Health and Social Care Budgets — [Mr Adrian Bailey in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:34 am on 14th March 2017.

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Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Shadow Minister (Mental Health and Social Care) 10:34 am, 14th March 2017

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Bailey. I congratulate my hon. Friend Meg Hillier on securing the debate and the excellent way in which she opened it.

Last week, in the spring Budget statement, the Chancellor announced that the Government would provide £2 billion in funding for social care over the next three years. We have heard a variety of comments about that in the debate. It is welcome that Ministers have finally heard the warnings from the Opposition, a wide range of health and care leaders and the three Select Committees represented in the Chamber today about the fragile and underfunded state of social care, but the extra funding has to be seen against the cuts to local council budgets, leading to the loss of about £5 billion from adult social care budgets since 2010. Clearly, the announced funding is not enough.

The cuts have already had an impact on the lives of many people. Older, vulnerable and disabled people have had support that they relied on taken away. Others have been turned away by local authorities and left to rely on friends and family for help. Last week, in this Chamber, we debated social care in Liverpool, when we heard that the cuts there meant that care could be funded for only 9,000 people, not the 14,000 people who had previously received care packages, as my hon. Friend Mrs Ellman reminded us today. In one city alone, that is 5,000 care packages lost and, nationally, 400,000 fewer older people than in 2010 receive publicly funded care.

We should remember that, as Age UK tells us, 1.2 million older people have to live with unmet needs for care—older people who do not have help they need to feed themselves, wash or get dressed. Apart from coping with future demographic change, we have to look at that unacceptable level of unmet need, because that is part of the serious state of social care and it is having a knock-on effect on the NHS. As Mark Porter from the British Medical Association said:

“When social care is on its knees, patients suffer delayed transfers, and the personal and financial cost is vast.”

In January we saw a record high in the number of delayed discharges from the NHS. The King’s Fund recently described social care as

“little more than a threadbare safety net for the poorest and most needy older and disabled people”— it is a threadbare safety net that many people are now falling through, with the NHS left to pick up the pieces.

Given the damage done over the past seven years and the crisis that the Government have caused in social care, the £1 billion announced in the Budget for this year is simply not enough. As we have heard in the debate, the King’s Fund, the Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation warned the Government about a £1.9 billion funding gap in social care, which means that the Government are funding only half of what is needed now. As for comments outside this place, the Care and Support Alliance has said that the extra funding

“keeps the wolf from the door”,

but no more, while the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges said that

“we’ve now got to get real and recognise that short term measures of the kind we’ve seen today won’t help in the longer term.”

Is it not time to examine the true gap in social funding? Will the Minister acknowledge that £2 billion in funding is needed now, rather than spread over the next three years?

We also heard about the intention to produce a Green Paper on the long-term funding options for social care. The Chancellor said that those options do not include what he described as “Labour’s hated death tax”. As my hon. Friend Mr Betts, the Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, said, the Government should not reject options proposed in the past by other parties, and the Chancellor should not label one such option as a “death tax”, because to describe it in that pejorative way is not helpful in securing cross-party support for a sustainable solution to funding social care. That was done back in 2010 for political reasons, and it is being done now for political reasons. Inheritance tax is not called a “death tax”, although it is a tax levied after death. It has been known in the past as probate duty, estate duty and capital transfer tax. The Labour party has not played such political games with the Government’s highly unpopular increase in probate fees, which will affect people in the coming months.

I also challenge what Ministers have said about previous work on a sustainable and long-term funding option for social care. We need to deal with the issue now. In the Budget debate, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury denied that the Government might kick it into the long grass, instead talking about previous reviews. Let us be clear about that, however. In 2010, the Labour Government produced a White Paper called “Building the National Care Service”, a copy of which I have with me. Before that, in 2009, we had a Green Paper and the “Big Care Debate”, involving 68,000 people. Members are right that we need that big conversation with the public, but we have already had it once—we held it in 2009. We had firm plans to build a national care service. In seven years, this Government abandoned those proposals, established the Dilnot commission on the future funding of adult social care, adapted Dilnot’s proposals for their 2015 manifesto and then abandoned them. I call those seven wasted years. We appear to be back where we were in 2009.

As we have heard, it is clear that the demographic pressures in social care have a real impact on the NHS. In a typical hospital at any one time, two thirds of in-patients are over 65 and more than a quarter have a diagnosis of dementia. On top of rising demand, the Government have simultaneously sought to pass on what I see as unachievable savings. As we have heard, hospitals already have record deficits. NHS providers ended last year with a £2.5 billion deficit, although the Nuffield Trust suggests that the real underlying deficit was closer to £3.7 billion. The Public Accounts Committee identified that the NHS is resorting to

“repeated raids on investment funds in order to meet day-to-day spending”.

We have heard those issues covered in this debate.

The decision to provide just £100 million in the Budget for capital investment looks odd, given that the NHS had to resort to raiding £1.2 billion from capital funding this year just for day-to-day running costs and faces a £5 billion repairs backlog. It has become increasingly clear that a £22 billion savings target for the NHS is simply not realistic. The Public Accounts Committee said:

“we remain concerned about whether plans are really achievable”.

Not one independent expert I have seen believes that such savings can be achieved with services maintained at current levels, and I am worried that efficiency savings on that scale will increasingly affect the quality of care that patients receive. We know that the number of trolley waits rose by 58% last year and the four-hour target has not been met since July 2015, and we have now heard about the rationing of hip replacements.

Importantly, the King’s Fund told us this week that the financial pressures on mental health services have been

“a major factor driving large-scale changes to services, which may have had a detrimental impact on patient care”.

Its report states that patients who are able to access treatment get fewer contacts with adult secondary mental health services. That suggests that there is rationing of support in England. It is also clear that the shortage of specialist mental health beds is resulting in a significant increase in the number of patients being sent for treatment away from their home area. In the four months to January this year alone, more than 2,000 vulnerable people in England with serious conditions such as schizophrenia, psychosis and anorexia were sent for out-of-area treatment. Almost half those placements were more than 60 miles from the patient’s home, and one in five of those patients were admitted to a psychiatric intensive care unit.

The Public Accounts Committee said that

“the financial performance of NHS bodies has worsened considerably and this trend is not sustainable.”

In social care, mental health and the NHS, it is evident that the most vulnerable people in our society are bearing the brunt of financial pressures. We have heard a strong consensus in this debate that that has to change.