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Care Homes: Energy Costs

Volume 824: debated on Thursday 8 September 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the likely impact of increased energy costs on care homes; and what extra support they intend to provide in response.

The Government are committed to working with local authorities to help manage the pressures of inflation, for various reasons, on adult social care. We acknowledge the impact that challenges such as energy price rises will have on residential care providers and right across the system. As noble Lords will be aware, the Prime Minister has stated that a package of support for energy costs is her priority. Sadly, in terms of timing, we expect announcements shortly and will see how that feeds into the social care sector.

I thank the Minister for his reply. As he well knows, care homes are already under great financial pressure. In the six years up to 2020, more than 1,600 had to close—many of them rated good or very good—and the rise in energy costs is already absolutely staggering, from something like £660 per bed per year to over £5,000 per bed per year. Of course, some help will be offered this afternoon, but is the Minister confident that the Government have really taken on board the sheer scale and seriousness of this situation for care homes?

The noble and right reverend Lord makes a really important point about this issue and the impact on social care. What we are seeing right across government is the impact of this energy crisis: that is why the Prime Minister is making this announcement. We will then have to look into the details of how that affects the different sectors. We have heard from the social care sector, we have heard from care homes and we have heard from patients themselves about their concerns about the cost. I am afraid I cannot give more details at the moment. The Government are working very closely at the moment with local authorities and are in constant conversation about how we can help reduce the burden. Once we have more details of the package, we can look at that in more detail.

My Lords, heating costs are just the tip of the iceberg for care homes. What does the Minister have to say to people such as June, a care home worker in Sheffield of 24 years, who is now having to leave the sector that she loves, just to get enough money to be able to feed her family?

The Government recognise that for a long time the social care sector has been treated like Cinderella: a poor relation of the health system. That is why we had the Health and Care Bill, to make sure that we have care right through people’s lives. One thing about social care is how disparate and fragmented it is. One reason we have the register is to understand who is out there—who is doing what, their qualifications and their levels of pay, but also how we can make sure that they feel it is a rewarding vocation and career.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many care homes and, indeed, even more retirement homes and retirement communities are serviced by what are called heat networks. These are combined systems; we used to call them combined heat and power, but heat networks are the modern description. These were not covered at all by the previous energy cap. Could the Minister be assured, and assure his friends, that in the coming arrangements they are properly covered as well?

As my noble friend will be aware, many care homes are privately owned and run. Quite often, we do not get into that level of detail but I will take the question back to my department once we are aware of the package that is announced.

My Lords, to add to the problems of care homes to which noble Lords have referred is the report in today’s newspapers that the new Secretary of State for Health intends to use them as places to discharge people who cannot have a social care package in their own homes. Can the Minister assure the House that, if this happens, all attention will be paid to the huge problem that care homes already have in recruiting enough staff to carry out their existing functions?

All noble Lords will be aware of the challenges facing care homes and their owners, including recruiting sufficient staff. People have referred to a number of different issues; one is vocation and feeling valued—quite often they feel as if they are poor relations. Another issue is supply, which is one reason we have looked at a visa to try to encourage more workers from overseas. If we make it a proper vocation, people will want to train in it, get those qualifications and feel they have a valued career.

My Lords, I was going to ask a very similar question; the Minister did not answer the specific question about the Secretary of State’s proposal that she may move people from hospitals into care homes and ensuring that that is joined up. Will he comment on that proposal?

I am afraid I was so busy swotting for these Questions and the three-hour debate afterwards that I missed the news, so I will have to take that back to the department and make sure that we give an answer. I will not avoid giving one.

My Lords, have the Government considered the impact of increased energy costs on our major scientific facilities, such as the Diamond Light Source? If increased energy costs eat up the increases in UKRI budgets, this will severely impact our ability to deliver the Government’s ambition of the UK becoming a science and technology superpower.

That is a really important angle that I had not considered, to be honest. We recognise that, across government, many Ministers in many departments will be waiting at the moment with bated breath for the Prime Minister’s announcement to work out the impact on those stakeholders who have been contacting Ministers and others about the impact of energy costs. Clearly, something has to be done. The Prime Minister will announce it and then we will have to work through its impact. If I am still in post, I can come back to say how that will impact the health and care sector.

My Lords, will my noble friend look into the situation of care homes, whether they are in the private sector or not, that have not currently participated in the government handouts to help with energy costs? Second home owners have had discounts on their bills, but there has been no per-bed contribution from the Government to help care homes which are already struggling and for which many families are paying enormous sums.

My noble friend makes a point that I was not aware of, so I am afraid I will have to take it back to the department. However, it appears a very reasonable point.

My Lords, what support will the Government specifically give those care homes whose pre-Covid Care Quality Commission ratings have been downgraded from good to inadequate as a result of staff shortages? This is on top of their deep concerns over energy costs. Recent press reports say that up to three-quarters of care homes in England have been reassessed in this way.

Clearly, one of the issues in the overall review of the social care sector is that, when the CQC and others report on care homes and other places, action is taken. One of the things we will do is talk to the right stakeholders and individuals, but we also have to work in partnership with local authorities—as quite often it is their responsibility—to try to make sure we raise the standard.

My noble friend Lord Scriven asked a specific question on what the Government are doing about pay. The Minister will be aware that there is a crisis in the care sector in recruiting and retaining staff. I declare an interest as I have a family member in a residential care home and am acutely aware of the situation. What is being done to make sure that they are properly funded so that we can retain and recruit much-needed care staff in all residential homes?

When I speak to officials in the care part of my department about this issue, one of the things they say, in consultation with a number of individuals in the care sector—not only employees but owners—is that morale is clearly low, partly because of pay but also because they feel they do not have a proper vocation. It is very confusing to have all these qualifications; they are not recognised elsewhere and there is no clear career path. One reason we are putting together this register is that we want to understand the landscape out there—it is incredible that this has not yet been done—including the number of qualifications, the issues and what sort of career structure can be offered.

My Lords, several noble Lords have referred to the terrible financial situation of the whole social care sector and its employees. I recall the last Prime Minister said he was going fix social care. Nothing happened. Does the current Government recognise that a step to help out the social care sector, over and above other businesses, would be at least a first step towards fixing the sector?

One reason we brought forward the Health and Care Bill was that we wanted to make sure that social care was given proper status. Social care has been seen as the poor relation to healthcare for far too long by successive Governments. What we want is a proper health and social care system, properly integrated. Sometimes social care workers leave the social care workforce and move to the health side because they feel it is more valued as a profession. We want to make sure the same is true of social care providers.

My Lords, the NHS has a great history of running great campaigns. I am thinking of “Clunk, click” and the campaigns against smoking and alcohol. Can the Minister say, because not only the cost but the supply of energy is very important, how the department is co-ordinating to ensure that there is a campaign to reduce the energy used in homes, particularly those in the higher income brackets?

I thank my noble friend for the question. The issue is much wider than just health. We are working with local authorities to understand the impact on the care sector, but there is also a huge cross-government approach on education and energy efficiency. We have to wait and see the package before we can look at this in detail with the sector, and at what measures can be offered.