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Adult Social Care: Challenge Procedures

Volume 829: debated on Wednesday 19 April 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report Challenging adult social care decisions in England and Wales, published on 28 February; and what steps they will take to make local authority care challenge procedures more accessible and transparent.

The Government have noted the findings in the report. Encouraging a culture of feedback and learning is vital if we are to improve services and people’s experiences of social care. The CQC’s local authority assessment framework, which went live on 1 April, includes oversight of local authority assessment and eligibility frameworks for adults and unpaid carers accessing social care and support. This includes looking at transparency and accessibility and whether people can appeal decisions effectively.

I thank the Minister for his reply. The EHRC report clearly demonstrates the problems facing social care users who have challenged local authority decisions, and it is a pretty bleak picture. But while there is much for local authorities to do to improve their complaints system, there are also important recommendations in the report aimed at government, including making the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman the statutory complaints authority for social care in England. When and how do the Government intend to respond to these recommendations? Does the Minister agree with me that the shortcomings at local level will be remedied only by long-term sustainable funding of adult social care—not made easier by the Government’s announcement on 4 April, when Parliament was in recess, to hold back £50 million of the money promised to help plug staff shortages?

First, we will respond in detail to the report the noble Baroness mentions. On funding, as I have mentioned before, the £7.5 billion over the next two years is a 20% increase and is substantial by any measure. I spoke to Minister Whately about this issue this morning, and she was at pains to say that, in terms of funding and overall numbers, everything is in place in this latest programme. Also, £600 million is being held in reserve to follow up in the areas that really need it.

My Lords, the report underlines just how difficult the current social care system is to navigate and challenge, as we have just heard, yet it showed that fewer than two-thirds of local authorities commission advocacy services that can be accessed by users and unpaid carers to help them challenge vital decisions on care and support. The postcode lottery, the complexity of local challenge systems and the overall lack of consistency, national standards and effective monitoring prevent vital decisions about care being overturned. How are the Government ensuring that, as per the 2014 Care Act requirement, independent advocates are available across all parts of the country to help users and carers understand and access the system?

As the noble Baroness says, it is a statutory part of the 2014 Care Act that advocacy be provided where people need such additional support. That is why we were keen to bring in the CQC to oversee local authorities, which it has from 1 April. This is one area where it will be making sure that advocacy is provided.

My Lords, Section 72 of the Care Act 2014 empowers the Secretary of State to regulate for an appeals system through which people can challenge social care decisions. It seems odd that we went to the trouble of legislating for this and yet, nearly a decade later, it still has not been implemented. What more evidence do the Government need to come to a decision about whether the benefits of such an appeal mechanism would outweigh the costs?

The main point is that we already have two levels of appeal. In the first instance, someone can appeal to a local authority and if they are not satisfied with that, they can appeal to the local ombudsman. Thousands of people do this every year, and compliance in terms of replies to them is very high. I must admit that I am not sure whether an additional, third level of appeal is really necessary in this case.

My Lords, once again, a Question in your Lordships’ House has pointed out the inadequacy of the social care system, be it funding or personnel. In answer to an earlier Question, the Minister teased the House a little about the workforce strategy. Can he be more specific in answer to this Question?

First, I take issue with the inadequacy comment. Some 89% of people expressed a high level of satisfaction with the social care provided, which, although not 100%, is pretty good, as I think everyone would agree. As I said, the workplace plan has been drafted. I am afraid I cannot give an exact date of publication—I believe there are local purdah issues now—but I can say that it will be soon.

My Lords, one of the things this House has heard about many times is our reliance on unpaid carers and the important role they play in helping people who draw on adult social care to navigate the system. The 2014 Care Act put a duty on local authorities to identify unpaid carers, but that is not happening. What can the Government do to identify unpaid carers, so that we can support them more readily?

I thank my noble friend for that question. The Government absolutely recognise the role that unpaid carers play—I have fulfilled such a role myself for a number of years—and it something we are working towards. We have introduced the leave provisions and a certain level of payments for them; that may be modest but it is a step in the right direction. Again, the whole idea of getting the CQC in this space is that it can start monitoring local authority provision and ensure that it is identifying unpaid carers, among other things.

My Lords, last week or perhaps it was the week before—time flies—there was a report on the number of people occupying health service beds who are fit for discharge but are not being discharged, largely due to the absence of social care provision. Are the Government taking seriously reports of that kind?

Yes, we are taking them very seriously. The House has heard me talk many times about the 13% of beds that are blocked. This is a key issue for the whole flow of the system, which is backed up right the way through. That is why we introduced the discharge fund. Again, Minister Whately is very focused on this issue.

My Lords, further to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Laming, in response to my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley, the Minister referred to an 89% satisfaction rate among people in receipt of social care. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Laming, has just pointed out, the issue is not the people in receipt of social care but those who are not, of whom there are far too many. That is exactly what is causing some of the problems the noble Lord referred to. Does the Minister agree?

Again, this goes to the point about the massive increase we have put in place of £7.5 billion. I have not heard of but would be pleased to hear about any plans on the other side of the House to increase that funding, since £7.5 billion is a very large figure—a 20% increase. Clearly, we will continue to review whether more is needed; we have put in increases each year. The importance of ensuring social care provision is completely understood.

My Lords, can the Minister clarify his last answer? In replying to me on a previous occasion, he conceded that a very substantial part of the money he has just announced is from local authority council tax. Can he confirm that?

Yes, absolutely; a large part of it is from central government funding and a large part is from local authority funding, given local authorities’ ability to use a precept and increase council tax. Of the 153 local authorities, 151 have taken that opportunity to increase the council tax.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that in talking about the costs of health and social care, we seem to have forgotten that 40 million people in this country are moving slowly towards suicide by putting too many calories in their mouths, which is costing £27 billion every year?

I will answer quickly to allow a final question, but yes, our anti-obesity strategy is very much about that.

I am most grateful to my noble friend, who is a glutton for punishment. I wanted to follow up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. It is all very well saying that the money is coming from local government, but the problem is that the tax base in local authority areas does not reflect the demand in those areas. Therefore, there is unmet need where the need is often greatest, is there not?

I knew that was coming. As a former local authority deputy chair of finance, I very much understand the problem my noble friend describes. My Treasury colleague has gone, but we all agree that local authorities have a very important part to play in this. The mix between local and central funding is clearly something we need to work on.