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Adult Social Care: Staffing

Volume 834: debated on Tuesday 12 December 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government, further to the report of the National Audit Office Reforming adult social care in England published on 10 November (HC 184), how much of the £265 million allocated to reforming social care staffing between 2022–23 and 2024–25 has been spent so far, and what problems they have encountered in spending the allocated money.

The Government have made up to £8.1 billion available this and next year to strengthen adult social care provision. Specifically, we have invested over £15 million so far this year in supporting our workforce reform programme. The Government remain committed to our 10-year vision to put people at the heart of care and make long-term sustainable investment to future-proof the sector. Further announcements of support will be made shortly.

I thank the Minister for that reply. He will know that the NAO’s report said that only £19 million of the very welcome £265 million that was originally allocated has thus far been spent. Even if the Minister does not agree that this is an utterly inadequate response to the crisis in social care, as the King’s Fund has said, he must admit that the slowness of progress is somewhat frustrating. Is it because there are not enough staff in the DHSC to distribute the money? I understand there are about 100 vacancies. Alternatively, is it because there have been many ministerial changes in his department, or because—as many in your Lordships’ House will suspect—social care is simply not a priority for this Government and, once again, millions of unpaid carers will be left to prop up a crumbling system?

I share the noble Baroness’s concern about the speed of deployment. At the same time, it is fair to say that we are developing a whole new set of social care qualifications, which we think we can all agree are key to this. We are also developing a whole new payment mechanism, because there are 17,000 independent providers and we need a mechanism to allow payment. It is a complex programme, but I agree that we need to do everything we can to speed it up.

My Lords, a key part of the equation for long-term social care sustainability is charging reform, yet the National Audit Office report points out that the Government have scrapped their charging reform programme board and have no overarching social care programme in place. Can the Minister confirm where responsibility for charging reform now sits, and whether we can expect any progress in this critical area in 2024?

Charging reform is still part of the Government’s commitment. At the same time, I think we all recognise that, largely as a result of the pandemic, we had to stabilise the social care situation first. That is what the £8.1 billion in funding has been all about and what the investment and recruitment have been for—so that we can stabilise first. I am glad to say that we are reaching a more stable footing. For the first time, staffing went up over last year and, likewise, the number of people in social care went up. We have to stabilise before we move on to the reform. I think we would all agree that the speed of reform needs to be a bit quicker, but it is sensible that we stabilise the situation first.

My Lords, in the Government’s search for long-term sustainable funding for adult social care, what assessment have they made of the successful models that operate in Germany and Japan, for instance?

The shorthand for the German system is the “double doughnut”, which tries to give wraparound care. We can learn many things from that system, which is why a part 2 reform needs to happen here. I accept that we are clearly not there yet.

My Lords, is not the truth of the matter that the Government have just shuffled off responsibility on to local authorities? Can the Minister tell the House what percentage of expenditure by local councils is now being spent on social care to fill the gap, at the expense of vital local services?

My noble friend is correct: on average, it is about 74% or 75% of a local authority budget. I think we would all agree that that is not a good situation, because obviously a local authority has a number of matters it needs to deal with. This is one of the issues around long-term reform that we will need to consider.

My Lords, we are very familiar with the pressure on the social care workforce. As the Minister pointed out, we have seen vacancies fall within the social care sector, which is very welcome, but that is supported by the recruitment of 70,000 staff from overseas. I am glad that the health and care sector is exempt from the new visa charges, because we are clearly reliant on assistance from overseas. However, given that they are no longer able to bring dependents on their visa, have the Government considered the impact that this will have on recruiting workers from overseas into the social care sector?

We have tried to adopt a balanced approach here. While we all understand the necessity in the healthcare sector, I think most of us would agree that 750,000 net migration is a very high number. The balance we have struck is to protect this sector. Our figures generally show that we will be able to keep the recruitment coming. We are now moving on to part 2 of the reform, through the other things we are doing, particularly around qualifications—we know that people who are qualified are far more likely to stay in a social care setting. That is what the whole investment is about. It will be rolled out next year and will fund hundreds of thousands of places. I think it will make a real difference to the motivation, recruitment and retention of staff.

My Lords, to respond to the right reverend Prelate’s question, if I may, the Migration Advisory Committee has said that the reason we recruit so many people from overseas is poor terms and conditions in social care. The Government set the market for social care, through their poor funding of local authorities. When will they grasp the nettle and realise that we actually have to give care workers decent pay and conditions?

It is absolutely understood that, to have a highly motivated workforce, you need to look at everything—pay and conditions, and training and motivation. We see that while, on average, staff turnover is almost 30%—which is way too high—about 20% of care home providers have a turnover of less than 10%. Why is that? It is because they are investing in their staff and they have a training programme. That is why we are trying to do a similar thing. The national care certificate that we are putting in place will take time; for it to be valuable, we will need to put the right things in order, including the digital platform to pay the 17,000 providers. These are all parts of the reform, which will make a difference.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that many delayed transfers of care from hospital are associated with difficulty in getting social care in people’s own homes? In rural areas, we are still not paying for time spent travelling. Surely there is something we could do much more quickly, before the training certificate, to employ local people in a fair way to provide care in people’s homes, particularly in rural areas.

The noble Baroness is correct about that; it is a key pillar of this reform. This is why we have tried to learn one of the main lessons from last year, by putting the £600 million discharge fund out early, so we can get those sorts of measures in place. That is why we have expanded the virtual care ward network to 10,000 beds, with the idea that people can be cared for in their own home but with support from the staff there. That is absolutely the direction we are moving in.

My Lords, the Minister said a moment ago that three-quarters of local government spending is on adult social care. I would ask him just to check that figure, because if we add to it children’s social care, it basically means that every local authority will, before long, be issuing Section 114 notices. It is very important to get the facts absolutely clear here. What the Minister said demonstrates that local authorities are seriously underfunded for adult and children’s social care, and are cutting other public services as a consequence.

I will absolutely clarify the number to the noble Lord in writing. It is of course a range, according to different local authorities, but I think we would all agree that it is a level that, as a percentage, is too high.

The Nuffield Trust has called the NAO findings a

“damning indictment of the Government’s progress towards delivering social care change”.

To follow on from my noble friend’s question, the NAO points out that only 7.5% of the much vaunted £265 million allocated by the Government to addressing social care staff shortages and recruitment for 2023-35 has actually been spent, heavily impacted by the DHSC’s staff recruitment freeze. What specific actions are the Government taking to address this and ensure that the money they say is there is actually paid out?

There were five parts to the programme of reforms mentioned and the £265 million. There was international recruitment, which we have done; it has worked well, and we need to continue doing that. The second part was a volunteer programme, which, again, we have done and it is working well. Thirdly, there were digital skills passports, so that staff could swap from place to place and take their qualifications with them; we have done that. The two other things will take longer. The care workforce pathway is out for consultation. It will mean that people can have a long- term qualification that can get them into other professions as well, such as nursing. Lastly, there is the care certificate qualification. That takes time. Everyone knows that, for that qualification to be meaningful, it will take time to set it up. That is the key expense item. The digital platform is going to be launched next June, so it will be rolling out from there.