My Lords, I was delighted to add my name to this important amendment which builds on several amendments we have discussed in your Lordships' House with regard to the integration of health and social care. The central point of the amendment is to place a duty on the Secretary of State to secure improvement in the quality of social care services provided by local authorities. It goes on to set out the means of doing so.
These proposals are based on those of the Dilnot commission, of which my noble friend Lord Warner was such a distinguished member and about which there is such consensus among all those who work in or are in receipt of social care. If only the coalition Government had managed to achieve such a consensus about all the proposals in this Bill, we would have saved a lot of time and be a lot more content. There is consensus around the proposals and everybody understands what the social care system is in need of. As we have heard from my noble friend, the system is starved of cash, failing to meet the volume of need, unfair-a lottery-and, confusing and difficult to find your way around, especially if you are frail, elderly and confused.
The existing consensus is that the future funding of social care has to be based on a combination of individual and state responsibility and contribution, and that we must achieve a lasting settlement. We have mentioned many times before in your Lordships' House that the Health and Social Care Bill fails to address the most pressing of all health problems: how to deliver affordable and effective social care for our growing elderly population-a view endorsed, I remind your Lordships, by the Health Select Committee in a recent report.
It is extremely worrying that rumours are circulating that the White Paper on social care, responding to both the Dilnot proposals and the Law Commission proposals about legislative reform in this area, is to be delayed. This would be a huge disappointment as well as a missed opportunity. Moreover, it would renege on the commitment given by the Minister for social care in another place when he said only four months ago that,
"social care has languished and rested in the 'too-difficult-to-do' box for far too long. We are the Government who are committed; we see the urgency and the need".-[Hansard, Commons, 10/11/11; col. 181WH.]
I hope that the Minister will today repeat that commitment in response to this amendment.
We should remember, too, the advantages which would be delivered by accepting this approach. We would spend existing resources-which everybody agrees are short-better. It would improve integration of health and social care systems. When people's need for social care is not met, they turn to the NHS-resulting in increased numbers of emergency admissions or delayed discharges. The inconsistency between fully funded NHS care and means-tested social care hampers delivery of an integrated care system. Recent statistics from the Department of Health show an 11 per cent rise already in the number of hospital bed days lost to so-called bed blocking, so that costs have risen extremely fast.
In addition, the rights and responsibilities of individuals and agencies would be clear to the public if the Government accept this approach. If people were clear about their future personal liability, they could plan how they would meet care costs up to the level of the cap, wherever that were placed. We would also stimulate the care market to provide more choice for families and incentives for business. The Dilnot report and its proposals has been called a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We cannot and should not miss that opportunity. I support the amendment.