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Social Care - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:12 pm on 7th December 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Wheeler Baroness Wheeler Opposition Senior Whip (Lords) 2:12 pm, 7th December 2017

I thank the Minister for reading out the Statement in response to the October Labour Opposition debate on the social care funding crisis.

We are told that the Statement builds on the extra £2 billion over the next three years provided by the Government to “meet social care needs”. However, for the record, the Minister will know that independent think tanks such as the Nuffield Trust and the King’s Fund, care providers across the social care sector, voluntary organisations such as Age UK, and organisations representing the staff who deliver the services have all shown clearly the inadequacy of this sum to meet existing and rising demand and to address the funding crisis. Government cuts to local authority budgets have meant cuts to adult social care funding since 2010, which are set to reach £6.3 billion by March 2018. That is the scale of the funding gap that needs to be addressed, and we know that social care did not get even a mention in the Budget. Can the Minister explain to the House why such a key issue was left out?

On the Green Paper and the Government’s preparations for yet another round of consultation, the Minister will accept that this stop/start Green Paper has been a very long time coming, particularly when viewed in the light of the agreed Care Act provisions that were first promised for full implementation in 2016. On 16 November, the Minister told the House that a group of independent experts, including Andrew Dilnot and Kate Barker, would support government engagement with stakeholders. Today’s Statement says that these two are among a range of experts who will “provide their views”. An inter-ministerial group has also been set up. What role will these key experts—who have widespread respect and authority among key stakeholders —play in overseeing the review and consultation? Will they be involved at the heart of the review or will they just feed their views to Ministers?

The Minister will know that it is particularly upsetting for those of us who were involved in the painstaking work on the Care Act to be lectured again about how complex the issues are and on the need to “build consensus around reforms”. That consensus was part of the Care Act and the Government chose not to go ahead with it. We know, too, that they consulted on their proposed care “floor” during the general election; it was roundly rejected by the electorate, causing huge despair and consternation among the millions of disabled people and their carers struggling to cope. Meanwhile, many people are still faced with the catastrophic and rising costs of paying for care.

I mention carers specifically. The Minister is right to acknowledge that they are vital partners in the health and social care system, but the reality is that they have now been waiting nearly two years for the national carers strategy to be updated, refreshed or called to action, with promised deadlines being set back time after time. Last summer, carers were finally told that the strategy would be morphed into the end-of-the-year Green Paper. It was not a satisfactory situation, but carers organisations put huge effort and time into consulting with carers across the country to meet the deadline—only to then receive the announcement of the delay of the Green Paper to summer 2018.

Katy Styles, a carer and campaigner for the Motor Neurone Disease Association, contributed to that consultation and hoped that her voice would be heard. She said:

“Not publishing the National Carers Strategy has made me extremely angry. It sends a message that carers’ lives are unimportant. It sends a message that Government thinks we can carry on as we are. It sends a message that my own time is of little worth”.

We now have the promise of an action plan in the new year. Does the Minister acknowledge that he now has to be straight and play fair with carers and provide them with a date for the action plan? Can he be more specific about the scope and funding that will be allocated to the action plan?

Finally, Age UK estimates that there are 1.2 million people currently living with unmet care needs and that almost a quarter of all adult social care services receive the poorest safety rating from the Care Quality Commission. Can the Minister tell the House how the Statement will help people going without essential daily care, such as help with washing, dressing and toileting, to receive a better quality of care?