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Social Care Workforce

Volume 724: debated on Tuesday 6 December 2022

I thank all those who work in social care for what they do day in, day out for people whose lives depend on care. We are supporting care homes and agencies in their efforts to recruit staff, including with a substantial national recruitment campaign. In fact, colleagues may have seen some of the adverts while watching popular programmes such as “I’m a Celebrity”. We have also added social care workers to the shortage occupation list, so that social care can benefit from international recruitment to increase the workforce in the short term.

A recent report from the Motor Neurone Disease Association, outlined at the all-party group on motor neurone disease, which I chair, found that most unpaid MND carers provide more than 75 hours of care a week, but many are unable to access respite services due to the lack of adequately skilled care workers equipped to care for the complexity of MND sufferers’ needs. Will the Minister commit to increasing specialised training for conditions such as MND in the social care workforce to protect carers’ health and wellbeing?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I, too, have heard from family carers about the difficulties that they have faced in getting skilled professional help, which, in turn, gives them support and respite. At the moment, we provide £11 million annually for a workforce development fund, which social care employers can access to help to pay for staff training. Looking ahead, we are working on social care workforce reforms, of which training and skills will form a substantial part. I commit to looking into his suggestion that specialist training for MND care should be part of that.

In the lakes, we have a problem with social care: although the people working in the care industry are phenomenal, talented and dedicated, the average age of the population is 10 years above the national average, so the number of people who need to be cared for is greater and the size of the workforce is smaller. Undoubtedly, poor pay, poor conditions and a lack of career prospects are a major problem in recruiting and retaining the care staff that we need. We also have a special problem in our area because of the absence, or indeed, the evaporation, of the long-term private rented sector, which is where the carers normally would have lived. Will the Minister talk to her colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to make sure that we have a comprehensive package for communities such as mine in Cumbria, so that we have well-paid carers and places in which they can afford to live?

The hon. Member makes a really important point. I will say two things. In the short term, we are supporting social care with £500 million through the discharge fund this winter. That will go into increasing capacity in social care and addressing some workforce challenges in areas such as his. In the long term, we are introducing social care reforms, including in the workforce. One thing we need to look at is ensuring that housing is available for the social care workforce.

I have listened to the Minister talk about increased social care, but I do not recognise that in my area. Northampton General Hospital, which is one of the hospitals that serves my constituency, has around 150 patients who could medically be discharged but cannot be. That accounts for 19% of the beds. At the same time, West Northamptonshire Council is closing Spinneyfields, a 51-bed step-down facility in my constituency, yet it has a private finance initiative contract and, for the next seven years, will pay £700,000 for an empty building. How can that be right? Will the Minister sort it out?

I will take away that example from my hon. Friend’s constituency and look into it. I want to see increased capacity in step-down care and social care during this winter and beyond, but particularly during this winter, supported by the £500 million discharge fund. That will go to areas such as his and across the country to help to make sure that people who do not need to be in hospital can be out of it getting the care that they need.

When will the new Health team wake up to the fact that many of the things that we have discussed this morning—but particularly social care—will be solved only by treating local authorities as friends, allies and partners, rather than the enemy? Please can we have action to make local authorities full partners in delivering every sort of care?

After hearing the hon. Member’s point, I should think that he therefore welcomes the fact that we have set up integrated care systems, which bring together health and social care. The £500 million discharge fund that I have mentioned is allocated to local areas to be pooled into the better care fund and spent jointly between local authorities and the NHS. Funding is an important part of this. In the autumn statement, social care received a historic funding settlement of £7.5 billion over the next two years. That is important, as well as ensuring that the NHS and local authorities work together hand in hand.