My Lords, Amendment 88Q relates to the eligibility for social care. This is a probing amendment in order for the Committee to debate the most critical area of social care reform for working-age disabled people—that is, whether they are eligible to receive the care and support that they need to lead independent lives.
The Government’s regulations have now confirmed that the Care Bill will be nothing more than an unachievable aspiration for more than 100,000 working-age disabled people and more than 150,000 older people who have significant care needs but will not be eligible for support. It is not my intention to debate the nuances of the regulations that have been published in draft, and the Minister would, rightly, tell me that this is not the time or the place to do so. However, it is my intention to focus on the policy principle concerning who should be eligible for social care and support. I also thank the Minister in another place for taking the time to meet me yesterday to discuss my amendment.
The difference that good-quality social care can make cannot be underestimated. It is the difference between being isolated, living locked up and staring at the same four walls or being set on the path to living a full and independent life. The recent Time to Invest in Care publication described the situation faced by David, a 23 year-old man with autism and schizophrenia who currently lives with his parents. David needs support to engage in activities and look for suitable jobs. He needs guidance to gain a better understanding of social rules and to develop his awareness of dangers in the community. He also has difficulty in understanding boundaries in regard to friendships. As a result of receiving the right social care and support, David has a volunteering job and is now working towards moving into supported living and leading an independent life. This is the difference that the right social care support can make.
However, under the current eligibility system David has been assessed as having only moderate care needs. This means that, under the eligibility regulations set out alongside the Care Bill, David would not be entitled to support and his future would therefore be far less positive. Essentially, the Government’s regulations mean that David should not receive this formal social care support.
That brings me to the policy intention of the regulations. I very much welcome the pause in the proceedings of the Care Bill in this House so that time has been allowed for us to look over the regulations that have now been published in draft. I have read them with interest and there is much in the direction of them that is to be welcomed. They represent a real improvement on the current system. Particularly positive is the focus on well-being and, specifically, the inclusion of shopping and managing household finances in the definition of basic household activities. This appears to be a very progressive step which joins up the regulations with the very first clause of the Bill, which has been widely praised, and I congratulate the Government on that. It is also a very brave and positive step to end the postcode lottery in care provision.
However, I have very real concerns about the Government’s intention—as stated by the Minister in another place in his foreword to the draft regulations—that in terms of practical outcome the regulations will be equivalent to “substantial” under the current system. This will be devastating news to the hundreds of thousands of disabled and older people with significant care needs who will be excluded from receiving formal social care.
The Minister is aware that historic underfunding of the social care system, the pressures of an ageing population and a 33% reduction in local council budgets by 2014-15 have led to many local authorities raising the threshold at which disabled and older people become eligible. In 2005, 50% of local authorities set their eligibility criteria at “moderate”. By 2012, 84% had set the eligibility criteria at the higher level of “substantial” needs. The result is that since 2008 90,000 people have fallen out of the care system.
The excellent report, The Other Care Crisis, illustrates the impact that this has had. Four in 10 disabled people who receive social care support say that it does not meet their basic needs, such as washing, dressing and getting out of the house—all things that we take for granted. The Care Bill will not resolve this crisis in care if the regulations are set at the level currently proposed. In fact, by setting a national minimum threshold at a level which maintains this crisis, the Government appear to be reducing their ambition for their social care reforms.
One point which has not been picked up is that the Government also appear to be reducing their ambition for the cap on care costs. While it is a welcome and important measure to attempt to cap the catastrophic costs of care that some people face, particularly in their old age, the Government have made it clear that the cap will only be triggered once an individual has been deemed eligible for care. Setting the bar for eligibility too high effectively means that there will be hundreds of thousands of people who think that they will not have to sell their homes to pay for care in their old age, yet will not be eligible for the cap itself. They will still have to pay for the cost of their care, even well above the £72,000 threshold, unless they are deemed eligible by their local authority.
For working-age disabled people the cap on care costs is irrelevant. The recent joint parliamentary inquiry, co-chaired by my noble friend Lady Campbell of Surbiton, highlighted the fact that the introduction of the cap was never designed to answer the care crisis for disabled people under 65. The inquiry was clear that the most crucial aspect of reform for working-age disabled people is where the eligibility for care is set. For them, this is the difference between living an independent life and spiralling into crisis.
I also have very real concerns that those disabled people who are set to lose out as a result of the Government’s welfare reforms will be the same people who will lose out on social care. It is highly likely that an individual who has significant care needs, but who falls just short of the current threshold, will be one of the half a million disabled people who will not get the personal independence payment under the new system. This means that not only will the social care that enables them to live independent lives be beyond their reach, but their financial independence will also be threatened further.
It appears to me that there is a clear group of disabled people whom the Government deem not quite disabled enough to receive support. Providing them with just enough support to remain independent will prevent them spiralling into crisis, costing local authorities much more money in crisis emergency care. I also believe that there is a clear economic argument to be made here. Economic modelling, carried out by Deloitte and published in the Ending the Other Care Crisis report, found that an investment of £1.2 billion in a lower eligibility threshold, equivalent to the current “moderate” level, would lead to substantial returns across government. This would include a £70 million saving to central government through increased taxes and reduced welfare spending. There would also be a £570 million saving to the NHS and local government through the avoidance of expensive crisis care.
The Government made a very welcome investment of an additional £2 billion at the recent spending review. I urge the Minister to use this money to invest in a lower national eligibility threshold, not just to ensure that his ambition for a care-based system on well-being becomes a reality, but for the savings it could generate as well.
In conclusion, as Members from across the House have repeatedly made clear, the Care Bill is a very good piece of legislation, and is welcome. However, we must make sure that disabled and older people who have significant care needs do not fall out of the social care system. If the eligibility threshold continues to be set at the level the Government have proposed, hundreds of thousands of disabled and older people will be shut out of the care system. There will be real concerns that the Government’s admirable focus on well-being will be far from reality for these people. I beg to move.