My Lords, I shall speak briefly to Amendment 55 on top-ups and comment, also briefly, on the proposal for a ministerial advisory committee.
I can be brief about top-ups but not because the issue is not important. Indeed, its substance is vital if the Government’s scheme for a cap is to work. We made good progress on the basis of the Minister’s remarks in Committee, and further progress was made in the Government’s consultation document, published on
I recapitulate the argument from Committee. You cannot at the moment top up your own care home fees. If you go into a care home, a third party—your son, daughter or friend—can top them up but you cannot put in your own money. That is important now, and the statutory bar is often got around or simply ignored. However, it will be a lot more important once the Dilnot scheme incorporated in the Bill takes effect.
Consider an old person who is living in a home in which the fees are £800 a week. Suppose that the limit to what the local authority will pay in fees is £500 a week. What happens when the person has spent up to the cap, at the local authority rate of course? It may be that a third party can give them the extra money to pay up, but suppose they are isolated and on their own. I am afraid that the answer is simple and stark. The individual would have to choose between only two alternatives. One is to accept the £500 a week from the local authority and move into a cheaper, perhaps worse, home, with all the disruption to that person’s life that that would involve. The other would be waive the local authority contribution and continue to pay the £800 themselves. That would mean that the cap had not done them a blind bit of good. The way round this is to permit individual top-ups, so £500 would come from the local authority, £300 from the individual. The noble Earl endorsed this in Committer when he said that,
“people should be able to use their savings to purchase more expensive care if they want to”.
He went on to say that revised arrangements to this effect would,
“be set out in regulations made under Clause 30(2) of the Bill”. —[ Official Report , 16/7/13; col. 736.]
This is spelt out in paragraphs 263-266 of the consultative document, which also has pointers to some of the potential risks. I hope that this was with a view to solving those risks and not to coming along at a later stage and saying that they are insuperable. I ask the Minister to make a brief progress report to reassure the House that this bar on individual top-ups is going to be rescinded. Without it, the Dilnot scheme simply will not work.
I will now say a word on the ministerial advisory committee amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath who kindly adopted a proposal that I made in Committee. As the House knows, I have previous in this field, having been working on long-term care since I was on the royal commission in 1999. I also have a bit of previous on public policy in general because I started working for Tony Crosland when he was shadow Environment Minister in 1972. Of all the myriad subjects on which I have had to do reasonably serious work in this time, this is by far the most complicated. It involves a mix of financial and administrative problems with the most sensitive human considerations, particularly since it concerns people at a stage of their life when they are going into the second age of vulnerability due to age. Public and private are inextricably mixed in a way that complicates things. The whole cap is part of a private/public co-operation; therefore, it is crucial to align what both parts are doing.
The scale and range of the stakeholders involved is enormous. The Care and Support Alliance had more than 100 individual voluntary organisations which came together to promote a solution in this Bill. There are also a lot of nooks and crannies that are not obvious. I am going to come to one in a speech later this afternoon, a feature of this Bill which only became known to me on Friday which greatly changes the deferred payment scheme under the Bill. There are nooks and crannies that can be simply ignored. We had another one earlier in the Bill. It suddenly turned out that if somebody had an income close to the top for which they could claim means-tested support, they had better not claim it, because otherwise they would lose more than they gained through attendance allowance. So it is a hugely complicated field.
I am not a critic of the department on this, nor of its Ministers. They have wrestled bravely with this, helped of course by the superb Dilnot report—I am standing behind my noble friend Lord Warner who was involved in that process—which helped hugely to clarify the intellectual framework. But there are complications as yet unfathomed. As the scheme goes forward I promise that there will be lots of unexpected and unintended effects. In particular, how people register they are getting care needs, how they are then assessed, and how it builds up towards a care cap, will work out quite strangely. The Government will need the best possible advice on how to do it.
All I am suggesting, as my noble friend Lord Hunt will propose in his amendment, is that it would be well for us to set up right at the beginning a ministerial advisory committee that includes everyone—the voluntary groups, the financial services industry and those who regulate it, and government departments—that can keep on top of these things. As major problems are identified, the committee can report to the Minister on them. As I say, it is not a vote of no confidence in the Department of Health. Indeed, I hope that the department will welcome the proposal because it has shown itself to be willing to talk openly throughout this progress of this Bill. The Minister used a good phrase to describe it when discussing the regulations earlier—co-production. We will need co-production as much after the Bill and the regulations have gone through as before. An advisory committee would provide that.