My Lords, to protect the interests of people in social care we have introduced an independent system of regulation and inspection of social care providers in England. The Care Quality Commission inspects and regulates all registered providers against statutory regulations and national standards to ensure the quality and safety of care. In addition, we are currently reviewing the No Secrets guidance, which covers community safeguarding arrangements, and a new vetting and barring scheme will be in place from October this year.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Nevertheless, would she not agree that there is ample evidence of neglect in all walks of life and of discrimination against disabled and old people, especially by some care companies? A recent "Panorama" programme revealed that there were thousands of complaints of neglect, including people being left naked in their beds at night, people being left in their own excrement both at night and during the day and people being deprived of vital drugs. Given this scandalous situation, will the Government stand back and leave it to the Care Quality Commission or will they work with the commission and become actively involved? Without the involvement of the Government, the commission, which has been set up only this week, will have limited power. Will my noble friend tell us how long the Government have known about this situation and exactly what she intends to do about it?
My Lords, my noble friend points to a serious issue. We regard the abuse and neglect of vulnerable and elderly people as totally unacceptable. In response to the "Panorama" programme "Britain's Homecare Scandal", which was screened recently, the head of the Care Quality Commission said:
"We will not hesitate to use our statutory powers to take action against any companies that fail to provide acceptable levels of care ... Any evidence shown in the Panorama programme that we were not aware of will be followed up as a matter of urgency. Where necessary, we will use our statutory powers to take action to protect the welfare of people who use those services. Ultimately we can, and will, close down any care providers that fail to make improvements required of them".
We deliberately gave the CQC a new wide range of tough, independent enforcement powers, enabling it to take direct and independent action against service providers, and we expect it to do so. We are in constant dialogue with the Care Quality Commission about such issues. We take up these matters of concern, including this one, as part of our ongoing sponsorship of the commission as a regulator.
My Lords, I am pleased to inform the noble Lord that the Green Paper, which will be with us in June, will lay out a series of options for reforming the care and support system to ensure good quality and cost-effectiveness. The paper will outline funding systems that are sustainable and affordable for individuals and the state. It will be the start of a dialogue that is of great concern and interest to the noble Lord and many others in the House. That dialogue will then lead to proposals on how to take this forward.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the NCVO's quarterly charity forecast survey, released today, reveals that almost one in five charity leaders expects to reduce staffing levels by the end of May? People in need of social care rely on the support of a wide variety of voluntary organisations, which face major cuts to their funding. While the recently announced support for the sector is welcome, how and when will those funds be distributed? Charities need assistance now, before the recession has a massive impact on their work.
My Lords, my noble friend points to a very important matter: the role of the third sector in supporting the disabled and elderly, as well as many other groups. Because that extra support is being provided through the Cabinet Office's budgets to the third sector, I am afraid that I do not know the timetable. However, I will undertake to find out and write to my noble friend.
My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware—I am sure that she is—of a case that received a great deal of publicity in the papers the other day? It concerned a council sending its representatives round to somebody's house with the police who, armed with a battering ram, proceeded to kidnap an old lady and take her out of the care of her daughter. On the face of it, that seemed completely outrageous. Will there be some sort of inquiry into that? It looks to have been a case of a council going completely over the top, simply because the daughter had not gone through the normal procedures to arrange for her mother's release.
My Lords, I read of that case and was extremely concerned. I undertake to let the noble Lord know what the department is doing, and what the inquiries are leading to, on that case.
My Lords, what is the Government's advice for people who had intended to fund residential and social care costs by disposal of capital assets but now cannot sell their homes?
My Lords, the department has a scheme in place to assist people in precisely that situation; it is about deferring the payment and sale of houses, so that people do not lose out because of the fall in the value of their homes.