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House of Lords Hansard
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25 July 2019
Volume 799

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services Budget Survey 2019 on the state of adult social care.

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My Lords, we recognise many of the issues highlighted by ADASS. People of all ages are now living longer, sometimes with complex care needs. Social care funding for future years will be settled in the spending review, where the overall approach to funding local government will be considered in the round. Meanwhile, we have given local authorities access to up to £3.9 billion for more dedicated funding for adult social care this year, and a further £410 million is available for adult and children’s services.

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My Lords, the ADASS survey results provide yet more evidence of the ongoing crisis in social care caused by persistent underfunding and a fragile and failing care market. As the report says, there are planned cuts of £700 million to adult social care budgets in the current financial year and there have been cumulative cuts of £8 billion since 2010. On the last day of our current Session, can the Minister update the House on the timing of the social care Green Paper, which has been delayed six times and is now two years overdue? Given this inexcusable delay and the widespread consensus across social care about what needs to be done, why can the Government not commit to publishing a White Paper with actual proposals? Has the Lords Economic Affairs Committee report calling for £15 billion of extra funding, to include free personal care for people needing basic washing and dressing support, not done the Government’s job for them?

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I share the noble Baroness’s impatience on this issue and I agree with the overall conclusions of the ADASS report that older and disabled people need dignified, high-quality care and support. When properly resourced it does work, and as a nation we must make this an immediate priority. That is why I very much welcomed the incoming Prime Minister’s statement that,

“we will fix the crisis in social care once and for all with a clear plan ... To give every older person the dignity and security they deserve”.

He will make it a priority of the incoming Government and there will be an imminent announcement from the incoming Health Secretary. As I do not know whether I will be part of the department, I am afraid that I cannot commit to this, but I am sure that whoever is in this place when that comes forward will be very happy to do so.

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My Lords, I welcome the statement by the incoming Prime Minister. However, does my noble friend share the concern about the unfairness of the current system? People suffering from dementia or motor neurone disease are not given access to free care, whereas people suffering from cancer are. People who choose to be looked after at home do not get free care until their assets have been run down to £23,500, but their home is not taken into account. However, if they go into residential care, their home is taken into account. As my noble friend indicated, what we need now is not another White Paper; we need the Government to write a cheque. We need to move away from a system where local authorities are asked to fund this out of business rates, which results in a postcode lottery and differences in care throughout the United Kingdom.

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I thank the noble Lord for the work he has done on this issue. It is very much welcomed. He will know that, as one of his first statements, the Prime Minister said that his job was to,

“protect you or your parents or grandparents from the fear of having to sell your home to pay for the costs of care”.

This was one of the first points he made. The noble Lord will also know that one of the Government’s long-term principles is that there must be a level of personal responsibility for social care in England, as well as the safety net that supports significant numbers of people today. However, we accept that there will need to be a significant amount of funding as part of the spending review commitment. That is being considered at the moment and will be coming forward imminently.

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My Lords, the sustainability of adult social care is at severe and immediate risk. We too welcome the Prime Minister’s words yesterday. Could the Minister confirm that he will commit to continuing with the precept, and the social care grant or the improved better care fund after 2019-20? Otherwise, how can councils plan their finances for 2020-21? What assurances do councils have that any future funding will be protected for the adult social services budget and not be part of the overall spending at the councils’ discretion?

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The noble Baroness is quite right that the better care fund has been considered a great success. It is an important part of the integration proposals between health and social care, which the Government and the NHS are committed to. It is under review to see how it can work better. That will conclude later this year so that certainty can be given to local councils, which I hope she welcomes. On market instability, I reassure her that the overall number of social care beds has remained more or less constant over the past nine years. There are also over 3,700 more home care agencies now—so, while there will inevitably be some exits from the market, we are more reassured than we would otherwise have been.

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May I take the noble Baroness back to her reference to personal responsibility? There is a great deal of agreement across the House and elsewhere that personal responsibility is important as far as social care is concerned, but does personal responsibility extend to subsidies for those on local authority placements in nursing homes? Those paying for themselves privately are actively subsidising those places because local authorities cannot afford adequate rates.

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The noble Baroness has got to the nub of the challenge, which is how we get the balance right. This is why we have brought forward the work we have been doing to make sure that, while we have the safety net in place and an element of personal responsibility, it becomes fairer. That is why the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have made it clear that they are determined to drive this work forward faster and with more urgency than has been done until now. That has been put forward as a key priority of the incoming Cabinet.

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My Lords, we have heard, properly, about the needs of the elderly. Will the Minister assure us that the needs of people with learning disabilities will be better addressed in any action the Government are likely to take, particularly since some 41% of the helpline calls to Mencap in April were from people very concerned about the loss of community care?

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The right reverend Prelate has pointed out something very important: a significant portion of those accessing adult social services are actually those of working age and those with learning disabilities. It is very important that does not get lost in the debate. Anything that comes forward as part of the social care solution must address the concerns of that part of the community in a much more effective and joined-up way. Integration of social care and NHS budgets, and effective delivery, will be core to that delivery.

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My Lords, last week, with the Salvation Army the charity the International Longevity Centre UK, which I head, published a report on the funding gap in social care, in particular for older people living in rural areas. The report summarised it very well by saying that there is not just one crisis but lots of crises and that local leadership alone cannot overturn the inequalities. As co-chair of the All-Party Group on Adult Social Care, I hope that the Minister can assure me that Her Majesty’s refreshed Government will now prioritise this issue in the way I have suggested.

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The noble Baroness phrased that very elegantly—I shall use the term “refreshed Government” myself. I will make the gentle point that the funding available for adult social care has increased by 8% in real terms from 2015-16 to 2019-20, which is a step in the right direction. However, there is a recognition that, to put it on a sustainable footing for the future, there needs to be a settlement in the upcoming spending review. That is recognised. On the point she made about rural areas, which is important, a lot of this hinges on workforce recruitment and retention, which can be more challenging in rural areas. That is why the Government have invested £3 million in the Every Day is Different national adult social care recruitment campaign, to encourage more people to apply to work in the social care sector and to raise its profile. This has had some success already, which is an encouraging picture. We need to work harder on that.