Report (2nd Day)

Part of Care Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 14th October 2013.

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Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench 6:30 pm, 14th October 2013

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 123. In doing so, I add my support to Amendments 76 and 124, which were tabled by my noble friend Lady Greengross. Indeed, a few of my comments slightly overlap hers.

As the Bill stands, local authorities will be given many complex duties and will be required to make many decisions which will have a substantial—you could say devastating—impact on the lives of elderly and disabled people, but there is no statutory provision for any appeal or independent review process, even if decisions are made on the basis of factual or legal errors. That is the point of the comments I want to make.

I understand that the Government have committed themselves to consider a process of redress or appeal and that they recognised in their response to the Joint Committee that it is,

“vital that people have an effective way to complain and seek redress”,

but there is no assurance in the Bill that such a system will be put in place and, if one is, what its characteristics will be. As my noble friend Lady Greengross said, regulations under other legislation do not appear to do the job. I hope the Minister will comment on that situation.

For example, local authorities decide whether an elderly or disabled person should continue to receive care support. Many will lose that support as a result of cuts to local authority budgets. The impact of losing care support—an entire care package in some cases—can be catastrophic, according to Leonard Cheshire Disability and others directly in touch with disabled or elderly people. Many years ago, I worked with these people, and I find the very idea that a care package could simply be removed very frightening, even as an onlooker, let alone as somebody experiencing such a thing. People become trapped in their homes, unable to work and unable to get out. They become depressed and, in some cases, suicidal—and not surprisingly in my view. There can also be risks to people’s health. As they try to undertake tasks for which they are not well suited or which they are unable to perform on their own, they fall. Has anyone estimated the likely cost to the health service of increased falls, accidents and problems of this kind? What is the Government’s view of the economic costs to the country if family carers have to give up work in order to step into the breach when the state withdraws? The problem is that the local authority may save money but the DWP and the Treasury are likely to pick up the tab. I am not quite sure what the Minister in the other place would think about that.

It is easy for the state machinery to underestimate the incredible vulnerability of many elderly and disabled people. Applicants for care support will inevitably feel nervous and fearful of the consequences of upsetting the very people on whom they depend so heavily. It is terribly important that an appeal or review process is not only user-friendly and accessible but really is independent of the people making decisions about the person’s care. Can the Minister honestly say that care decisions will in future not vary across the country? Can he say that decisions will be made without error and always be based on the law? I do not think so. In preparing this amendment we have been mindful of the cost constraints and the need to allow Ministers flexibility to create a system that will be proportionate and sustainable. I hope the Minister will recognise this in his closing comments.

Having said that, I draw your Lordships’ attention to the fact that Leonard Cheshire Disability has specifically asked me to ensure that a full tribunal service be considered, although we did have a discussion about the financial implications of that. It argues that if such a system exists to deal with conflicts about school places, a decision to deny social care is equally as devastating. The Law Commission recognised the importance of a fair, independent and accessible system of redress.

I know that the noble Earl has discussed this issue with key stakeholders and perfectly well understands the points I am making. I hope he can give the House an assurance today that, if he is unable to accept the precise wording of the amendment, the Government will table an amendment at Third Reading that will guarantee that a suitable appeal or review process will be in place when the Care Bill comes into effect.