Committee (6th Day)

Part of Care Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 5:45 pm on 16th July 2013.

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Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health 5:45 pm, 16th July 2013

My Lords, this has been an excellent and very important debate and I thank all noble Lords who have contributed. I will, if I may, begin by picking up the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Warner. He put his finger on a number of very important points. The system of locally-determined eligibility for care and support has been confusing to people for too long. It has been seen as an unfair system under which different levels of needs are met on the basis of where somebody lives. The changes we are bringing forward will mean that people’s entitlements to care and support will be much clearer and fairer and will reduce variation in access between local authorities.

That is our starting point and, once this legislation comes into effect, local authorities will not be able to reduce eligibility below the level set out in regulations. They will be able to meet other needs which do not meet the national eligibility criteria through the power in Clause 19, but they will be required to follow a consistent approach to determining eligible needs. That is a big step forward. We must not view these national criteria in isolation. The Bill does a great deal for people with lower levels of need, including through provisions on prevention, information and advice. One of the key aims in relation to assessment is to ensure that this is effective in identifying needs and support options for all people, in particular to help those who do not have eligible needs and to prevent deterioration.

Clause 13 provides for regulations which will set out the eligibility criteria according to which local authorities must meet an adult’s needs for care and support or a carer’s needs for support. Amendment 88Q seeks to add this detail to the Bill. I understand why the noble Baroness would like to see the eligibility criteria set out in this way. Some noble Lords have questioned the number of important provisions being introduced through secondary legislation. However, in this case I believe that it is necessary. It is important that we get the eligibility criteria right, otherwise there is a danger that we will put in place a system that is more confusing than the one that we are replacing.

There is advantage in having the flexibility of setting the criteria in regulations; once again the noble Lord, Lord Warner, gave a helpful pointer to this in his remarks. We are not proposing to amend the national eligibility criteria on a regular basis. However, we need the ability to amend the regulations if it is shown that the criteria need to change at some point in the future. Of course, we would consult fully before making any such change.

To help inform debate on this area, and as noble Lords have mentioned, on 28 June we published draft regulations for discussion which set out the proposed national eligibility criteria. I emphasise that these are intended to set a national minimum equivalent to the level operated by the vast majority of local authorities in the current system. As part of the spending round announced recently we have committed to provide funding that will maintain the same level of services when authorities move to the new system in April 2015. This is the beginning of engagement with stakeholders before we formally consult on draft regulations next spring.

Amendment 88T is concerned with parliamentary scrutiny of the eligibility regulations. The power to set the eligibility criteria in regulations is one of the most important in the Bill and is central to the new care and support system. For this reason the Bill requires the regulations to be made under the affirmative procedure. That will ensure that Parliament will consider the regulations before they are introduced and that it will also consider any future changes. As a matter of course the regulations will also be considered by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. Therefore we do not believe that the regulations need further scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses.

Amendments 88R and 88S in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, refer to matters that the Secretary of State should have regard to when making the regulations. Amendment 88R clarifies that the regulations may describe a person’s care and support needs by reference to the effect of needs arising from a physical or mental condition. The well-being principle at Clause 1(2)(a) includes physical and mental health, and this is reflected in the draft regulations. Regulation 2, which sets out the eligibility criteria, explains that needs are eligible needs if they have a significant impact on a person’s well-being and are as a result of a physical or mental impairment or illness. Amendment 88S proposes that a person should be eligible for care and support if they are in receipt of health services. As we debated earlier, a person can expect to receive an integrated service, but the determination of eligibility for care and support must be based on care needs only, rather than what health services a person is receiving.

A number of noble Lords suggested that the eligibility criteria should be set at moderate. As I have already said, this threshold is about establishing a minimum standard, not about taking away councils’ discretion to go further. Local authorities will remain able to meet lower needs locally if they choose to do so. Once again I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Warner, for his realistic assessment, and to the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, for his comments. The eligibility criteria are intended to be equivalent to the level operated by the vast majority of local authorities in the current system. Independent research suggests that it would cost an additional £1.2 billion to set the threshold at moderate for younger disabled people and those with mental health needs, and a further £1.5 billion for older people. The combined total is £2.7 billion, which is a large amount to find in the current financial climate.

The pooled funding that we are proposing is important to factor in here. The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, suggested that setting the criteria at moderate would save money. It is important to understand what the pooled funding is designed to do. Once again, the eligibility criteria should be seen as part of the overall system that we are putting in place. The pooled funding that we have announced will support better integration between local authorities in the NHS to improve outcomes for the local population. Part of this funding will be used to support local authorities and the NHS if they need to intervene earlier to prevent people’s health or care needs worsening. That will include many of the people with low or moderate needs.

The noble Lord, Lord Low, suggested that universal services do not have the capacity or resources to meet the aspirations that the Government have set out. As we have debated, the Bill sets out new duties on local authorities to provide universal services such as preventive services. These will also be supported by statutory guidance to make clear the expectations that we are placing on local authorities. Moreover, as I have mentioned, the pooled funding is relevant here. Among other things, that will enable preventive and integrated services, which also benefit the NHS.

The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, said that it was not fair that the cap applies only to eligible needs. We will debate the Government’s proposals for the cap cost system in due course. However, access to the cap needs to be consistent in order for the system to be fair. Using national eligibility criteria will ensure that the cap applies on an equivalent basis in every area. The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, commented that the eligibility criteria will not solve the huge variation within local authority areas due to variable assessments. First, the eligibility assessments will set a minimum threshold, which is important. Some differentiation in local implementation will remain, but as we referred to previously, we will require that local authorities appropriately train assessors to ensure that assessments are carried out properly, and we will publish guidance that will help to reduce variation.

My noble friend Lady Jolly asked whether we can ensure that the regulations become more asset-based and that that work involves experts. I can reassure her that the Bill already allows for the individual’s strengths to be taken into account in the assessment. In relation to the draft eligibility regulations I can assure her that we will engage widely with stakeholders to make sure that they deliver our policy.