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Local Government Responsibilities: Public Services

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:14 pm on 18th March 2020.

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Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Shadow Minister (Mental Health and Social Care) 3:14 pm, 18th March 2020

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?