My Lords, I am glad to support Amendment 88Q, put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. As she has explained, the amendment seeks to ensure that the national eligibility threshold, a welcome feature of the Bill, is set at a level which will not exclude this group of more than 100,000 disabled people with significant needs from the social care system.
I would like to focus particularly on the role of the eligibility threshold in creating a truly preventive care system. While I welcome the explicit duty on local authorities actively to take steps to prevent delay or reduce the need for care and support, I fear that the regulations published last week on the national eligibility threshold will impede the realisation of this vision. In confirming their intention to set the threshold at a level equivalent to “substantial” under the current criteria for fair access to services, the Government would exclude more than 100,000 disabled people with moderate care needs from the care system. These are people who need support to get out of bed in the morning, wash, eat, get out of the house and participate in the community—the most basic of tasks that you need to be able to do in order to live a fulfilling life.
Moreover, denying disabled people with moderate needs the care and support they need is a false economy. If their needs are not met in the care system there is a real risk that they will escalate to a point where they have to be dealt with further down the line once they reach crisis point. This does not come cheap. It could lead to longer hospital stays, frequent readmissions, even the need for residential support, not to mention the lost tax revenue resulting from disabled people having to give up work as a result of losing social care support. This happens in one in three cases of working-age disabled people who need care.
Take, for example, the case of Elizabeth, of which I have been made aware. She used to have seven hours of key worker support a week to help with managing her bills and shopping. Following a letter from her council she was told, with no consideration of the impact it would have on her independence, that her hours would be reduced to three per week. As a consequence of losing this support she fell into a crisis. As she said, “I did have a job—I was working with disabled people—but I left because I couldn’t cope. I thought it wasn’t fair on the clients. I was going through a bad time, overdosing a lot”.
This case illustrates how only a small amount of timely support can pay real dividends. Support with shopping and managing her bills helped Elizabeth maintain an independent life. However, as a consequence of losing her support she was left in crisis, resulting in her making several suicide attempts and becoming reliant on more expensive medical services.
Under the current draft regulations Elizabeth would be shut out of the care system. I have real fears that cases such as hers will be replicated up and down the country. Indeed, despite the Government’s supportive words about prevention I am concerned that they are effectively regulating for prevention to be taken out of the care system. The consultation document published last week on the draft minimum eligibility threshold states that for those people who are not eligible for care— namely, the 100,000 disabled people with moderate care needs—local authorities will make available universal support, including information, advice and preventive services.
However, this implies that coverage of such services is comprehensive, consistent and of adequate quality when we know that this is not the case. The reality is that many such services have already been axed or are at risk of closure. Indeed, research by the Red Cross has found that nearly two-thirds—64%—of councillors said that their local authority had cut or frozen funding for prevention and lower level social care since the last local elections. This means that universal services will simply not have the capacity to provide the adequate preventive support that the Government intend. People who are not eligible for care will continue to face a postcode lottery of support and will be allowed to fall through the gap between the care system and universal services.
I end by emphasising that setting eligibility at a lower level is the essence of prevention. We cannot have a system where you have to reach crisis point before you can get the support you need. Early intervention and preventive support can also have significant financial benefits. Research undertaken by Deloitte on behalf of disability charities found that investing in people with lower levels of need provides a net positive return of at least 30% to the Government. I therefore hope that the Government will be prepared to take these points on board and ensure that the regulations on eligibility underpin rather than undermine the vision of a truly preventive care system, glimpsed in Clause 2 but, sadly, not yet fully followed through in later clauses.