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Social Care: Sustainable Funding

Volume 739: debated on Tuesday 17 July 2012

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they will announce their plans for sustainably funding adult social care.

My Lords, the Government set out their plans for the funding of adult social care at spending reviews. The date of the next spending review has yet to be announced. At the last spending review the Government prioritised money for adult social care, announcing an additional £7.2 billion over four years. When combined with an ambitious efficiency programme, this will provide enough funding to enable local authorities to maintain current service provision.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. However, is he aware that publishing a White Paper about adult social care without a funding plan is as much a work of fantasy as Fifty Shades of Grey, but without the fun of sex? Do the Government recognise that the longer they delay implementation of the Dilnot commission’s proposals—and here I declare my interest as a member of that commission—the greater will be the social care cost that shifts to the NHS, which has its own funding problems? Starting that implementation will cost around one-thousandth of annual public expenditure, as Andrew Dilnot has repeatedly said. Is it not time that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor engaged with this issue within cross-party talks to try to sort out the funding problems of adult social care?

My Lords, we look forward to a continuation of the constructive cross-party talks that have taken place. We have been clear that we accept the principles of the Dilnot recommendations, including financial protection through capped costs and an extended means test. They are the right basis for any new funding model. That sets out, if you like, our high-level view on what a new funding system should look like, but there will be many questions to answer—such as on the level of the cap and whether the funding system should be voluntary, universal or opt-in—before we can make any firm decisions. It is right that we take time to work through this, including engaging with stakeholders to make sure that any reform is the right one. That means that the next spending review is the appropriate time to take those decisions.

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that while these complex funding matters are being considered, many local authorities are severely reducing the levels of support provided to disabled people in ways that can curtail their independence, prevent them from working and participating in public life and, in some cases, force them into residential care? Is he aware, for example, that Worcestershire County Council proposes to radically restrict the maximum value of an individual disabled person’s care package, offering them no other choice than to enter residential care if they cannot meet the shortfall? Surely the Minister agrees that this runs entirely counter to the White Paper and government policy?

My Lords, I am not aware of the Worcestershire example. What I will say is that the best local authorities are those that enter into a two-way dialogue with service users to see what is best and most appropriate for them in their circumstances. I recognise that this is a challenging settlement for local government, but if local authorities are prepared to reform their services and drive down costs, we believe that the additional investment from the NHS to social care, which we announced in the spending review, will enable local authorities to protect the care that people receive. Many councils are making the necessary changes to ensure that there is no drop in eligibility criteria.

My Lords, in view of the answers to the previous supplementary question and to the first Question, which stated that decisions should never be made purely on grounds of cost, is the Minister aware of a case in one of the London boroughs where a woman who has had multiple sclerosis for years and has been cared for by a very loving husband has now been told that she may be obliged to go into a care home because providing her care package at home is costing £79,000, while a care home could be provided for £71,000? That would perhaps not destroy, but put a terribly unfair strain upon, her marriage after all these years. Can the Minister assure us that in the Government’s plans for health and social care, factors other than cost will be considered?

It would not be right for me to comment on an individual case such as the one mentioned by my noble friend, but I would say that local authorities have a duty to meet people’s eligible needs, and they should take account of a person’s resources as they do so. If a local authority were to change someone’s personal budget, we would expect it to consult and discuss with the service user how their needs and goals could best be met within the new budget. It should not, in most cases, descend to forcing any options on anybody.

My Lords, I was happy to give way to the noble Baroness, especially on her birthday. The Minister’s words may be comforting to many families when contemplating the future, and may provide comfort that the Government have plans for the future. However, what comfort will he give to my neighbour Margaret who is caring for her husband, who is in the last stages of Alzheimer’s, and is in despair with his and her physical and mental distress? Today—now—they face huge costs for care that is intermittent and often of very poor quality. How does the Minister address the poor-quality issue in the face of such a shortage of funds?

My Lords, as I made clear, the Government and my department have made a very significant sum of money available to local authorities to bolster their social care funding. In the announcements we made last week we said that we were directing additional money to local authorities to support integrated care. I regret the instance that the noble Baroness cites, but it is part of the reason why, in our White Paper and in the announcements we made last week, there is a particular focus on quality and on ensuring that the tick-box approach—which I am afraid some local authorities have taken—should be a thing of the past.