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Local Government Responsibilities: Public Services

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:43 pm on 18th March 2020.

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Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Devolution) 4:43 pm, 18th March 2020

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.