning.
I understand the difficulty the Minister has in giving us the clarity we would all like on our authorities’ particular concerns. Certainly, my local authority would like clarity that this package of support will not be for just this financial year, albeit that the support, and clarity on what it can be spent on, is needed now. Given the impact that this situation will have on local authority finances beyond this financial year, it would be reassuring to have soon the beginnings of some certainty about financial support for the next financial year. Local authority staff would also like the ability to get in contact with people in Government so they can understand and pass on answers to some of the detailed questions that businesses and other organisations have about what the Government are announcing.
Those are two points well made. On the hon. Gentleman’s second point, if he is having any trouble at all communicating with my Department, he should please let me know directly. I assure him that we are speaking to councils every single day to make sure that we communicate information as quickly as possible in this fast-moving environment. We understand that getting out the guidance as quickly as we can is going to be vital.
As the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South said, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government announced the initial £3.2 million targeted at rough sleepers and people who are in danger of sleeping rough, in case they need accommodation should they need to self-isolate. She asked for assurances about whether that was the totality of the amount; I assure her that that was the initial funding. We are of course continuing to look at what will be a complex matter as we look to support some of those people into accommodation during self-isolation periods.
I am pleased that the Government have announced financial support, but support for local councils is about more than just money. We have to be serious: this is about the people who deliver essential services, whether it is sweeping the streets or being carers. What steps are the Government going to take to make sure that we have enough people working at councils if a lot of council staff have to self-isolate or are sick? We know, for instance, that a lot of airlines are currently laying off a lot of people; is there any provision to use people who have recently been laid off to provide some of the essential services to keep our country going?
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point in the way that he did. All local authorities are, of course, working through their contingency plans, which include staffing plans. I am happy to sit down with him and ensure that we look in detail at his local authority’s contingency plans. It is worth confirming that additional military personnel will help local resilience forums with their coronavirus response plans. In order that local government bodies can focus on the priorities of supporting social care, vulnerable people and local economies, we must allow them to direct their resources into the key priorities on which we are working with them. We do not want to slow down their response times, which is why we are looking at giving councils greater flexibility. That is also why we have confirmed that routine Care Quality Commission inspections will be temporarily suspended. We will take a pragmatic approach to inspection and will, of course, continue to take the proportionate actions necessary to make sure that we are keeping people safe.
We are also allowing councils to use their discretion on deadlines for freedom of information requests during this period, and we have extended the deadline for local government financial audits to
Does the Minister agree that we have amazing communities in this country? I have been on the phone to local authorities and volunteer groups in Hastings and Rye today, and the way that our communities are pulling together to help in this crisis is absolutely phenomenal. It essential that we facilitate that as much as we can, and I know that that is what the Minister is doing.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the community spirit that we see throughout the country, with people rallying to support friends, neighbours, vulnerable people and loved ones, is absolutely inspirational. I have seen it in south Gloucestershire and my hon. Friend has seen it in Hastings and Rye, and I know it is happening all around the country. I will touch on that later in my remarks.
We have given councils the flexibilities that I outlined to ensure that they are not required to divert staff from their urgent tasks, allowing them to get on with the priorities that we are setting out.
I also wish to talk about social care and the measures that we are taking with regard to that key priority area that the Secretary of State has outlined. We know that social care, especially for the elderly and disabled, will be at the forefront of our response to coronavirus. The Government will ensure that whatever our social care system and national health service needs, it will get. As I mentioned, we have already set aside £5 billion to support our NHS and public services. We also published on
As part of that essential contingency social care planning, we and local areas are also considering how best to harness the many people who are so keen to help as volunteers to alleviate the pressure on social care workers and the system. It is going to be critical that local authorities work very closely with the care sector to ensure that providers build on the existing plans and protocols that are in place to respond to the challenge. We are also confident that local authorities will work with the national health service in their areas and regions to make sure that people are cared for in the most appropriate setting. The health and social care workforce is under increasing pressure, and volunteers will be an invaluable resource for local areas to draw on in the event of emergencies. We will say more about this in the coming hours and days.
I am confident that all Members will support the Government’s efforts to make sure we have the best possible use of the fantastic skills and willingness to help of our citizens in responding to this crisis.
I completely agree with what the Minister said about the reliance we will place on professionals and volunteers. One of the concerns that has been raised with me by my local authority is that many of those professionals are in the process of qualifying and they will be asked to see examinations that they expected to take—qualification processes—deferred, so that they can spend their valuable time now focusing on those who are most in need. Can the Minister provide some assurance to those professionals that the understandable interruption to their professional qualifications will not in any way disadvantage them in the progress they would otherwise have made, so that they can get on with that vital job today, knowing that they will be able to return to their studies, qualifications and professional development in due course, without inappropriate interruption?
My hon. Friend makes a very important and sensible point, and I will make sure that that is given some further thought. I thank him for raising it in the debate today.
One of the questions the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South raised was about PPE, and she was right to do so. We need to make sure that the care sector has the PPE that it needs. I would like to update the House that free distribution of fluid-repellent facemasks from the pandemic flu stock will start today, with every care home and every care provider receiving at least 300 facemasks that will be distributed through the usual channels. It will take seven days to distribute the full amount, but it is a good start to make sure that people have the PPE that they need. We are of course also thinking about beyond next week, and we are working rapidly with the wholesalers to ensure the longer-term supply of all the aspects of PPE, including gloves, aprons, face masks and hand sanitiser, which the hon. Lady also raised.
My issue is about the volunteers, and I wonder whether the Government have given any thought to removing the charge for Disclosure and Barring Service checks to hopefully speed the process up so that the cost is not incurred, to help to get the volunteers to where we need them to be.
I reassure the hon. Lady that we are looking at speed and depth at all these issues to make sure that we get the approach right. Several hon. Members have rightly highlighted the fact that we are talking about protecting some of the most vulnerable people in our society, so of course we want to get that balance right. We are considering in detail how that is best achieved, but I will absolutely make sure that that point is taken away.
I would just like to ask a further question on the protective equipment that we have just talked about. I am glad to hear that masks, hand sanitiser and any of the things that are needed are coming forward, because there has been a lot of concern in the care sector about it. I would like it to be a consideration that in some of the situations that care staff will be, they will need what is in very short supply in the NHS. They are going to need more, because it is not just a question of normal infection control. We need to protect the care staff themselves, because I think there is a very real fear that may cause more people to give up on the job if we are not careful about it. It is too risky for the staff to have that contact with maybe up to a dozen people in their homes every day. I hope we can expand our thinking to take into account that sometimes the more serious PPE that is used in hospitals will have to be used by care staff.
I am glad the hon. Lady welcomes some of the immediate progress being made. She makes an important and serious point, which I will consider in depth. I am happy to discuss it with her in the days ahead.
We must also acknowledge that the crisis will not only put enormous pressure on our social care system and our most vulnerable people, but hit our local economies. We must play our part to protect those around us as well as to actively protect the local economies that underpin our communities. I will therefore set out measures the Government are taking to reflect that local priority.
Local venues, including pubs and theatres, are the pillars of local communities, and we understand the importance of giving them our wholehearted support in the weeks and months ahead. That is why we are giving all retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in England a 100% business rates holiday for the next 12 months and increasing grants to small businesses eligible for small business rate relief from £3,000 to £10,000; we are also increasing the planned rates discount for pubs to £5,000 as part of mitigating the social and economic effects of the virus.
We have two theatres in Milton Keynes. Understandably, they are incredibly worried about their future. What specific measures are being taken to support theatres at this time? Perhaps I could intervene with a further point to do with breweries in a minute.
May I suggest that my hon. Friend and I meet after the debate, so I can outline in detail some of the measures relevant to his local establishments? I would be happy to do that.
It is important that as part of mitigating some of the effects of the virus, we are working with the 38 local resilience forums in England, which have plans and frameworks for pandemic influenza already in place. We will supplement our support for LRFs with a new taskforce to compare preparations, to identify gaps and to highlight where additional assistance might be required for local authorities.
The question from my local authorities, is will his Department issue guidance on how they join up the local authority resilience partnership with the local health resilience partnership?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the local resilience forums engage regularly with the local health partnerships—in fact, many health partnerships have a seat on the LRF. I am happy to take a look at his local LRF and discuss the matter with him, to make sure that that conversation is happening. We are working to ensure that LRF preparedness is ready across the country, including with tabletop exercises. We have Andy Battle, a retired deputy chief constable, looking through all the plans, and I am happy to look at the hon. Gentleman’s local plan specifically to make sure there is sufficient engagement with the national health service in his community.
The covid-19 LRF taskforce will also enhance LRFs’ abilities to respond to coronavirus by rapidly assessing preparedness. We are continuing to work closely with local authorities and their partners to prepare for the most intense phase of the crisis, and by helping local businesses and communities to plan, we will be prepared as a nation to meet the challenges we face.
We will take whatever action is necessary to ensure that local government can continue its vital function in the weeks ahead. We are committed to supporting local government to deliver our priorities of social care, providing vital support for vulnerable people and supporting their local economies. Local partners are keeping their plans under constant review and getting close support from this Government to ensure that plans are fully up to date and reflect the relevant scientific advice on coronavirus. For now though, it is clearly right that we focus on ensuring that local authorities can play their essential part in the wider national effort. We have taken decisive action already by providing additional funding to key public services and directly to the most vulnerable. We have acted by lightening the regulatory burden on local authorities. We have acted by reviewing and improving local resilience and economic preparedness efforts. I am, like other hon. Members, aware that we will need to do more in the coming weeks. We stand prepared to do that. I will ensure that I am available to any Member of this House who wants to discuss their local preparedness and to meet their local agencies. Our resilience teams are, of course, engaged with every local area to make sure that we have absolutely up-to-date intelligence in Government, to knit together at the national level.
Our commitment to ensuring that local authorities have the tools they need to respond to coronavirus is unwavering. We will give councils the support they need. We will be able to outline the further steps we intend to take very shortly. In supporting local authorities to deliver the services they need to deliver, we will do whatever it takes.
I start by thanking the Opposition for bringing forward today’s debate. I wish to approach my speech in two parts: first, to address the effect of the coronavirus pandemic; and then to finish with some comments on the social care system more generally.
I think we would all agree that this is an appropriate opportunity to thank, and indeed to pay tribute to, our public services workers, who are under enormous pressure at the moment, as we battle with the impact of covid-19. One of my big concerns as we deal with this crisis is that we run the risk of overlooking the needs of special populations within our society. That point was made by Mr Baron earlier. A great many people rely on our social care system and, understandably, they are very worried at the moment.
If we put ourselves in the shoes of someone who depends on visits by carers each day just to carry out our basic daily functions, we can imagine the anxiety felt. I know that organisations in Glasgow East are already scaling back some of their activities, and this will inevitably lead to increased isolation that will only serve to deepen their concerns. I very much endorse the comments made by the shadow Minister, Barbara Keeley, about PPE. For my own part, as a constituency MP, I am trying to co-ordinate and engage with community organisations and stakeholders to ensure that these issues are addressed and that problems of gaps in service are quickly addressed.
I am aware that today’s debate focuses specifically on local government and social care. Although that is devolved, I thought it would be helpful to outline briefly the situation north of the border. The Scottish Government are allocating resources over and above Barnett consequentials to support frontline spending on healthcare in Scotland, and they will be providing all the support that local authorities need in the coming months, as we face unprecedented demand. Although not necessarily to repeat what the UK Government are saying, we certainly endorse “whatever it takes” in that regard. We are increasing our package of investment in social care and integration by 14% to £811 million in the 2020-21 budget to ensure that health and social care services are fully joined up for patients and to ensure that the actions taken by local authorities have the desired effect of reducing demand.
There are some really good models across the country that I want to draw to the attention of the House ever so briefly. East Lothian health and social care partnership has put in place a short-term assessment and rehabilitation team to reduce delays. Along with other measures, this led to a 44% reduction in bed days lost between 2012-13 and 2018-19. Likewise, Inverclyde has introduced a “home first” approach to ensure that returning home is the first option in the majority of discharge situations. That model saw an 82% reduction in bed days lost between 2012-13 and 2018-19. In spring 2016, Aberdeenshire established virtual community wards as an alternative to hospital-based care, with 93% of GP practices participating, and it was estimated that 1,640 hospital admissions had been avoided.
It is therefore possible to do many innovative things to meet the challenges of social care, but the fact is that we are all living longer and we are going to have major workforce issues in social care, some of which have been discussed today. In the future, it would certainly be beneficial to have a UK Government who were more willing to listen to policy suggestions from the Opposition side of the House. If there is one thing that the current crisis has shown, it is that cross-party working is essential to tackle major problems. I hope that is a lesson we have all learned and that we will learn over the coming weeks, particularly as we emerge from the other side of the coronavirus outbreak.
I want to turn to local government and our support for statutory services. The Scottish budget for 2020-21 has increased revenue funding for local government, and the SNP has empowered local authorities to raise additional income if they wish. Additional revenue funding, taken together with potential council tax income, means that councils have the potential to access another £724 million of revenue funding in 2020-21. Throughout the coming weeks and months, it will also be vital to reassess our social care systems right across the UK to ensure that they are properly resourced to deal with the mounting and certainly unprecedented crisis.
Whether in social care or local government, in Scotland we are certainly meeting the challenges of the day with a focus on protecting budgets and supporting the most vulnerable in society. Although very uncertain, we will certainly rise to face the challenges of tomorrow in the weeks ahead.
These are unprecedented times. One thing that comes through quite clearly for me is community spirit. It was illustrated by my hon. Friend Sally-Ann Hart, and will be the thread that runs through my remarks, and probably through everybody else’s remarks as well.
I must draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as I am a councillor. I say that these are unprecedented times, but in local government we have had unprecedented times for quite some time. I remember back in the late noughties, we had the Barnet Council graph of doom. I do not know whether any fellow local government finance aficionados remember this, but it is the point at which the cost of adult social care rises and the amount of central Government grant goes down—it is the point on the graph at which those two things intercept. We are well past that now, so local government is used to reacting to changing financial circumstances and filling that gap with either locally raised revenue through taxation or locally raised revenue through commercial ventures.
Rachel Hopkins mentioned the powers used by local government in Luton relating to commercial activities around the airport —[Interruption.] They have an airport, what can I say? The point here, of course, is that there are many ways of skinning a cat, and local government has had to face adverse circumstances in the past, and I am sure that our friends in local government will rise to this challenge as it stands today.
Is it not the case that this is the kind of situation where it is not just about local government? This is one of those rare occasions—the first time in my lifetime—where it is not sufficient for the community to dial 999 and leave it to local government or the emergency services. We, the people, will be on the frontline, directed and co-ordinated by district councils, or county councils, as in my constituency of Broadland. It is our opportunity to stand up and be counted to protect those who have to be shielded—the most vulnerable in our society including the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions—and that is both a wonderful opportunity for us to demonstrate our cohesiveness as a society and also our fundamental duty to look after those less fortunate than ourselves.
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. The job of local government is on the frontline. Any job of a public servant such as ourselves, or councillors or council officers, is to look after the most vulnerable in society. If we do not do that, we are not a society.
Speaking of the most vulnerable, in Milton Keynes, we have a persistent problem of homelessness, which possibly provides one of the best examples of partnerships between local government and the voluntary sector. I have been very fortunate to visit many charities in Milton Keynes since being elected to represent Milton Keynes North. We have a winter night shelter, the YMCA, the Salvation Army and, of course, the Bus Shelter, which is run by volunteers, with a full-time on-site manager. It takes street homeless people off the streets. They get a bed for the night in Robbie Williams’ old tour bus, which seats, I think, 18, but it normally holds eight clients. It was wonderful to meet the clients, to see how they access the service and how the service helps them get their lives back on track and into work. Milton Keynes has received over £2 million of central Government funding for homelessness and rough sleeping since Christmas, which is incredibly welcome, because this is a critical time to support those who are on the street. That is a good example of how the voluntary sector, charity sector and local government can come together to solve a problem.
Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a clear illustration of why we need to have the maximum possible flexibility for local authorities in deploying these resources at a local level? Those examples of creativity and innovation are replicated by local authorities across the country, but local circumstances vary enormously. Does he agree that we must encourage the Minister to take the view that the more flexibility and less bureaucracy there is for local authorities in using that money effectively at a local level, the more value we will extract from it in delivering for our residents?
Again, I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. I am sure that the Minister for Local Government, who is sitting on the Treasury Bench listening avidly to the pleas of councillors for more flexibility in the way that local government spend their finances, will heed that call.
Knife crime is a new problem for Milton Keynes, and it is incredibly worrying, but it is another example of where the public sector can work in partnership with communities and the voluntary sector. The police are on the frontline of knife crime, and I am pleased that they have extra money, officers, kit and powers, all of which are focused in Milton Keynes on solving the issue of knife crime. The extra money is incredibly welcome, and I will come back to that. There will be an extra 187 officers for Thames Valley, of which 36 will be in Milton Keynes. In terms of the extra kit, it really helps when the police know that they have a Taser to use.
There are also extra powers for the police. Parents say—again, this relates to the intersection between the public sector and the community—that, when the police use section 60 powers, it gives them confidence to know that an area is being policed. It also has a deterrent effect for young people who might think about going out with a knife.
It is through the extra money that there is an intersection with the public sector. Diversionary activities through boxing clubs, interventions in schools or projects such as the knife angel are incredibly good for bringing communities together. There is a demand management issue. There is also a data challenge, to enable the public sector, voluntary sector and charity sector to work together on a data-led response to a situation.
I would like to start by commending the work that our local councils are doing in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Faced with an unprecedented set of challenges across social care, education, children’s services, housing and homelessness, they are providing access to advice and support for many people who are distressed, worried and facing hardship as a result of the public health and economic calamity we are seeing, while sustaining day-to-day services such as bin collections, parks and libraries. Our councils are doing that in the context of 10 years of unprecedented cuts to their budgets and a total absence of coherent strategy for local government from central Government.
The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee observed during the last Parliament that there has not been any assessment from central Government of the responsibilities of local government across its statutory and non-statutory functions and no objective assessment of the resources needed to fulfil the task at hand. Instead, our councils have been cut to the bone. Both my councils have lost more than 60% of the funding they received from central Government in grant. They have been forced to raise council tax, which is regressive and hits the poorest residents hardest, while demands on their core statutory services, adult social care and children’s services have continued to increase, and the need for housing and homelessness services has spiralled as a direct consequence of the welfare policies of a decade of Tory Governments.
In that context, the shift to reliance on business rates is of grave concern. Business rates have been the Government’s only game in town for local government, and we now face an economic calamity that may result in business rates revenue simply draining away. It is imperative that the Government come forward with proposals for how councils will be supported to sustain services in the context of the risk of business rates collapsing. Our councils are stepping up to play their part in multiple different ways, as the closeness and proximity of their relationship to communities make them uniquely placed to do so, but there is a lack of resilience across all our public services. After the last decade, that is completely predictable and therefore completely inexcusable.
I turn to a couple of areas of public services that are responding to the crisis as they relate to our councils, the first of which is social care. Our social care system was in crisis before the coronavirus pandemic struck. About 1 million people eligible for social care are not receiving any, and the sector needs about £3.5 billion of additional funding just to meet additional needs. Across the country, councils of all political persuasions are struggling to deliver the social care services that local residents need, and private contractors continue to hand contracts back to councils.
Now, social care workers are at the frontline of the response to covid-19, caring for some of the most vulnerable residents and working hard to take on additional caseloads as hospitals work urgently to discharge people to free up bed space needed for the pandemic, yet many social care workers are paid the minimum wage and remain on zero-hours contracts.
Last week, 100 parliamentarians from both Houses and many political parties joined me in writing to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to ask that social care workers be placed on the same footing as NHS workers with regard to sick pay during the coronavirus pandemic. NHS workers and contractors have been guaranteed full pay if they are ill or need to self-isolate, but no such commitment has been made to social care workers. It is vital that low-paid workers, whose jobs bring them into contact with many of the people most vulnerable to covid-19, are not forced to make an impossible choice between taking action to protect the safety of those in their care or putting food on the table and keeping a roof over their family’s head.
I have not received a response to my letter and, despite raising the issue in the Chamber, there has been no indication from the Government that they understand the urgency of the issue or that any action is being taken. Lives will be lost if low-paid, workers with precarious jobs are forced to make impossible choices. I hope that in responding to the debate, the Minister will provide a definitive commitment to social care workers in response to covid-19.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. On that point if, as seems likely, schools in England are going to close in the next few days, childcare will need to be provided to allow key workers who have been identified in the NHS to carry on working, perhaps through skeleton schools. Should that also be used for key workers who provide social care in local authorities, so that their children are part of any provision that is made nationally?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Social care workers, together with healthcare workers, are at the frontline of the crisis. They must be offered every support possible to enable them to keep working throughout.
More widely, there are grave concerns about the extra capacity that will be needed in the social care sector in response to the crisis. Earlier this week, I visited Turney School in my constituency, an outstanding school for children with special educational needs aged four to 19. Of the more than 130 children at Turney School, 90% are eligible for free school meals, many have multiple and complex needs, and most have a diagnosis of autism. If, as we hear, schools across the country are likely to close shortly, there will be an urgent and immediate need for additional social care support for Turney pupils and many thousands of children with special needs across the country.
Schools such as Turney fulfil not just an educational role, but a social, emotional and respite role for children and their families. Many Turney families live in overcrowded, poor-quality accommodation. Self-isolation in such circumstances will be intolerable and the need for social care support will be critical. The same is true for all children in receipt of free school meals and those who are potentially at risk at home. The social care sector will need to step up to meet the needs of our most vulnerable children.
Finally, in relation to social care, I raise the issue of access to personal protective equipment. Vulnerable people with covid-19 will still need support with personal care, and no one should be made to put their own health at risk in the course of doing their job. I welcome the Minister’s comments on PPE, but will he set out the detailed plans to ensure that all social care workers, whatever setting they are in and whoever their employer is, will have access to PPE? There is serious concern about the impact of the crisis on autistic people and people with learning disabilities, more than 2,000 of whom are still trapped in inappropriate hospital accommodation. As hospitals restrict visitor access, and as the emergency legislation contains provisions to short cut detention under the Mental Health Act 1983, what steps are the Government taking to uphold the human rights of autistic people and people with learning disabilities and to ensure that community services being stretched even further do not result in more people reaching crisis point and being detained in hospital?
The second area of council services I want to raise today is housing and the homelessness service. Homelessness and housing need have risen dramatically during the past decade of Tory austerity. A failure to fund the building of new, genuinely affordable social housing or regulate private renting, combined with cuts to welfare and the disgraceful five-week universal credit wait have driven up homelessness.
I was proud during the last Parliament to be a co-sponsor of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, and a recent report by Crisis concludes that the new legislation has been making a difference, but London Councils has made it clear that the level of funding provided by the Government was far from adequate, estimating that the amount that London Councils alone needed to implement the Homelessness Reduction Act was similar to the total national funding the Government made available.
Now we face two additional challenges: the first is the vulnerability of rough sleepers to coronavirus and the impossibility of self-isolating when someone is on the streets. There has been no Government response on this issue. Will the Minister say what arrangements are being made to contain the spread of covid-19 among rough sleepers? Will funding be made available for emergency accommodation that is suitable for self-isolation in addition to the funding that has already been made available to tackle the endemic problem of homelessness, which existed prior to this pandemic?
Secondly, the economic crisis that threatens to engulf our country has the potential to increase homelessness further. The lack of attention to the predicament of private renters has been disgraceful, but without that thousands of people will find their homes at risk. Will the Minister commit to ensuring that no one will lose their home as a consequence of coronavirus?
Our councils are now being asked to administer large amounts of the financial support that the Government are providing in response to this crisis, yet they have not been provided with any guidance, and they are not being supported with additional capacity. Local authorities that have been cut to the bone might find additional financial administration very challenging, so will the Minister set out what support is being provided to councils to ensure that they are able to administer hardship funds and business support without delay and without impacting on other services?
Across many areas of responsibility, local government is at the frontline of this unprecedented public health and economic crisis. It is the job of our councils to ensure that the burdens of the disease do not fall on the poorest and most vulnerable in our communities. It is the job of central Government to ensure that they are properly funded, equipped and supported to do so.
Let me put on record my appreciation of the efforts of the ministerial team. This is an enormous crisis for everybody, but I want to congratulate them for the speed with which they are responding in ways large and small. Some of the information we have just heard is very helpful in small ways for councils, particularly as regards making it easier for councils to meet to do their business more flexibly given the crisis. That will be very welcome at local authority level.
I pay tribute to the spirit of the Opposition Front Benchers as well. It is absolutely tremendous to see how this House is coming together to address these issues. I want quickly to address two points. The first, which has been raised by other Members, is the amazing response of our communities to this crisis and to the impending demand for support from the elderly, in particular—it is absolutely wonderful to see.
I have some anxiety about how we will co-ordinate that effort in a way that does not stifle it. I was a community worker in north Kensington at the time of the Grenfell disaster. I saw a huge uprising and upsurge of voluntary support and effort—an outpouring of love and resources from the community—but there was a huge challenge of co-ordination. We are going to have to get that balance right in all our communities in the coming months. Today, I was speaking to council workers in my local authority of Wiltshire, where there is a good balance. Council staff are not attempting directly to co-ordinate the efforts of the volunteers and local community groups that are rising up. They are not trying to tell them what to do or how to do it. What they are doing is providing a hub for information exchange, and providing support when gaps do emerge.
That has been one of my concerns throughout this process. Lots of organisations in my constituency are absolutely up for the challenge, but we need to ensure that there is no duplication, particularly when it comes to things such as food security. Does the hon. Member agree that although it is not necessarily for local authorities to do that co-ordination, it would be good if helpful tips and ideas were disseminated throughout the UK so that we avoided the issue of duplication?
I entirely agree. There is a huge role for social media in the sort of organic, spontaneous co-ordination that we are seeing, but there is also a role for the public sector, particularly local authorities. It would be very helpful for the public to hear a clear communication from the Government that we entirely support and encourage this sort of voluntary effort, but that anybody who wants to try to match volunteers with households and so on needs to plug into local government in parishes and towns, particularly in rural areas such as the one with which I am concerned.
Secondly, on local authorities’ lost income, I hear the points that have been made very powerfully about the additional burdens that will be placed on local authorities as a result of the demand that we are going to see, but councils are also going to endure lost income as a result of this crisis. In Wiltshire, we are worrying about up to £25 million-worth of income that is normally received through all sorts of activities such as leisure services, parking, council tax and so on. We are stepping in to support businesses with lost revenues, but we need to think about how to do that for councils as well—not just helping them to meet the additional demand for services, but compensating them for their losses.
People are understandably very worried at this time of crisis. I am afraid that the Government still need to step up and provide the certainty that the public deserve. It is vital and urgent that they demonstrate that they are meeting all the challenges head on, not least because it is overwhelmingly clear that years of cuts and a failure to invest in services mean that we are extremely ill prepared for dealing with this type of large-scale health risk to our community.
The truth is that the Conservatives have let us down, and they have let down my constituents, who have been disproportionately disadvantaged by austerity. For example, spending on youth services has been slashed by 70% since 2010, with a real-terms cut of £880 million. Locally in my borough, spending on young people fell by a whopping 76.9% between 2011 and 2018. As a result, many people now believe that young people’s lives could be worse than their own generation’s, and some argue that children and young people in Britain are among the unhappiest, unhealthiest, poorest and least educated in the developed world. Yet, it is widely observed that soaring inequality fosters resentment and division. In fact, the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime explicitly linked knife crime to council cuts. Nothing in the Budget last week will solve the crisis facing young people’s futures.
Then there is the education crisis. Schools and early intervention services have faced significant cuts in particular, and parents of children with additional needs are struggling to have their children’s learning needs met. Only a few weeks ago, it was a privilege and an honour for me to stand with local special educational needs and disabilities campaigners outside Downing Street to present an invoice for £12 million—Tower Hamlets Council’s projected SEND budget overspend by 2022.
Parents, families and communities work very hard to support our children, but we are let down time and again by the system that we are forced to struggle within. When things do go wrong in families and relationships, the support so often is not there. For example, the availability of specialist support for those who report domestic abuse varies enormously around the country. According to Women’s Aid, 10 domestic abuse victims are turned away from women’s refuges every day because of a lack of space. While it is good to see that the long-awaited Domestic Abuse Bill includes a new legal obligation on councils to provide secure refuges for victims, it is important that the necessary resources are provided alongside that responsibility. In my local council, the number of recorded incidents of domestic abuse is above average, and nothing in the Budget will address the crisis of violence against women or mean that every case of domestic abuse is taken seriously and each individual given access to the support they need.
Social care is also in crisis in this country. Before the coronavirus outbreak, 1.5 million people were not receiving the care they need. As Members will know and have raised today, the majority of those who receive social care are older, disabled and vulnerable people—the very people who are most at risk from the coronavirus. It is still very unclear from the Government statements so far what additional support is being provided. In the meantime, providers and local authorities are already stretched to breaking point in many areas, so we need to know now how much additional support is being provided specifically for social care.
To be frank, I am truly shocked and surprised that those in the Conservative party still attempt to justify the cruel strategy of austerity, which has decimated local government funding over the past decade, forcing working-class people to pay for a financial crisis they did not cause. It is a shameful indictment of any economy that so many people are trapped in low-paid, insecure work and invariably failed by the social security regime. It is shameful that earlier this year, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that the proportion of people in work who live in poverty went up for the third consecutive year to a record high. It is shameful that, according to End Child Poverty, at 58.5% my constituency of Poplar and Limehouse has the highest child poverty rate in the entire country.
Yesterday, the former Secretary of State for Health and Social Care admitted that the Government’s harsh and uncaring policies have caused suffering and austerity, whose onslaught has been brutal. Cuts equal crisis, and by that I mean that every cut and every closure has had a real and serious human cost. As we speak, the people of my constituency understand the gravity of the situation they are faced with and are trying to support each other the best they can, as they always have done. Right now, public sector workers, who are the backbone of our communities, are working in the most extreme of situations to provide vital services. This is not a time for half-measures or indecision, but for those in power to step up and deliver the scale of intervention, leadership and co-ordination required to secure the funding and operation of local public services. That cannot be deferred to tomorrow, because people are falling ill and are in need today.
I am sad to report to the House that, having spent 22 years as a member of a local authority and having been elected as a Member of Parliament, I have gone down in the index of public trust. When it comes to politicians and Members of Parliament, we are fortunate that we still sit above lawyers and estate agents, but local government is very much trusted by the people of this country. That is why what the Minister and the Government have done, not only in their approach to the coronavirus outbreak but to the bigger strategic challenge of how we properly resource our local services for the coming years, is very important.
One of the long-standing frustrations of my time in local government is that Parliament—it has the opportunity to be incredibly strategic on behalf of our country and to think about what it wants to achieve for the nation in many of these big-picture issues, such as housing, healthcare, social care and education—has sometimes been drawn into detailed debates about very specific issues, when we would achieve so much more by allowing our locally elected colleagues to demonstrate the leadership that they are demonstrating in response to this crisis. They need to have those resources to accept from this House the challenge to deliver against those ambitions and then to be left to get on with it.
Local resilience forums, which the Minister referred to on a number of occasions in his speech, are to me a very good example of exactly that kind of leadership. My experience as a councillor is in the London Borough of Hillingdon, although my constituency straddles two London local authorities. Going back to 2001, with 9/11 we suddenly had to deal with thousands of stranded travellers who had no means of getting back to their homes. They needed to be found somewhere to stay, to be fed and, in many cases, to be provided with medical care, communications and support. We saw local organisations––not just the local authority, but schools and the military––rallying around, co-ordinated by the local authority, to provide that crucial support.
In the decade since, we have had to deal with significant outbreaks of very serious illnesses, including severe acute respiratory syndrome, middle east respiratory syndrome, H5N1 and swine flu, from which a young girl in my local area sadly passed away. The local authority then had to step in to manage those communications, in order to reassure that community and make sure that the support was in place so that a school or community that was grieving could deal with the situation. It is impossible to do that directly from this House, which is why the Government have rightly taken the view that they will look at the strategic question of providing an appropriate level of resources and then enable those people in their local communities to route that money directly to where it makes the most difference.
My hon. Friend Ben Everitt referred to the provision of a bus to make emergency accommodation available for homeless people. Many of us have local authorities that have contracts with local voluntary organisations, for example, the YMCA, as in the case of my local authority, to provide that kind of emergency accommodation. In other parts of the country, such accommodation may be provided directly by the local authority itself. It is crucial, therefore, that the theme that runs throughout all this is the ability of local authorities and local resilience forums to deploy the money that is rightly coming from this Government in the most flexible way possible to meet those local challenges.
Lessons could be learned on that, and I am cognisant of what Opposition Members have said about the challenges associated with special educational needs and disabilities, and the educational provision for people in that situation. It is clear that the more local flexibility there is, the easier it is for those communities to rise to the challenge of meeting the needs of those individuals. The more we seek to control that from the centre, the less satisfied many of our residents and voters will be with the outcomes they are seeing. Given the amazing range of provision that we see—I am cognisant of the remarks about what was happening on youth services—we have fantastic voluntary organisations, which are providing brilliant opportunities to young people. A decade or two ago, their lives would perhaps have been lived in a youth club, but they are now being lived online, on a smartphone, where they talk to their friends in the privacy of their bedrooms. So something different is required in the modern world, and that is another example of where the leadership of local authorities, which know their communities, can deploy those resources, albeit more limited than they might have been historically, in the most effective way.
I wish to make a couple of specific observations about particular strengths of the Government’s response. The first relates to the announcements that have been made to support nurseries and early years providers. I should declare an interest: as a parent of two young children, I am a user of my local council-run nursery. There are many people, some employed in our public services and others who are going about their daily business who are dependent on the existence of those services to ensure that they can live their lives. Such services provide an opportunity for their children and the children who may not come from prosperous backgrounds to gain the best possible start in life. So I am pleased with the commitment that the Government have given to ensure that, even if children are having to step back from those places because of the immediate prevailing situation, funding will still find its way, and so when this moment of emergency passes families can find that those services and the opportunities for the youngest children are still there. That is an extremely wise move, and the more we can send that message to proprietors and managers of nurseries and parents whose children use them, the better.
The second thing I wish to refer to is the distribution of personal protective equipment. Because of my personal connections with the national health service and from what I hear as a local councillor, I know that there is, understandably, a high degree of anxiety among many of those staff who, unlike us in this Chamber, will be sent out to people who are known to be suffering from the coronavirus in order to provide direct, hands-on personal care. They are worried about whether they will be able to access the quality and standard of equipment that will be necessary to keep them safe. The announcement by the Minister that the distribution from national stocks of those products to those frontline workers is going to be absolutely crucial once again in providing that degree of reassurance.
That is not reassurance to those in the markets who are wondering which moves to make when they are trading their shares, and it is not reassurance to the international community; it is reassurance to people who are absolutely at the frontline of responding in a very direct and very human way to this crisis. Again, the more we can get out the message the better that, as well as a sum that is so mind-bogglingly large—over £300 billion—that it is hard to grasp, this House is thinking about the basics of face masks and gloves and aprons that people need to make sure that they are safe when they are doing an essential job, to bring this country together and to keep our people safe.
On that point, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be useful to understand from Government just how they are ramping up the production and supply of PPE, or ventilators or testing kits, so we understand where the base was and where we might be in two weeks’ time?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. I have been very much reassured by what I have heard from Ministers over a number of days about the initiatives that are taking place to ensure that ventilators, for example, and other equipment are available. One of the things I am particularly aware of because of my local government experience and knowledge of what local resilience forums do is that there are long-standing plans in place, backed up by stockpiles of various different types of equipment that may be required. It is welcome that the Minister has been very clear today that, based on need and local requirements, the distribution of that is going to begin, particularly for the volunteer groups that many colleagues have referred to, with people who are not familiar with some of the challenges and risks that may be involved in treating patients with serious illnesses; the knowledge that they can access good quality personal protective equipment supplied through central Government and by their local authority, is going to be absolutely crucial.
In conclusion, I would simply like to make the following point. We have seen examples up and down the land of local authorities consistently on a cross-party basis—I can think of examples from the response of Manchester to the Arena bombing to those of local authorities across the country to the refugee crisis in Europe—where our local government colleagues have demonstrated very capably that they will rise to any challenge which this House sets. It is most welcome that Ministers have been clear that they will provide the financial resources that are central to the delivery of that, and I trust that all hon. Members will be providing a similar degree of cross-party moral support to our colleagues in local government that at this time of national challenge, we need to work together and rise to it together.
This is a very important debate at a very important time, and I thank my hon. Friend Barbara Keeley for her introduction in opening it. I also thank the Minister for the spirit in which he conducted the response. For Members across the House, a lot is going on at the moment: tensions are heightened and people are fearful in our communities, and we have all received an increasing volume of correspondence from people desperate to find out what happens next, what this means, and how they can get help and support. It is telling therefore that so many Members have stayed for this debate just to put on record our appreciation for the time given to this important issue.
In particular, I want to reference the Select Committee—and my hon. Friend Helen Hayes in particular, previously a distinguished member of it—for the work it has done on a number of reviews. On almost every issue and in every policy area, a consistent theme came out, which was that the Government did not have a grasp of the scale of the impact of the decisions they were making on the communities affected by those decisions. Whether it was housing, planning, local government finance, adult social care, children’s services or homelessness—you name it—every review had that strand going right through it.
It is absolutely right to point out that a decade of cuts has taken its toll. Critically—and let us be honest, this issue has transcended different Governments—the absence of a proper assessment of the responsibilities placed on councils, which would then allow an informed assessment of the cost of delivering those responsibilities, is a glaring omission that we need to put right. It is staggering that we are carrying out a fair funding review without having reviewing the responsibilities. That cannot be a real, balanced assessment of the costs of view of delivering services.
Of course, the debate naturally goes on to social care workers and the genuine concern about the type of protection that they will get. This is a constant frustration. We all love the NHS: it is part of who we are as a nation. The NHS gives us help when we need it most, when we are at our most desperate; it brings new life into the world, and we all celebrate that; and it supports us when our loved ones are reaching the end of their time, and right in the middle of that experience, too. It is a frustration for local government, though, that social care is always placed in second or even third place behind the NHS. I just do not understand it: surely if someone is giving care in a hospital environment, they have the same value as if they were giving care in somebody’s home environment. The skill and compassion that person needs, along with their dedication to public service, are critical requirements.
Let us look at what it feels like to be an adult social care worker. First, they are often not treated with respect by the person employing them. We have only recently made progress on 15-minute visits, pay for travel time, not deducting uniform costs and all those types of issues, but even now many are paid the minimum wage or just above it, and that is not even enough to live on. It starts at the beginning: we say that we value care as an industry because it is so important to our society, but the apprenticeship levy rate for care is the lowest possible rate that can be paid for that skill and training provision, at £3,000 a year. A fencing installer who takes on an apprentice can attract £12,000 a year, but that adult social care worker on an apprenticeship attracts only £3,000 a year. There is a real question mark about how we value care as a career. Let us be honest: we have got away with it for too long. As a society and as a nation, we are not paying people a fair wage for their responsibilities and the importance of the job that they do. That just has to change. It will have a price tag, but we should really value the work that they do.
In the NHS and social care so many of these employees are taken for granted. Their skills in dealing with people—patients, clients, or whatever we call them—is taken for granted. The sector is to a large extent running on the good will of its employees.
That is absolutely the case, but it is also running on high levels of vacancies—there are 120,000 vacancies in adult social care. We are highly vulnerable to staff in that industry becoming ill and going into self-isolation, which is why the question of the protection and support they are given becomes so important. It is absolutely about making sure that, first and foremost, they are considered in the same way as hospital staff. Making sure that they get the proper protective equipment that they need is critical, not just to protect the patients who are being dealt with and the receivers of adult social care, but for the individuals who are placing themselves in a very risky situation, going into people’s homes without knowing who that person has been in contact with, but doing it anyway because they believe in the care they are offering.
My hon. Friend Apsana Begum made a really important point that went beyond adult social care: the fabric of our society has changed as a result of the cuts. The 70% reduction in youth services has almost certainly had an impact on knife crime, on county lines, and on whether people feel they have a stake in the future.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he agree that in this time of crisis central Government support for local government is urgently needed in respect of protection of our young people, who may be even more vulnerable to violence as a consequence of the lack of support systems, of activities and of the people who are normally are responsible for keeping them safe day-to-day?
That is absolutely true, and it is also true that many lives are lost, in terms of potential, through the criminalisation of young people who are effectively groomed into criminality by those in positions of power or authority in the community who attract them in and entice them. We need to do far more to make clear to young people across the country that there is a real alternative when it comes to leading a fulfilled life. Until then, we will never break the cycle of young people being caught in crime unnecessarily.
This goes right to the heart of the “cradle to the grave” approach to public service. We cannot ignore the impact on Sure Start centres, which were about investing in young people and giving them a taste of what opportunity was from the time when they were young and receiving that type of care. Taking it away has had a massive impact, and that is before we get on to primary school budgets and special educational needs. Young people are just not receiving the tailored support that they need.
However, today is also about thanking councils for the work that they do. Regardless of party affiliation, I want to place on record our thanks for the work that councillors do. They come into public service from their community because they really want to make a difference. Hearing from some of the councillors and ex-councillors who are now in this place about the passion and connection that they still feel, as I do, is very inspiring. We must also thank our council officers.
After 10 years of austerity, councils have experienced a very stressful period in trying to reconcile delivering balanced budgets to remain within the law with managing the huge demand for adult social care, children’s services and services for the homeless. People believe they pay council tax for the very neighbourhood services that are being taken away because councils cannot afford to make ends meet and provide those services. Councils are placed in a horrible position. They are trying to keep their heads above water, and providing targeted support for people who really need it, but at the same time the public are holding them to account for the real cuts that have been made locally. I do not think that that is a fair burden for central Government to place on local government.
That brings me to council tax, which is a hugely regressive tax. It has increased by a third, and what was hidden in the Budget papers was, within the lifetime of that Budget, an £8 billion increase in council tax income for the Treasury. The Government are not coming to the table and giving councils sufficient funds to deal with the demands of adult social care and children’s services in particular. What they are saying is “It is the survival of the fittest. If you can raise money through council tax or business rate retention, good luck, but if you cannot, I am afraid that you can no longer rely on central Government to step in and provide that partnership solution.”
That is just not a fair way of doing things. How can it be right that today, in England—and we have an English problem, because of the nature of how the country is governed—adult social care and people’s ability to access the care that they need will soon be determined by the house values in their area in 1991? How can it be right that they will be based on historic industrial and commercial land values and the business rate take in that area, when the council has very little control over that base? With every revaluation, we see many regions being devalued, and London and the south-east increasing in value. That will be the model, the baseline, of public service funding in the future.
I mentioned the survival of the fittest, but the fittest are not that fit. Local government still faces a £6 billion funding gap between now and 2025. There will still be people in the most affluent parts of the country who are living in absolute destitution and not getting the support that they need because councils do not have the necessary funds.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Having been a councillor myself, I can echo his comments. The difficulty for our local authorities is that in the absence of the central Government grant, they are having to be more inventive and creative in respect of how they bring in revenue streams. What we have found in the last couple of weeks and what is forecast is that certain revenue streams will be cut off, and councils will become more and more desperate to continue what few services they can maintain. When the car parking charges and the revenue streams for the local civic centre are not coming in, they will be under even more pressure than they were before. Does he agree that the local authorities need to understand urgently how the £500 million that the Chancellor mentioned will be distributed—and distributed fairly?
I think that is right. When councils have to look elsewhere for funding, a risk naturally comes with that. The National Audit Office produced a report on this and the Government share these concerns. The Public Works Loan Board interest rate was doubled overnight by the Government, because they are concerned about the exposure that councils face in buying assets as investments. The NAO expressed the same concern. In a two-year period, councils have been buying investment portfolio assets of £6 billion. Why? Because they are desperate to see income from other places, but this is office accommodation and in retail, sometimes not even in the area that the council is responsible for. The Government response is to double the Public Works Loan Board rate instead of addressing the fundamental reason why councils have to look elsewhere for funding, which feels illogical. We have to make sure that the base funding for councils is absolutely where it needs to be.
We are coming to the greatest test of local government, public service and society that any of us have seen in our lifetime. It will test us all. It will test the fabric of society and test public services to breaking point, at a time when they are built on extremely weak foundations. I am genuinely fearful for how we can continue this in a sustained period. For a short time, they will make it work. They will roll their sleeves up and work together. They will create a partnership at a local level and find a way through it, but the Government know full well that this is not a crisis that will last weeks or even months. A sustained response will be required and the Government will have to make sure that they give local government the funding that they need to provide the critical response. We also need to manage public expectation.
Is my hon. Friend aware that only today, local government has received a directive from central Government to provide street sleepers—homeless people on the streets—with self-contained accommodation? Great idea, but where are they going to find it?
It is also the case, as I hope most Members know, that solving homelessness is not just about providing a roof. That is a critical part of it, but it is about how the ecosystem of public service works to make sure that the alcohol and drug addiction services, mental health support and physical health support are in place. We need to make sure that this is not just about giving someone a set of keys for a property—by the way, if that was possible, why did we not do it before this crisis? —but making sure that the wider support is in place.
The Government need to be honest about the scale of the challenge that public services will face. I still believe that at this moment, the public of this country do not understand the scale of what may face us all and particularly the impact that it will have on public services, and not just for the workforce. We need to remember, when we talk about public services and the community over here, that public servants are the community. They live and work in the communities where we all do. If people are off work because they have to self-isolate, are ill or have caring responsibilities, that will have a direct impact on the local government workforce. Many will have partners working in the private sector, as well as the public sector, and they may well face redundancies and hours being cut in the family. They will go through the same financial stresses and strains, and there will be an impact on family life in the same way. The Government need to be honest about what that means for day-to-day public services, and what the public can expect when we really have to pull through to make sure that we can keep the most urgent critical care going in this country.
The Chancellor said that money will be made available, but we see a drip feed of those announcements in a way that is not helpful for local government. The public health settlement for next year was released only yesterday, 14 days before the end of the financial year. Local councils were not even able to plan ahead about what that meant. We cannot have that when it comes to a crisis of this scale.
I have always believed that our local government is the first line of defence and the frontline in delivering public services. I have always believed that they are the glue that holds our community together, that they are the leaders of place and that they can stir us to a better future. We have seen that in the way that they bring communities together, invest in their local economies and deliver decent public services. What we will demand of those people in the coming weeks and months will test us all, and it will test their resolve. It will not be good enough just to say, “Thank you for all that you do,” without addressing the fact that, for 10 years, they have had to shoulder a disproportionate burden of austerity. Surely, now is the time to say to those people, “We will right the wrong of making you take on that burden of austerity. You were not the bankers, you did not create the financial crisis, and it was wrong to place you in a position where you had to bear a disproportionate burden.” We need to put that right today.
We need not just money for the current crisis but sustained funding so we can rebuild public services, invest in our frontline and do more than just give those people one word. By the time we get through this, they will not be just the frontline that we respect; they will be seen for the heroes that they are.
May I first congratulate and thank hon. Members across the House for their valuable and important contributions to the debate? They have been largely co-operative and collaborative at a time of extraordinary emergency for our country.
I am sorry that I was not here at the beginning of the debate to hear the opening remarks of Barbara Keeley and the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall); like Jim McMahon, I was in a Westminster Hall debate discussing the Greater Manchester spatial framework. It is a great pleasure to have the chance to close the debate.
I join my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State in reiterating the Government’s unwavering support for local authorities across the country in responding to the covid-19 emergency. Like other right hon. and hon. Members, I pay particular tribute to frontline staff and other council officers for their tireless efforts in reassuring residents, protecting the elderly and most vulnerable, and helping keep the public safe. Let me assure the House that the Government will continue to work hand in hand with local partners, including councils and local resilience forums, to assist in this vital work and ensure that communities receive the support and help they need during this unprecedented and challenging time.
Hon. Members across the House described powerfully the incredible work that their local communities and local public services are doing. Let me say, on behalf of the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, how grateful we are for all the tireless work that people are already doing. I am particularly conscious of the vital contribution of local voluntary organisations, and I pay particular tribute to them, as other Members did. I was struck by what my hon. Friend Ben Everitt had to say about the support the local volunteer organisation The Bus Shelter is providing.
Our responsibility in Government is to knit that work together into a national programme to ensure that all communities and all vulnerable people, wherever they may be, have access to the right support at the right time, and we will do that. We will take every step necessary to support local communities, local authorities, all public services and the myriad volunteers who are coming forward to help, as my hon. Friends the Members for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds) and for Devizes (Danny Kruger) made clear.
We know councils need assurance from the Government that they will have the funding they need to play their crucial role in the coronavirus response, especially in providing social care services to those in greatest need, as a number of Members on both sides of the House have said. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has made clear, we will do whatever it takes—whatever it takes—to respond effectively. That includes making sure public services, including vital council services, have the money they need to respond. The Chancellor announced last week that £5 billion has been made available for the NHS, and more money has been made available for other public services, such as the half a million pounds made available to local authorities, with more to come if necessary.
We are urgently agreeing a funding package for councils, and we will make further announcements as soon as possible.
The Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government said earlier that the Government will make sure that, whatever social care and the NHS need, they will get it. Will the Minister for Housing repeat that? That is an important thing to say. It is not just the NHS that needs funding; social care needs it, too.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that intervention. I will come on to talk about social care, but we will certainly be giving those who work in social care the help they need to contend with this crisis.
These measures, which follow on from the Budget and from the Chancellor’s announcement last night, amount to over £330 billion in financial support, which, if I may say gently, is more than just drip-feeding into the system; it is a significant amount of money. The Government are prepared to do whatever it takes to protect the economy, our NHS, our local services and our local authorities in weathering this storm.
Will the Minister specifically address the loss in core income that councils will experience if business rates revenue collapses? I know the Government have announced large-scale support, much of which will be channelled through local authorities to meet specific needs arising from the pandemic, but the threat to our councils is bigger than that—it is to their core budget. The Government have made councils reliant on business rates revenue in recent years, and it may now drain away from them.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her further intervention. I know and understand the point she is making, and we have already made funds available to local authorities. The Chancellor, in his Budget speech, made clear the support we want to give. He made further announcements yesterday and, if she is prepared to bear with the Government a little longer, I suspect further announcements will be made as the situation evolves.
Local authority base budgets are based on an assessment of council tax collection rates. If people are made redundant or if they move on to statutory sick pay, they will clearly not be able to afford their rent, let alone their council tax. We expect councils to withhold any enforcement action, because that is the right, moral thing to do, but surely the Government will provide compensation to protect the base income of those councils, and surely they must now consider whether people should have the protection of a council tax holiday, too.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. As the Chancellor made clear, we will do whatever is necessary to stand behind our public services, our local authorities and our volunteers to get through this crisis. More announcements will be made in this fast-moving situation, so I ask him to bear with the Government in that regard.
As hon. Members will also be aware, yesterday, my Department announced £3.2 million in initial emergency funding to help rough sleepers or those at risk of rough sleeping to self-isolate to prevent the spread of this virus. The Under-Secretary of State, the homelessness Minister, made that point in his opening remarks; I just wanted to reiterate it to ensure that colleagues who have come into the Chamber more recently have heard it.
A number of Members from across the House raised the question of whether the Government have provided sufficient funding. The first point I would make—I have made it already—is that this situation is changing every day. The Government are responding at pace to the evolving challenges and working closely with the Local Government Association and other local authority representatives to understand the effects of covid-19 on the delivery of statutory services, including social care. The second point is to stress that the announcements that we have made so far, including those from the Chancellor last night, do not signal the end of the Government’s response; they signal its beginning. We stand ready to do more and we will go further as necessary.
A number of colleagues raised the question of our social care workforce, including those who care for the elderly and vulnerable in care homes and in their own homes. Building on our existing strong local relationships, the NHS and local authorities are working with care providers to make sure that people receive the specialised care and support they need during this outbreak. Councils will map out all care and support plans to prioritise people who are at the highest risk and will contact all registered providers in their local area to facilitate plans for mutual aid, and they will do this at pace.
I thank the Minister. This morning, in a conference call with the leader of Birmingham City Council, the biggest council in Europe, we discussed this exact thing. Currently in social care and across care homes in the city of Birmingham—I imagine it is the same everywhere—they simply do not have the personal protective equipment to do the job that they need to be doing. I was asked to raise that directly with the Government and press them on it, because people are being put in harm’s way.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that point. Let me reassure her. We understand the point about social care providers and PPE. I think 7 million—I quote from memory—face masks are being made available to careworkers. At least 300 masks will be provided to care homes or care home providers to ensure that this necessary and essential piece of kit is available to them. If for whatever reason the normal supplier is unable to provide the kit, the national supply disruption response number is a way for providers to find other suppliers or receive an emergency parachute drop of those masks. I should also say that, although we would ordinarily expect those sorts of workers to have things such as aprons and gloves, we will do whatever we can to ensure that whatever they need is available. We are working with local authorities and care providers to make sure that those PPE pieces of kit are available.
We have also asked GPs to look at the possibilities of offering digital appointments to provide advice and guidance to patients and potentially to their families. I am confident that we are making every effort to provide for those eventualities.
A number of Members raised the 2020-21 settlement. I hope that we have demonstrated clearly to all Members that we are doing everything possible to give local government the right support and the right resources to respond to this unprecedented crisis. Of course, local authorities have already been put on a strong footing by the outcome of the settlement for next year. The settlement, which I am pleased that the House supported just a few weeks ago, responds to the pressures that councils are facing by providing them with access to the largest increase in core spending power since 2015. CSP will rise from £46.2 billion to £49.1 billion in 2020-21. That is an estimated 4.4% real-terms increase—well above the rate of inflation. In 2020-21, the final settlement makes £1.5 billion of new funding available for adult and children’s social care. That will support local authorities to meet rising demand and recognises the vital role that social care plays in supporting the most vulnerable in our society.
In conclusion, the role of local government in delivering social care and other vital public services has never been more important than it is now and will be in the days and weeks ahead. Through our immediate actions in response to this crisis and the broader work this Government are doing to help local authorities, I am confident that we are giving councils everything they need to deliver the services upon which we and our communities rely. We remain steadfast in our commitment to do whatever it takes to help communities to beat covid-19, safe in the knowledge that, together, we will rise to these challenges. Together we must, and we will, succeed.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered the statutory and broader local government responsibilities for public services, including social care.