Like many colleagues from across the House, I recognise that the issue of adult social care is not easy to fix. It will affect many of our constituents at some point in their lifetimes, and some of the barriers to care can be heart-breaking for families.
In May this year, I will stand down as a county councillor in Northamptonshire after eight years’ service; I was also leader of Northampton Borough Council for four years, so I have witnessed at first hand how the system works. Also, as a member of the Communities and Local Government Committee, I have been part of a four-month inquiry into adult social care. We published an interim report ahead of the Budget. I have also had discussions with professionals in the system, from the chief executive of Northampton general hospital down to care workers.
It is clear that the recently announced additional £2 billion of new money in social care is welcome. I recognise that it shows that the Government have listened to representations made by many Members of the House and the social care sector, and to the Select Committee recommendations. But no one on either side of the House is under any illusion that that will fix everything or, indeed, that money is the only issue. It is vital that we find a more sustainable way of paying for the increasing cost of social care over the long term, but we must also fix the systemic problems.
I welcome the Government’s statement that they will shortly set out proposals in a Green Paper. Although short-term action is vital, the social care sector faces medium and long-term funding, structural and other problems that need to be addressed, and it is important that we have a full review of the service for the long term. We must move the debate away from the idea that the entire sector can be saved with increased funding, because the issues go much deeper.
The idea of joined-up care must be exactly that. I have lost track of the number of cases I have worked on with families who are trying to resolve issues between the care provider and the local authority—in some cases, local authorities—and deal with the multiple pressures of finding solutions while dealing with the emotions and trauma of an ill relative, sometimes with many complex or difficult medical conditions.
The systemic problems in some cases can lead to financial pressures, which will only get greater as we have an ageing population, demographic growth and enhanced medical treatment. Often, too many organisations are involved: the poor family can get overwhelmed and unsure about which organisation is dealing with which part of the care package and who they should be chasing to make something happen.
The carers and staff involved are usually equally frustrated, and concerned for the patient and their family. The Green Paper needs to focus both on the structural barriers that prevent care packages from being put in place or patients from being discharged from hospital, and on a serious examination of how the different organisations involved work together. In my opinion, the review must take a wide-ranging look at whether the organisations currently involved are fit for purpose, whether the current splits between health and adult social care can be justified, and the possibilities for reform.