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Social Care: Adults

Volume 823: debated on Wednesday 22 June 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the survey by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, published on 13 May, which found that more than 500,000 people in England were waiting (1) for a social care assessment, (2) for their care package to begin, or (3) for a review of their care.

Local authorities are responsible for meeting the needs of those who require care and support under the Care Act. The ADASS survey highlights that their waiting lists are increasing, which is why we are investing to support improved outcomes and experiences of care for people and their families, including through an additional £5.4 billion over three years to begin a comprehensive programme of reform.

My Lords, both the ADASS survey on social care waiting lists of 500,000 and Age UK’s estimate of 1.6 million people with unmet care needs are a stark wake-up call for the Government’s mantra of having fixed social care. The Minister knows that the official figures that he always quotes and quotes today are nowhere near enough to meet current and future demands, as key stakeholders and the expert think tanks routinely remind him. What are the Government doing to prioritise care and support in people’s homes and local communities? Does the Minister not recognise that the situation is getting worse, not better?

Many noble Lords recognise the challenges faced by not just this sector but all sectors, during Covid. One issue we have been looking at for many years, over subsequent Governments—we discussed this during the Health and Care Bill—is that social care was seen as a Cinderella service for many years. For the first time, thanks to noble Lords’ support, we managed to get the Health and Care Bill through to have a properly integrated health and care system. We are also looking at how we can make sure that we properly understand the health and care landscape, with the register and the hub, and that it is a vocation that more people find attractive.

My Lords, I urge my noble friend, in light of the extraordinary number of vacancies in the social care sector—more and more staff are leaving to join other sectors—to urge the Government to revisit the Immigration Rules that do not allow overseas care workers, who could fill those gaps, to come in. We have a special system for agricultural workers; surely my noble friend agrees that we must not put picking fruit and vegetables above the needs of the most vulnerable in our society.

I thank my noble friend for the question, but make the point that it is important that we look not only to our domestic workforce but to recruit people from far and wide to fill those gaps. We have always done that. As I often say from this place, we must remember that public services in this country were saved by people from the Commonwealth after the war. They played a very important role in making sure that this country and its public services recovered after the war. On recruitment from overseas, on 15 February, we added care workers to the health and care visa and shortage occupation list, allowing these roles to be recruited from overseas. We hope that will enable us to fill thousands of eligible vacancies.

My Lords, I go back to the previous question: this ADASS survey shows that almost 170,000 hours of homecare a week could not be delivered for the first three months of this year, because of a shortage of care workers. This is a sevenfold increase on the previous year. The changes proposed to the social care system will not increase the rates of pay for social care workers, at the moment, to make it attractive to others, who can work in hospitality. But there is a dire need for people now. What will the Government do right now to help solve this crisis?

As the noble Baroness will acknowledge, some of the problems have been in evidence for a long time. Sometimes, we are tackling the legacy of this neglect of the social care system. At the same time, we have to remember that many social care providers are not run by the state; they are private providers. Following the People at the Heart of Care White Paper, we want to make sure that, first, we encourage better conditions for workers. We also want to make sure that local authorities determine a fair rate of pay based on local market conditions. We have seen an increase in the national living wage, which means care workers will get an increase. But we are looking at all this as part of the overview of the social care landscape.

My Lords, could the Minister comment on the March 2022 progress report on the Out of Sight – Who Cares? report, which came out in October 2020? It found that of the 17 recommendations, none had been fully achieved and only four had been partially achieved. Can the Minister say when Government will address these recommendations and end the excessive use of the dehumanising isolation, segregation and seclusion within adult social care?

On that specific question, I will have to go back to the department and get an answer. I will commit to write to the noble Baroness.

My Lords, 500,000 is a staggering number, but the number experiencing the deepest emotional and physical impact on families may be in the millions. Is the noble Lord and his department aware of the costs associated with neglecting these people and how many may have lost their lives while waiting for these services?

When we look at the 500,000 number, we are talking about an assessment of any kind. These are not people who are outside the system; sometimes they may be in the system but waiting for another assessment within the system. For example, they could be waiting for Care Act deprivation of liberty safeguards, occupational therapy assessments, the beginning of direct payments or a review of their care. It means they are in the system but just waiting for another part of the system to work. The other thing about the report was that there was a 61% response rate, and it was extrapolated from that. Anyone who has read behavioural economists Daniel Ariely or Daniel Kahneman will know that people are more likely to focus on losses rather than gains and, similarly, in surveys people are more likely to report bad things than things that are going well.

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that what these figures show is that local authorities with insufficient resources are introducing rationing of services to some of the most vulnerable people in the country? Why did we pay more in national insurance if the money was not to be made available to social care until three years down the line and the crisis is now?

I wonder if I could correct my noble friend. The Government implemented a comprehensive review of the programme on adult social care with a £5.4 billion investment over three years from April 2022, of which £1.7 billion will be used to begin major improvements across adult social care in England, including but not limited to £500 million investment in the workforce and £150 million to improve technology. As many noble Lords recognise, for too long this sector has been neglected. In some cases, there is a lack of understanding about the breadth of the sector. We are trying to understand it and get people to register, and then we can improve it.

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. Some hospital NHS trusts have a third to a quarter of their beds bed-blocked by people who are clinically ready for discharge but cannot leave because of no social package being available. What are the Government doing now to deal with this problem? It undermines the NHS waiting list backlog as well.

The noble Lord makes an important point, and the fact is that if some patients do stay in hospital too long, they can lose control of certain faculties and see muscular deterioration. So it is our priority to ensure that people discharge safely, as quickly as possible, to the most appropriate place. Local areas should work together to plan and deliver hospital discharge, and the department is working with NHS England, NHS Improvement, local government and social care providers to monitor and understand the underlying causes and do something about them.

My Lords, the Government say this is a long-term problem, but they have been in power now for 10 years. What have the Government been doing to address this issue, bearing in mind that Andy Burnham identified this as a problem and was attacked by the Front Benches when he put forward some suggestions on how they could deal with it? This is a crisis made by this Government.

I am afraid I will have to humbly disagree with the noble Lord, because this has been a problem for subsequent Governments, as we discussed during the passage of the Health and Care Bill. In some cases we can see reports going back 50 years. What has happened over the years is that Labour, Conservative and coalition Governments have put those reports on shelves to gather dust. We were the first Government to introduce an integrated health and care system and to grasp the nettle.

My Lords, there is some anecdotal evidence that patients are being discharged from hospital without having a full care package in place. Could my noble friend say exactly what the Government’s policy is to ensure this does not happen? These are some of the most vulnerable people, such as individuals who have had a stroke. On occasions, they are sent home with no support mechanism at all.

I thank my noble friend for the question. It is a really important issue that we discussed many times not only during the passage of the Health and Care Bill but subsequently. We have to make sure that everyone in the system is working together to make sure that a hospital knows who it is discharging to and that the carer who will receive or help that person has not only the support but the facilities and capabilities at home, or wherever that person is being discharged to, to work with that person. There are gaps in the system; it is not perfect in all places. We are working with local authorities and others to make sure we improve the system.

My Lords, would the Minister care to associate himself with today’s celebration of the arrival of the HMT “Empire Windrush” in 1948, whereby a statue has been unveiled at Waterloo station to remember that it was Caribbean citizens who, frankly, came to the rescue of the National Health Service? Are there lessons to be learned that the Minister might wish to apply to today’s situation?

I am so keen to answer that question because of my own Caribbean background. In fact, my father was part of that Windrush generation. He travelled from Guyana to Trinidad in 1952, and then from Trinidad to the United Kingdom, where he worked first on the railways and then as a bus driver. His brother worked in a post office and his sister was a nurse. That shows the vital contribution that people from the Caribbean made to this country post war.