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Adult Social Care Reform

Volume 696: debated on Tuesday 8 June 2021

I am hugely ambitious about social care reform. I want a sustainable care system that meets people’s needs and aspirations and gives them the care and support they need to live life to the full. We are working on proposals for reform and will bring those forward later this year.

This Government are responsible for over 40,000 needless deaths from covid-19 in care homes. A plan to fix social care in this country is long overdue. This crisis is not new—people are routinely forced to sell the family home to pay for care. The workers are paid peanuts, while the 13 million unpaid carers are left to pick up the pieces. Does the Minister agree that we have had far too many vague promises and that unpaid carers cannot wait a minute longer?

I agree with the hon. Member that there are many challenges for social care, and that is one reason why many Governments have talked about social care reform. As he will understand, over the last year, we have rightly focused on supporting social care through the pandemic, but we are working on our proposals for reform and will bring them forward later this year.

Almost two years ago, the Government promised to fix social care once and for all, but we have seen in this pandemic that it is still seriously broken. Care does not stop at the hospital exit or the GP’s door. Carers have sacrificed physical and mental health caring for loved ones during the pandemic; 72% have had no break, and 44% say they are at breaking point. In national Carers Week, will the Minister commit to cross-party talks in the immediate term to fix the social care crisis throughout the UK?

As the hon. Member says, this week is Carers Week, which is a really good opportunity to raise awareness about the important role that carers play in supporting loved ones and to remember something that I personally am committed to: we must support carers not only in the care that they do but to live their own lives, for which respite care is really important. As part of our reforms to social care, we are listening to carers and want to ensure that their needs are met.

In July 2019, the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing Street and pledged to fix the broken social care system. Two years on, we are still waiting. There were only warm words in the Queen’s Speech a couple of weeks ago:

“Proposals on social care reform will be brought forward.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 11 May 2021; Vol. 812, c. 2.]

Can the Minister tell us when the Government will move from rhetoric and warm words and fix this broken system for the people she has just mentioned, who need it desperately?

I welcome the hon. Member’s support for and interest in social care reform, along with others across the House. We know that social care reform is needed. We have rightly over the last year focused on supporting social care through the pandemic, getting £1.8 billion of extra funding for social care to the frontline and providing billions of items of PPE, over 100 million tests to social care and the vaccination programme to care home residents, those who receive social care and the workforce. We are working on our social care reforms and will bring those forward later this year.

Many in this place and across England will be asking, “Where is England’s long-awaited social care Bill?” because they will have seen that the SNP Government are delivering a new deal for the social care sector in Scotland, building a new national care service that will improve workers’ conditions and standards of care, and increasing investment in care by 25%. Will the UK Government follow Scotland’s lead in transforming social care, and will the Minister contact Scottish Government Ministers to learn from our over a decade-long experience of integrating health and social care?

One of the great strengths of our United Kingdom is our ability to work together and learn from different parts of the UK. We also look at the best in England and, of course, in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman mentions the care workforce. We absolutely want to make sure that this important workforce are front and centre of our social care reform plans and that they receive the training, opportunities, recognition and reward that they deserve.

The Government have had 11 years to reform social care, but with cuts of £8 billion over that period, it is fragmented and costly and does not value workers and employees. Is it not time that the Minister and the Government grab the bull by the horns and introduce a national health and social care service? When are reforms going to come into play—what day, what month, what year?

It is not just over the period mentioned by the hon. Member that social care reforms have been talked about; this goes back at least 25 years, to when Tony Blair was the Labour leader and Prime Minister. He talked about reforms to social care, but he has also said that it is not simple; these are complex problems to address. When people talk about how social care needs fixing, different people mean different things. That is why, as part of our reforms, we are going to bring forward a long-term plan for reforming social care.

Can I just say to the Minister that I think most Members of the House of Commons will find her attitude incredibly complacent on one of the key issues that faces most families in this country? As my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) has just said, there has been an £8 billion cut to social care since 2010. One of the steps she could take straight away is to reinstate that £8 billion to local authorities, so that they can at least provide services through the social care system that we have.

I have huge respect for the right hon. Lady and her work in many areas, but I am disappointed by her language. She will appreciate that, together, the Department, local authorities and the care sector are working hard on how to bring forward the right package of reforms for the system. We have already taken some of the first steps on that road. For instance, the health and social care Bill includes plans to strengthen oversight of the social care system. That is an important step, but it is the beginning, not the end, of the social care reform road.

Six hundred and eighty-five days ago, the Prime Minister promised to fix the crisis in social care to give every older person the dignity and security they deserve. Since then, more than 32,000 elderly people have died from covid-19 in care homes, millions of care workers and families have felt abandoned and pushed to breaking point, and 300 elderly people have been forced to sell their homes to pay for their care every single week. Does the Minister think that has given people security, let alone dignity, and will she tell the country, after more than a decade in power, specifically when her Government will deliver?

What I will say, after the enormously difficult year that social care has had through the pandemic, is that that has indeed strengthened the already strong case for reform of social care. I will say to the hon. Member that I want us to have a better social care system, whether it is for our grans and grandads, mums and dads, brothers and sisters, children and grandchildren, or, indeed, as and when we need it ourselves. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reform social care. Now is the time, now is the moment and we will seize this opportunity. We will be bringing forward proposals for reform of social care later this year.