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Westminster Hall

Volume 723: debated on Thursday 24 November 2022

Westminster Hall

Thursday 24 November 2022

[Dame Angela Eagle in the Chair]

backbench business

Infected Blood Inquiry and Compensation Framework

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the infected blood inquiry and compensation framework.

It is a great pleasure to serve under you this afternoon, Dame Angela.

I thank the 30 MPs from across all political parties who have supported the call for this important debate, including the co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on haemophilia and contaminated blood, and the Father of the House, the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley). It is good to see so many Members here in Westminster Hall this afternoon.

I am very grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate on the infected blood inquiry and the report by Sir Robert Francis on the framework for compensation and redress for victims of infected blood. I welcome the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Alex Burghart), and the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi), this afternoon.

It is very disappointing that the Government did not find time for an oral statement in the House earlier this year when they published the report by Sir Robert Francis. I just say to the Minister that it would have been much better to have had a full debate on this matter in Government time rather than MPs having to use the Backbench Business Committee route. One thing that I have learned about campaigning in Parliament on this issue is that we have to fight for every small step forward and the Government usually have to be dragged to Parliament to explain themselves. In recent years, I think we have had more urgent questions on this topic than on almost any other.

Twelve years ago, a man named Glenn Wilkinson walked into my MP’s surgery in Hull. What Glenn told me that day would prompt me to join a campaign, which was already decades old, to expose the largest treatment disaster in the history of the NHS and to fight for justice for those infected and affected by the contaminated blood scandal.

It is very important to remember that this issue is about individuals and the effect this disaster has had on their lives and the lives of their families. During routine dental work, which was conducted in hospital because he was a haemophiliac, Glenn was infected with hepatitis C, which is a virus that can cause serious and life-threatening damage to the liver. The health service that was supposed to keep Glenn healthy and safe had given him a life-threatening disease.

Glenn was not alone in that respect. We now know that as a result of being given infected blood and blood products by the NHS during the 1970s and 1980s, over 3,000 people have already died. Even today, on average one person still dies every four days and thousands more people live with bloodborne viruses, such as hepatitis or HIV. Of course the haemophilia community was overwhelmingly effected, but many people who received blood transfusions, for example during childbirth or after a car accident, were also infected.

What Glenn sought from that meeting with me in 2010 was simple—it was the truth about what had happened to him and to thousands of other people, and to ensure that such a disaster could never happen again. Also, acknowledging the scale of this disaster would hopefully compel the Government to take responsibility for the ongoing effects: people left bereaved; people living in pain; people requiring care; and people who are unable to work.

Since Glenn and I met in 2010, I have been honoured and humbled to campaign alongside a whole movement of courageous individuals whose lives have been changed by this disaster and alongside many organisations, including Contaminated Blood, Tainted Blood, Factor8, the Haemophilia Society, Haemophilia Scotland, Haemophilia Wales and so many others. I have also been honoured and humbled to work alongside Members of both Houses of Parliament. I will just mention Baron Field of Birkenhead, who is now gravely ill but was there at the start of the fight for justice, and the decades of support from the late Lord Alf Morris.

I would like to say that over the years the response from leaders in the NHS, in the Department of Health and Social Care, and in the Government has been marked by contrition, openness and a fervent desire to support those living with the ongoing consequences of this disaster. Sadly, however, it has not been marked in that way, which is how a disaster became a scandal.

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way and I thank her and the Father of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), for securing this debate.

The right hon. Lady said there has not been enough contrition and she is absolutely right about that. I will raise the case of one of my constituents, whose father was a haemophiliac infected by HIV and hepatitis C. The feelings of shame that went with that, even though they were completely unwarranted, were very real at the time. My constituent’s father died in 1995, so my constituent has been fighting for years; I will not name them today.

Does the right hon. Lady agree that there has been not only a lack of empathy, but far too many clerical errors along the way, and that it is now time for a formal apology? I welcome the letter I have had from the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend for Lewes (Maria Caulfield), which I will forward to my constituent later today, but I think we need to go a little bit further.

I am very grateful for that intervention and I absolutely agree with what the hon. Gentleman says. Some evidence suggests that concerns about the unfolding disaster were covered up at the time. Attempts to retrospectively reveal the truth via an independent inquiry were repeatedly resisted by successive Governments. It is only now, five decades after it began and after a very long-fought campaign, that we have the public inquiry underway, under the distinguished leadership of Sir Brian Langstaff. I was very pleased that, in advance of Sir Brian’s inquiry concluding, the former Paymaster General, the right hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), commissioned a study from Sir Robert Francis KC on a framework for compensation and redress for victims of infected blood to ensure that no time will be lost when Sir Brian publishes his final report in readiness for, as seems highly likely, his recommendation that compensation be paid.

Unfortunately, although the study results were sent to the Cabinet Office in March, the Government refused to publish it at that time. Instead, they promised to publish it alongside a full Government response, but the study was leaked to the press and the Government were then forced to publish the report in June. However, there is still no official response to Sir Robert’s study. Five months on, we are still waiting for that full Government response. We very much look forward to what the Minister has to say today about Sir Robert’s study, as the Government have now had a total of eight months to review the findings of the study. I hope the Minister will be able to provide a detailed response and firm commitments. Just to remind the Minister again, time is of the essence with this group. The inquiry will already have been running for six years when it concludes next year. Too many lives have been lost. Too much suffering has been caused. The victims of the contaminated blood scandal must not be made to wait any longer, either for answers or for action. What comes next from the Government should be marked by openness and a full commitment to deliver justice to everyone affected by this scandal.

I thank the right hon. Lady for giving way and for securing this debate. I have also heard from constituents who are extremely concerned about the amount of time it has been taking to achieve justice. Nobody is getting any younger waiting for the compensation that they deserve, whether they are immediately affected or part of a family that has been affected. Does she share my concern that justice increasingly delayed risks becoming justice denied?

Absolutely. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right in saying that.

I now turn to the three things I seek from the Minister in his remarks. First, I want him to pledge today that the Government will implement the infected blood inquiry recommendations in full. That would clearly demonstrate the Government’s commitment to deliver justice to the victims and their families. I also want him to confirm the date of the publication of the Government’s full response to Sir Robert’s study.

My second ask is for preparation. I want the Government —now—to prepare a full compensation framework. Please do not wait months to start this vital process and delay access to redress. Payments need to be made in a timely way and the process needs to be expeditious. We need a clear timetable of action from the Government. Specifically, how will infected and affected people be involved in the establishment and operation of the compensation framework, just as they have been at the heart of Sir Brian Langstaff’s inquiry? I want to echo the mantra: nothing about us without us. Can the Minister also confirm that work has already started on the setting up of the compensation framework in anticipation of Sir Brian’s final recommendations? What resources have the Government allocated to the setting-up costs and the operation of the compensation framework? When will the process of registering bereaved parents, carers, children and dependants, to ensure that they receive compensation, begin? How will the Government address the needs of people affected by the infected blood scandal who fall through the gaps of the restricted frameworks for financial assistance available today—particularly for those whose medical records were lost or destroyed?

The right hon. Lady is absolutely right about the medical records. There is also the case of individuals who were caring for people as well. They too must be compensated, because they went through years caring for people—perhaps a family member.

I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman.

Do the Government have plans and a timetable for introducing legislation to prevent compensation payments being reduced via taxation? Currently, His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is merely asked to exercise its discretion. That must be looked at. I will also write to the Minister regarding a few other specific issues that have been raised with me, which I think will need further consideration by the Government.

My third ask is around payments. I would like the Minister to commit to paying fair compensation to all. So far, interim payments have been restricted to people infected and bereaved partners. While those payments are of course welcome, bereaved parents, children, and, as the hon. Member for Glasgow South West has just said, carers, have not received any financial support for their loss. Those people must be included in the compensation framework, as Sir Robert set out clearly in his findings.

As my right hon. Friend rightly says, the interim compensation payments made to those infected and bereaved partners have huge holes in them, with too many people unable to access that support, including constituents of mine whose parents were killed by infected blood or blood products. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government must compensate both infected and affected victims of infected blood and blood products, and that the compensation arm’s length body should be able to begin accepting compensation claims as soon as the inquiry reports?

Absolutely. We are not alone in saying that, because Sir Robert also says it very clearly in his findings.

I thank the right hon. Lady for allowing me to intervene, and for calling this important debate. At the beginning of her speech, she rightly mentioned all of the organisations that have campaigned to try to get justice for not only the victims but the families, particularly relating to compensation. I would also like to specifically thank the chair of Haemophilia Wales, Lynne Kelly, and her team, who have been relentless in their determination to get justice for all of those affected across Wales.

Absolutely. I echo those comments as well. To conclude, what I am looking for from the Minister is, “Pledge, prepare, and pay.” Those points are the criteria that the Government will be judged on, and how they can best bring this scandal to an end and ensure that survivors and affected families can finally access justice and receive compensation for the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS.

Before I call the next speaker, because there are a lot of Members who want to speak, I will suggest a voluntary time limit of around four minutes. That will ensure that everybody gets in.

Thank you, Dame Angela. I first want to take a sombre moment to reflect on just how long people have been waiting for justice. It is now 40 years since information on the danger of contracting AIDS from contaminated blood products was first published. Those who received contaminated blood, and their families, have been waiting far, far too long. Many have passed away in the meantime. It is even six years since the inquiry was set up. I pay tribute to all those who have campaigned tirelessly, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), and Nigel Miller from my constituency.

Nigel reiterates the point made by my right hon. Friend that the Government should publish their response to Sir Robert’s study as soon as possible. He draws attention in particular to the need for compensation for the parents of the 300-plus children who died of AIDS, who should receive payments. Children also lost parents, often both parents, because the person who was infected was not told and so infected their partner. They too should receive compensation. Nigel also asks that I mention that interim compensation payments should be made urgently to the estates of those who have died, so that all those who were infected are recognised and some help can be given to those who continue to receive none. I hope the Minister will be able to respond on that point today.

I am not going to use up time in this serious debate to make cheap political points, but we all know about the websites that crash, the phonelines that go unanswered, and the utter frustration of waiting months and months. With only six months until the end of the inquiry, I urge the Minister to make absolutely sure that there are no further delays—to get everything up and running and ready to go, ready to receive the final detail when the study is fully concluded and reported on. The Government need to have people ready; whether they are appointed or seconded from other Departments, they need to be fully trained. All the IT systems need to be in place, and all the work on the important question of how people can be contacted, with their details verified, needs to be done in advance. In that way, as soon as the final details are available, everything will be ready to run and nobody will face any further delays.

Order. It has been drawn to my attention that there is a journalist in the Public Gallery using a recording device. With the best will in the world, that is not allowed. These proceedings are recorded and made publicly available. I ask that person to turn that device off. If you do not, I will have to ask the officials to escort you out. I do not want to do that. Please turn it off and get the publicly available feed. Could you do that, sir? Thank you.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) on all the work she has done and the partnership she has built with the infected blood groups, and on her work with the Haemophilia Society that supports the all-party parliamentary group on haemophilia and contaminated blood, which would not have existed or been effective without her. I thank her very much.

When I was at university between 1963 to 1966, I read some of the monographs by the Institute of Economic Affairs. Some were interesting; some, I thought, were right. One that came after that time, in 1968, was wrong. It was called “The price of blood” and argued that a commercial market in blood markets could be useful in some cases. Richard Titmuss, the founding professor of social administration and then of social policy at the London School of Economics, where both my mother and my wife studied, wrote “The Gift Relationship”, which was published in 1970. I recommend the medical classics review published in the BMJ 2011;342;d2078—I apologise for giving a reference—where Parita Mukta gives a retrospective review of that work. Richard Titmuss considered how the altruism of the gift of blood—one person the donor and one the receiver, each not knowing the other but knowing how the system worked—did an immense amount of good.

My mother was the first person in our family to have an HIV test, because she had had a blood donation during an operation. She suspected that some of her children and grandchildren used her toothbrush, so she wondered if she was going to infect them. In 1975, my wife received eight units of blood after a medical emergency. That type of exposure is something that we are aware of, but what kindled my interest was when a close friend, a haemophiliac, received factor 8 when everyone thought it was a good prophylactic. It was backed by the Haemophilia Society and others, but it turned out to be disastrous, for reasons that the inquiry is going into —I will not get involved in that.

We have each had constituents affected by infected blood. Some, if they are lucky, are still alive, but others have died. During the time that people have been ill, they have suffered all kinds of indignities. The worst that has been described to me by constituents is that every time they go into hospital, there is a clinician they do not know and they are asked how much alcohol they consume, because liver disease can be an indication of infection or of heavy drinking. I have argued that people ought to be able to have a flag to say, “Don’t ask these questions of this person, because they have to answer them several times a year and it is deeply wrong.” People ought to be able to say, “Look at these three or four paragraphs to know who I am and what my condition is. Now treat the thing I’m bringing to you. Don’t start suspecting me, as others have, of drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.”

I believe that the Government are beginning to respond in the right way. I have often had disagreements, even with my family, about drawing a distinction between people affected by infected or contaminated blood and those affected by normal procedures going wrong. On a scale that is now being recognised, we owe a debt to the judge and his helpers, we owe a debt to Sir Robert Francis, and we owe a debt to the families, who with dignity and persistence brought this debate to the House. What the Minister says today will not be the end of it, but I hope it will be a good step along the way. I am grateful to him for being here. If we need to have another debate, I will put my name to it again.

I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Angela.

I will open by paying tribute to the people affected by this disaster: the people infected and their families, those who have campaigned for years, either as infected people or in support of them, and all those who have simply had their lives changed. It takes a great deal of energy to campaign for 50 years and still not have received the limited justice that financial compensation can bring. The victims have faced stigma and lost opportunities to work, to have a family and to have insurance. We have heard about all those things in detail and cannot hear about them today, because the debate is simply going to be too short.

It is important that we remember the 2017 debate, in which I spoke. I had been a surgeon for over 30 years before I came to this place. The scandal began to leak out in the ’80s, and I remember the impact that it had on me. I was shocked at the idea that, having trusted something that was signed off by a Government or agency as safe, I might have transfused someone—we were pretty profuse with blood at that time—to save their life or simply to deal with post-surgical anaemia, and I might have destroyed their life. That had a big impact on me. It changed my practice: I stopped using a scalpel and started using argon-assisted diathermy. My theatre staff would moan about how obsessional I was about not having to transfuse patients by not losing blood in the first place. All patients gained from that, but a clinician who is dealing with someone who has been in a big car accident, or who has been stabbed or shot, does not have that luxury. Blood transfusion is not something that clinicians can avoid, and I am depressed about the fact that, five years on from the 2017 debate that led to the inquiry, we are still only at this point. We thought that we would be able to resolve the issue by now.

Absolutely everyone in this Chamber will welcome the completion of the evidence sessions, the interim report and especially the delivery of interim payments to the people infected or their bereaved partners. However, as has already been pointed out, bereaved parents and children are not included; nor are those who may have been unpaid family carers, who may not fall into one of those groups but who cared for years for someone who is now deceased and who will not even in the short term be eligible for care payments through an infected person.

I am merely repeating what the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) said in asking: when will the registration of all those affected begin? What work is being done on establishing the full compensation framework so it is ready to go the moment the decision is made? When will the Government publish their full response to the report by Sir Robert Francis? At the moment, we are talking as if all those recommendations are accepted, and the community is trusting they are all accepted, but we do not actually know that.

I would like to have had a proper debate in the main Chamber. It warranted the full time so we could explore the detail. It is important that we remember that in 2017, it was not what any of us said in the debate that achieved the inquiry. That was agreed to in the morning, because the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) realised it would have been the first time the Government lost a vote because of the cross-party strength of feeling. It is therefore important that all MPs in this Chamber and all the supporters of this campaign in the House continue to work cross-party, as we are seeing here, to make sure the Government do not drag their feet and deliver the justice that is long past time.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Dame Angela. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) and the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) on securing the debate and thank them for all their work on this important issue. I pay tribute to everyone campaigning on this too.

As we know, during the 1970s and 1980s, thousands of UK patients contracted HIV, the hepatitis virus, or both from contaminated blood or blood products. I want to raise the case of one of my constituents, who was one of those patients. She has now been recognised officially as a victim of the contaminated blood scandal, but getting there has been, in her words, “a long, upsetting and depressing process”, both in an administrative sense and in terms of her health. For many years, she was denied any recognition or support due to lost medical records. She said there were times when she decided it was best for her to just admit she was beaten and move on. Thankfully, she persisted and is now rightly recognised as a victim. Despite being cured of hepatitis C several years ago, she has been left with a number of other extremely serious health issues. She still suffers today, not only medically but emotionally, due in part to the stigma attached to hepatitis C and blood-borne viruses. There can be no place for stigma in relation to health in a supportive and understanding society.

Over the years, the strain on my constituent and her family, including her children, has been enormous and their lives have been profoundly affected. She told me she often wonders how different her life would have been if she had not required a blood transfusion at birth. I am sure that she, like everyone else affected by this, just wants conclusion and closure. The Government’s written response of 5 September notes Sir Robert Francis KC’s independent study, with options for a workable and fair framework of compensation for those infected and affected by the tragedy. It also notes the recommendations by Sir Robert and Sir Brian Langstaff, chair of the infected blood inquiry, of making interim payments of no less than £100,000 to all those infected and all bereaved partners currently registered on UK infected blood support schemes, as well as those who register between now and the inception of any future scheme.

The Government have confirmed that infected individuals and bereaved partners who are registered with any of the four UK infected blood support schemes received their payments by 28 October. However, as the Hepatitis C Trust has pointed out, those are only interim payments, and this is just the start of the process of setting up the full compensation scheme.

Does the hon. Lady also support the notion of the interim scheme being extended to families and carers, such as my constituent Justine Gordon-Smith, who cared for her father, Randolph? She has experienced considerable personal trauma, and the same must be true for hundreds and hundreds of families throughout the UK. Does she agree that they deserve to have their problems and the issues they have experienced acknowledged by the Government too?

The hon. Lady makes really important points on behalf of her constituent.

Furthermore, the Government have still not responded in full to Sir Robert Francis’s report on the compensation framework. Will the Minister say today when that response will be published? The infected blood inquiry is ongoing and is due to report in mid-2023. It is vital that the Government act as swiftly as possible when the inquiry’s final report is published. That is the very least that victims such as my constituents deserve.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) on securing this important debate. The breadth of representation here today shows that this scandal affects all corners of the United Kingdom and continues to damage many innocent lives.

I know from conversations with my affected constituents the truly devastating impact the scandal has had on their lives. I am glad that while we wait for the publication of the infected blood inquiry’s findings, scheduled for summer 2023, we have started to pay interim compensation payments to those directly affected. The publication in June of Sir Robert Francis’s recommendations for a framework for the compensation and redress for victims laid out the benefit of such payments, and it was backed up by Sir Brian Langstaff’s report on interim payments the next month. It is welcome that, following those reports, the Government rightly announced in August that an interim compensation payment of £100,000 will be made to registered infected individuals and bereaved partners. Those are all steps in the right direction. Many of us in this Chamber have been pushing for them on behalf of our constituents for many years.

I echo other Members’ sentiments: there is still so much more that we can do. Sir Robert Francis published 19 recommendations, yet so far the Government have adopted just one, on interim compensation payments. An issue of primary importance that is directly affecting some of my constituents in Southport is eligibility for the payments. One particularly heartrending case involves a constituent of mine who lost both his boys when they were young. No amount of money can ever right the loss of one’s child. We must remember that, at best, the payments can seek to right in a legal sense the wrong done. The moral argument for making such a payment is clear, yet no payment has been made. My constituent has been through unimaginable grief.

I want to support the hon. Gentleman’s point by raising a case from my constituency. I too know from conversations with those affected the profound and lasting consequences for the children of those affected, who had to deal not only with their bereavement but with being bullied at school during the most brutal period of AIDS stigma. It is appalling to me and any right-minded person looking at the interim payments that have been made so far that the children of those affected are not yet eligible for financial support. Will the hon. Gentleman join me and others in ensuring that the Government include the children of those infected as a matter of urgency?

I agree with the hon. Lady. Many years later, my constituent is still going through a terrible time with the trauma. The psychological effects do not leave people. He is still ineligible for compensation for the death of his children. It is unacceptable.

Why are the Government yet to adopt Sir Robert’s fifth recommendation, which would extend eligibility and would include my constituent and many others? They are yet to give an emphatic statement in support of the recommendation, and have merely stated in a written answer that they fully expect Sir Robert’s wider recommendations to inform the inquiry’s final report. They need not wait for the final report; they could simply adopt Sir Robert’s first recommendation. Regardless of the inquiry’s findings, there is a strong moral case for a publicly funded scheme to compensate the victims.

It is good news that the first payments for those who are eligible have landed in their bank accounts. The Government are making good progress on redress, but there is still more that we can do. I support all 19 of the recommendations and I urge the Government to adopt them at the earliest opportunity. We all continue to stand up for payments for our constituents, because they have suffered in this scandal and they need to be justly compensated. We will continue to fight until we feel that justice has been done. These are real people who are suffering across all our constituencies, and we have a moral duty to do all we can to right these wrongs.

It is indeed the personal stories that bring home the full horror of this scandal. I pay tribute to my constituent John Prior, a severe haemophiliac who was infected with hepatitis C through contaminated blood products at Yorkhill Children’s Hospital. His own mother injected him with the products until he was able to do so himself at the age of 11. Of the 35 children treated with contaminated products at the hospital alongside my constituent, 19 were also infected with HIV. It was only aged 20 that he discovered the truth of what had happened via his employer, who had known a full year before he did.

The consequences for John have included advanced liver fibrosis and significant mental health issues. At one point, he received letters four times in 10 years to say that he may have had variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease. He suffered from the severe side effects of treatments that were helping only a small number of patients. He has described how he and his fellow victims feel that they have been used as guinea pigs, and have been living on death row since they were infected. My constituent is a similar age to me, but has already lived significantly longer than many of his peers who did not survive the impact of the scandal.

John’s asks, and mine, are exactly as set out so ably by the all-party group chairs, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) and the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), whose fantastic work I pay tribute to and thank them for. As the right hon. Member said, the asks can be neatly encapsulated in the three Ps: pledge, prepare and pay. This is about fixing the interim compensation scheme, which is welcome but which must be extended to the groups who are excluded unfairly. It is about publishing the full response to Sir Robert Francis’s report and committing to its full implementation, and accepting responsibility for what happened. It is about ensuring that the compensation is administered by an independent body, and that the work to administer it gets under way now so that it can be up and running as soon as possible. It is about making good on the commitments on non-taxation, and heeding Sir Robert’s remarks on increasing support payments as soon as possible.

There are so many things that the Government can and should be doing, as others have set out. I simply ask the Government to be as nimble and generous as possible as they proceed, and to ensure that they do not inflict any needless bureaucracy on people who have already experienced the worst type of state negligence and recklessness over several decades. John’s story is a personal tragedy for him and his family. The collective story of these amazingly brave and dignified campaigners is a national disgrace. We cannot undo the appalling harm that was done, but by building on the excellent work of Robert Francis and Brian Langstaff we can deliver some sort of justice, and we must.

As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Angela. It is fantastic that my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) has secured such an important debate. I will try to bring some human context to it. Plenty of facts and figures have been mentioned, which are 100% correct, but the victims, families and carers are furious. This happened almost half a century ago and onwards. They have every right to be not just frustrated but appalled and disgusted about the way they have all been treated and about what has been described as a cover-up.

This is not just a scandal and a tragedy but the biggest cover-up in the history of the NHS, and it is yet to be recognised by the Government. Lord Robert Winston described the scandal as the

“worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS.”

Former Conservative Prime Minister John Major said that in the eyes of the Conservative Government, those affected by the scandal simply had “bad luck”. Still, one person dies every four days in this nation as a result of this cover-up. That is not bad luck. Fancy telling somebody who has lost their parents, or somebody else in their family, that it was bad luck. What an absolute disgrace.

We have had the recent inquiries. The infected blood inquiry was called in 2017—five years ago—and it is certainly far from over. Of course, most Members have brought up the many things that are required. This is not just about those who suffered; it is about their families, the carers—everyone who has been affected. For example, what consideration have the Government given to the lifelong effect of infected blood on child development, as well as life expectancy? It is so damaging, but we hear very little about it.

A number of questions have been raised, but in the time that I have left, I will talk about the time when Sean Cavens, who is 41, came to see me. He was furious. I was unaware of the scale of the issue, and ignorant of the contaminated blood situation. He explained how difficult it had been. He gave me a tie—black for the dead, red for HIV victims and yellow for hepatitis C victims. Many of us have the ribbon on our lapel. Since then, I have been privileged to be part of the campaign and part of the APPG, seeking justice. This is an absolute outrage—it really is. We have to start making the feelings of the individuals heard—the feelings of the people who have died because of contaminated blood, who cannot speak for themselves. I hope that, in the very near future, we can come up with the answers to all the questions that my hon. Friends and colleagues have mentioned, and that we get these people sorted out as soon as possible.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) for securing this debate, and for the time that she has spent in her parliamentary life on this issue; it would be well spent on this issue alone, I feel. I also pay tribute to all the campaign groups out there—Tainted Blood, the Contaminated Blood Campaign, Haemophilia Wales, which has been mentioned, and others—which have not just kept the campaign on the parliamentary agenda, but have given help, support and advice to people going through this. That point was made to me again last week by my constituents. Those organisations have been a lifeline, and I thank them on behalf of my constituents.

I urge the Minister in as strong terms as I can to extend interim payments to bereaved parents and families. We are all relieved that some people have interim payments, but all who have suffered must get them, because they are still living with this every day. I, too, want the Department to get on with setting up the systems up now, so that final compensation, once the inquiry is complete, can be paid as fast as possible, with no further delays.

On the issue of the enhanced payment for patients with hepatitis C, stage 1, that scheme is backdated to 2019 in Northern Ireland, but in the rest of the UK it is backdated to 2017. The British Government today have begun acting in the devolved space around budgets, because we do not have a Government, of course, in Northern Ireland. Does the hon. Member agree with me that the British Government should urgently backdate the payments in Northern Ireland to 2017, which is what everybody else has?

I thank the hon. Member very much for that intervention, and hope that the Minister will address it in his closing remarks.

Like other hon. Members, I want to speak about my constituents. I will base my remarks on the Smiths from Newport, who lost their wonderful son Colin in 1990 after he received infected blood products from a prison in Arkansas. Colin was one of 380 children who were infected with HIV. Colin’s mum and dad were among the youngest parents who lost children to this scandal, and they are in an ever diminishing group of bereaved parents who are still alive; many waited for compensation and justice that never came. Over my years as an MP, it has been one of the greatest privileges to get to know the Smith family. Every time I meet them—I met them last week—I am taken aback by their fortitude, dignity and bravery in the face of the disgraceful injustice that they have lived with over all these years. I watched their evidence to the inquiry again last week, and I just do not know how they did it. It is shameful that, other than payments through the Skipton fund, they have never been properly compensated for the loss of their son. It is not about the money; it is about the acknowledgement of a life. Colin may not have been a breadwinner, but he could have been. Like other bereaved parents, they were excluded from the interim payments scheme. Although they themselves were not directly infected by toxic blood products, there is no metric under which the Smiths and others like them could not be considered victims of this scandal.

I do not have time to go through the multitude of indignities suffered by these families, which other hon. Members have alluded to. People painted graffiti saying “AIDS dead” on the side of the Smiths’ house, and they had to move home. Mr Smith lost his job and was not able to get proper employment because he was the father of a child with HIV. The family also suffered financial strain, accruing debt as a result of visiting Colin in hospital, arranging transport and so on. There has been no formal acknowledgement of the indignities that Colin suffered, and he never lived to receive a formal apology or compensation.

The campaign will always fall short because no money can compensate the families, but compensation is still crucial if we are to acknowledge the depth of the failure of the British state. These families were let down in the worst possible way. The Smiths are now in their 70s. Although it is not about the money for them, I want them to live in comfort and to be able to support their surviving children in the years that they have left. That is not too much to ask. We cannot wait more years for this. It is vital that the Government prepare for further recommendations, so that there are no additional waits. The drawn-out process of contacting the solicitors of core participants to gather information for the compensation framework should be undertaken as soon as possible.

My ask for the Minister on behalf of the Smith family is simple. Do not make us call more debates. Please do not make us bring these families to London again and again. Please do not make us tell these deeply painful stories about our constituents again and again. No more warm words from Front Benchers. Please do as my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North said: pledge, prepare and pay. There is no time, and families have waited far too long already.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair and to serve under your chairpersonship, Dame Angela.

As others have, I pay tribute to the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on haemophilia and contaminated blood. It is a privilege to be the vice-chair, but the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) has led the group superbly, as has the Father of the House, the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley). The Minister should be under no illusion: they have been relentless, and there are Members of this House who will join them in relentlessly campaigning on behalf of the victims of this scandal until justice is delivered. This tragedy continues to devastate lives, and we will continue to work cross-party to press the UK Government to pay fair and timely compensation to the bereaved families of the victims.

As others have said, it was campaigning, political pressure, legal pressure and media pressure that secured the infected blood inquiry in the first place. It was not handed to us; it had to be campaigned for relentlessly—I will continue to use that word—before the inquiry was given. The evidence from it is completely and utterly shocking. Andy Burnham, the former Health Secretary, called the scandal “a colossal failure”, saying in his evidence that there

“may even be a case for asking the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to consider charges of corporate manslaughter”,

and before then, in his last speech in Parliament—the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) referred to this—Andy Burnham called the scandal a

“criminal cover-up on an industrial scale.”—[Official Report, 25 April 2017; Vol. 624, c. 1072.]

I was there; it was a Backbench Business debate called by the APPG on haemophilia and contaminated blood.

I pay tribute to all those affected by the infected blood scandal, and all the campaigners who have done a tremendous amount over the years to bring the issue forward. Two constituents came to my surgery on Saturday: Cathy Young, who lost her husband Davie, and Cathy’s daughter, Nicola Stewart. Nicola has asked me to read the following words, which sum up the situation when she was growing up:

“So growing up with a dad with haemophilia who contracted through no fault of his own was a massive secret. My sister and I were not made aware of dad’s infection as dad and mum didn’t want anyone knowing. I now know this was down to the stigma of the infection. I just knew something wasn’t right with dad’s blood so his toothbrushes and razors were all kept away.

Then I hit my teens and things became a lot clearer as dad was going through treatments. After two rounds of attempts to clear it, it failed. My dad didn’t fail; he gave it his all. He was so ill through it and mentally struggled through his treatments. After the second time it failed, this is when I believe we lost dad. He was never the same man again. He went into total self- destruct. It was so painful, as we just couldn’t help him. He didn’t want the help. It isn’t until now that I understand why he hit the self-destruct button. It was horrendous. At a time when I was going through my exams, it was terribly hard to concentrate on my future at school when so much was going on at home.

Mum and dad’s relationship fell apart. Dad moved out and Mum tried her best to continue to pay the mortgage. I was working part-time at this point as I was still at school. I worked as much as I could and gave Mum every penny I earned to help pay the mortgage, as did my older sister. It was a lot for only being 17. We couldn’t keep up, so we lost our home.

Dad died when I was only 23. Far too early to be losing a parent. He has been gone 13 years now and I still cannot speak about him or what happened without crying—as you witnessed yourself on Saturday. I always explain it like I’m stuck in the grief process...I can’t get past the acceptance stage as he died through no fault of his own and no one has been held accountable for it. It is a cruel form of grieving when the answers are out there but no one has been interested in looking or even listening.

My dad has missed out on so much. Myself and my sister both walked down the aisle without my dad by our side. I have two children who never met their grandad but know of him as the grandad that lives in heaven. My dad didn’t see me graduate when I finally went back to education in my 30s. All the big things that your dad is supposed to be there for. He didn’t get to do it through no fault of his own.”

That is one family’s situation, and the daughter of a victim explaining what they went through. That is why we will continue to be relentless until justice is delivered. I pay tribute to Nicola for sharing those words with me. It takes a lot for a constituent to write to a Member of Parliament. I know we are not all scary—I certainly do not believe that I am scary—but people are sometimes scared to write such words.

We urge the Government to allow all those affected by contaminated blood to register with the support schemes, and to ensure that payments are available to bereaved partners, parents, children and carers. I hope the Minister will confirm today that the issue of carers will be looked at and respected, because so many people have cared for years for people going through this.

The UK Government must publish a response to Sir Robert’s study immediately, and must ensure that the arm’s length body can begin accepting compensation claims as soon as any inquiry reports. I hope the Minister will confirm today that the Government intend to respond to the study; it is important that they do. It is frustrating; a response to the study was promised, but we are still waiting for it.

As the former Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, the right hon. and learned Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis), said in a written statement,

“This analysis cannot be completed hurriedly but officials across government are focussing on this so that the government can be ready to respond quickly to the Inquiry’s recommendations”.

As far as I am concerned, we have waited far too long, and I think many hon. Members agree. The other recommendation was that an arm’s length body should be set up to administer the compensation scheme. Will the Minister give us an update on that? Again, that is important.

I am conscious that I must leave time for other Front- Bench spokespeople, and for the Minister to answer the questions. However, I want to make it clear to my constituents, and to all Members of this House, that I will join the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North and the Father of the House in relentlessly pursuing this issue until justice is delivered.

I too pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) and the Father of the House, the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), for securing this vital debate, and for fighting for justice for those affected by the contaminated blood scandal. All the Members who have made important contributions today campaign tirelessly to get affected constituents the justice that they deserve. I pay tribute to them all, and to Members who could not join us today, for keeping the pressure on the Government and delivering for the victims of the scandal.

My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Dame Nia Griffith) highlighted that many people have been waiting for decades, and that over 300 children have died of AIDS. We must look at how we can help those children who are still living with the condition. The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) highlighted her medical experience. The treatments that we have seen over the years, and being able to spot contaminated blood, are vital, but what about the people who were contaminated before those medical breakthroughs?

My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) highlighted her constituent’s case, and said that this is a long, upsetting and depressing process. We have to remember that people are still living with this mentally. They are suffering daily. Think about the toll that lockdown will have had on the mental health of these people. Every day that compensation is delayed is another day that they suffer.

The hon. Member for Southport (Damien Moore), and a number of other hon. Members, said that we must think about the carers: the people who cared for their family members and loved ones. Where is their voice, and where is the justice for them? No amount of money will change the fact that many people had to bury their children. We have to remember the children. That was highlighted eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), who passionately reminded us that, for all the statistics around the scandal, we are talking about people. We are talking about real lives, which continue to be impacted daily.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) highlighted her work, and that of fantastic voluntary and charity groups that support the many families affected. Even within their financial constraints, they still do a fantastic job supporting many families up and down the country. I also pay tribute to those organisations and groups. The Haemophilia Society, the Hepatitis B Positive Trust, the Hepatitis C Trust, the Sickle Cell Society and the families of thousands of people up and down the country continue to raise awareness. They contributed to this inquiry, and have fought for justice over the past years and decades.

This is the first debate in which I have represented the Opposition Front Bench in this Chamber, but this is a topic in which I take a deep personal interest. My late mother suffered from sickle cell anaemia, and I am a sickle carrier. As a result of the disease, my mum required regular blood transfusions, which were vital to her. Without them, her life would have ended a lot earlier —she died when she was 60. The transfusions helped to ease her sickle pain, and ensured that she was able to see me and my sisters grow up, see her first grandchild, and live her life.

Today, vitally, all blood is screened to avoid the risk of the transmission of serious infection. I am pleased that that has helped more people come forward to give vital blood. Every so often, I get a ping from NHS Blood and Transplant—a call-out for people to come forward and give blood. It is vital that people give blood and know that that blood will be safe.

The hon. Lady is making an important point. It reminds me that it was only two weeks ago that, in the Jubilee Room around the corner, there was a plea for people, especially from ethnic minorities, to register to donate blood and, potentially, organs, as many do not need them all. I agree that it is critical that people be aware of the importance of being donors, and of the gift of donations.

I totally agree with the Father of the House; that is so important. As I say, every so often, we get the ping from NHS Blood. At that NHS blood donation event, we called for a bus in Parliament, so that we could get more people here, including parliamentarians, to give blood.

Thorough screening of blood has come alongside the emergence of synthetic clotting factors for haemophilia sufferers, which eliminates the risk of contaminants from important treatments. Together, these treatments have significantly improved the safety of blood treatments in the UK, and patients now have a low risk of contracting serious diseases such as hepatitis or HIV from blood. Sadly, treatments in the ’70s and ’80s put patients at unacceptable risk of contracting serious and life-threatening diseases. In the ’70s, people with bleeding disorders had transfusion treatment replaced with the new product factor concentrate, which was then produced by pooling and concentrating tens of thousands of donors’ blood. As the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire highlighted, just one sample was enough to contaminate the entire batch, and could risk infecting thousands of people; that caused significant concern.

The tragic result was that thousands with blood and bleeding disorders were infected with deadly diseases, which had and continue to have a significant impact on their lives. Without modern, effective treatment, diseases such as HIV were acutely fatal and came with horrific consequences. Heartbreakingly, many of those infected have not lived to see today’s debate and the prospect of proper justice at the end of this inquiry. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North highlighted that more than 3,000 people have died, and statistics from the Terrence Higgins Trust show that between the start of the inquiry in July 2017 and February 2022, some 419 infected people have died. While we await the conclusion of this report and inquiry, one person dies every four days. This is about the human element of the inquiry; every day that we delay this compensation is justice denied to those people.

The impact of the scandal goes beyond the immediate medical concerns. My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North (Charlotte Nichols) highlighted the stigma. We must remember the stigma that those with HIV and AIDS suffered during the ’80s and ’90s. Disgraceful racist and homophobic stereotypes were widely perpetuated, and victims were persecuted and shunned for suffering from this horrific disease.

Diseases associated with contaminated blood often impact not just the immediate victim, but their families and friends. As the primary carer for my late mother, I remember some of the challenges in the late ’90s in making sure my mum got the right treatment when she was suffering. Many of the loved ones of the victims will have gone through similar challenges in trying to get the right treatment, and victims are often misunderstood and continue to be stigmatised for having a disease.

The inquiry is finally coming to a close, and interim payments have begun to be made. It would be remiss of me to pre-empt the recommendations of the inquiry. However, I hope that the Minister has heard loudly the concerns raised by a number of Members this afternoon, and those concerns raised in other debates. I hope that he can fully address some of those clear asks when he responds. As Dame Elizabeth Anionwu—the first ever sickle cell nurse—pointed out, it can be very hard for people suffering with infectious disease, including blood contamination, to come forward because of the stigma.

Sir Robert’s report was published on 7 June 2022 and made 19 clear recommendations. It is frankly disgraceful that only one of those recommendations has been followed up. Sir Brian acknowledged that there is a moral case for the interim payments to be made. I ask the Minister to respond to a number of those claims and ensure that the victims get the payments they deserve. We cannot ignore the impact on the families and friends of victims, who fought alongside them for this justice. Can the Minister provide assurances that those groups will not be ignored when the Government finally respond to the inquiry?

The contaminated blood scandal had a life-changing impact on tens of thousands of victims who were promised the hope of effective treatment. It can only be right that they see the justice they deserve as soon as possible.

It is a pleasure to be able to speak in this extremely important debate, Dame Angela. I say to the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi), who speaks from the Labour Front Bench, that the Government absolutely hear loud and clear what has been said today. Although I am just a few weeks into the job, I have been enormously struck by the sheer weight of grief and experience that has led us to this point today and will lead us to our final destination, hopefully next year.

As so many others have, I pay tribute to the family members, the sufferers, the carers and friends of the people who were involved in this awful incident so many years ago. I also congratulate the APPG. I have listened to the debate, and this is Parliament at its best. A tragedy that affected all parts of our United Kingdom has seen very personal stories reflected by Members of Parliament, and has brought parties from different sides of the political divide together to represent their constituents and seek justice. I pay tribute to right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken up for their constituents today.

I am confident that Sir Brian Langstaff’s infected blood inquiry, whose report we expect in the middle of next year, will deliver the answers that the victims of infected blood have waited so long for, and will make recommendations for compensation and wider recommendations to ensure that such a disaster can never happen again in our country.

The infected blood inquiry has heard first hand of the terrible suffering experienced by the victims of infected blood over many years, and the terrible financial hardship faced by many as a result of their infections and the burden of caring for stricken loved ones. This Government commissioned Sir Robert Francis KC to produce an independent study with options for a workable and fair framework of compensation for those infected and affected by the tragedy. As everyone knows, Sir Robert’s study was published in June of this year.

Following Sir Robert’s detailed evidence given to the inquiry in July, the chair of the infected blood inquiry, Sir Brian Langstaff, delivered an interim report to the Government. In his report, Sir Brian made the following recommendations:

“(1) An interim payment should be paid, without delay, to all those infected and all bereaved partners currently registered on UK infected blood support schemes, and those who register between now and the inception of any future scheme;

(2) The amount should be no less than £100,000, as recommended by Sir Robert Francis QC.”

On 16 August, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis), then Minister for the Cabinet Office, wrote to Sir Brian to confirm that the Government had accepted his recommendations in full and that interim payments of £100,000 would be made by the end of October to all infected beneficiaries and bereaved partners registered with the four national support schemes. I am happy to confirm that those payments were made across the whole of the UK by 28 October. The payments are tax-free and will not affect any financial benefits or support an individual is receiving.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), then the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, said when announcing those interim payments, they are the start and not the end of a process to respond positively and rapidly to the inquiry’s likely recommendations about compensation. On the comments made by the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford), we understand that this is limited justice, but we hope to fulfil that limited justice as quickly as possible. I also pay tribute to her for her work as a surgeon.

Although it would be wrong for me to try to second guess the likely recommendations of the independent inquiry, I fully expect Sir Brian to make recommendations about broader final compensation for the many victims of infected blood. In his interim report, Sir Brian referred specifically to bereaved parents and children and said that the moral case for their compensation was “beyond doubt”. He recognised what he called the

“greater degree of personal individualisation”

necessary in determining compensation for that group of victims, the complex nature of which made it difficult to include the group of bereaved victims in an interim scheme intended to be introduced as rapidly as possible. There can be little doubt that once he has considered the arguments in closing submissions, Sir Brian’s final report will make recommendations about compensation for a wider group of people.

Sir Robert’s study was commissioned so that the Government would be ready to address quickly any recommendations on compensation made by the inquiry. Officials are now working together across Government to produce options for compensation that can be quickly matched to the inquiry’s recommendations. On the point made by the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) at the start of the debate, we have the resource in place across Government to do that work. We are doing it with the intention of being able to respond very swiftly to the inquiry’s findings when they come.

I am listening carefully to what the Minister is saying, but I just want to be clear. When will we see a response to Sir Robert’s review, which the Cabinet Office received in March? We are now eight months on. I know there has been political turmoil for many of those months, but if the civil servants were getting on with that work, on what date will we see the publication of the Government’s response to a report they have now had for over eight months?

I understand the right hon. Lady’s point. Sir Robert’s findings have fed into the inquiry. We are now preparing for the inquiry’s final findings and we will respond as quickly as possible.

I have perhaps interrupted the Minister as he was about to answers the question I am about to ask, but the Cabinet Office asked for the Robert Francis inquiry, not Brian Langstaff. Robert Francis’s report has been received by the Cabinet Office. Sir Brian Langstaff’s report is expected in the middle of next year. Are we seriously expected to believe that we will not hear anything more on the Government’s reaction to the Sir Robert Francis report before the middle of next year?

My hon. Friend the Father of the House is absolutely right that it was the Cabinet Office that asked Sir Robert to conduct the work. The findings have now been fed into the inquiry and are being considered. I draw his attention to the remarks that Sir Robert made on the BBC’s “Today” programme on 17 August. He said that the Government were considering the matter and that it was very complex. He said that they had to wait for Sir Brian’s recommendations because his own work was feeding into that inquiry, and he had given options for them to consider.

The Minister fairly quotes Robert Francis. It would be possible for us to text Robert and ask whether he would like to us to say the following, but if the Minister can give some responses to some of Sir Robert’s recommendations before the middle of next year, would he be willing to consider doing that, please?

I am very happy to have that conversation. The Minister for the Cabinet Office and I are meeting the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North in the coming weeks, and I am sure that will be a central part of our discussion.

I am sorry to press the point, but in March, when the Government were given a copy of Sir Robert’s report, they made it very clear that they were going to publish it at the same time as the Government response. They wanted to publish the full response at the same time. Is the Minister now saying that that was not what was intended and that any Minister telling Parliament that that would happen was actually misleading Parliament?

I hope that the right hon. Lady will appreciate that I was not the Minister at the time; I have been in post for just a few weeks and I do not want to say anything that is incorrect. However, my understanding is that following the work done by Sir Robert, Sir Brian called Sir Robert to give evidence and then he himself made recommendations about interim payments that the Government immediately responded to. I also hope that the right hon. Lady will bear that in mind when considering the Government’s likely response in the future. The Government said that they would respond very swiftly on interim payments and they did so. Before the end of October, as we pledged, the interim payments were all received by those affected. I hope that she will take that as an indication of our desire to move as quickly as possible, in keeping and in line with Sir Brian’s ultimate recommendations.

I am also a member of the APPG who has been part of the campaign throughout and took part in the tabling of parliamentary questions that were repeated ad nauseam to get a response. What was talked about in the Chamber was a response from the Government to the Sir Robert Francis report that would come at the same time as the publication—the reference was not to Sir Brian Langstaff’s call for interim payments nor to Sir Robert’s, but to the Sir Robert Francis report. The Minister must surely understand that given the 19 recommendations in the report, victims and their families want to know whether they can trust what is coming down the line. The idea of keeping them waiting for another seven or eight months is just cruel.

I understand what the hon. Lady is saying, but it is very important that Sir Brian’s findings are the final word on this matter and that the Government can respond to them as quickly as possible. The work that Sir Robert has done has obviously informed an enormous amount of work across Government to make sure that we can respond very quickly when the findings are produced in the middle of next year.

I am sure that an enormous amount of work is going on, but if we consider the recent trend of one individual dying every four days since 2007, my calculation is that if we have to wait until the middle of next year, in excess of another 50 people, all victims of contaminated blood, will pass away before they see even a penny of compensation. As a Minister of the Crown, the Minister cannot accept that that is fair to the victims. What message will he give to them?

The hon. Gentleman will have heard me pay tribute to everyone who is going through and has been through this awful experience. However, I hope he will appreciate that it is very important to ensure that what the Government might say now does not cut across what Sir Brian intends to say in his final report. Everyone can have confidence that that will be the final word and that the Government will then have the opportunity to respond quickly, to get everyone affected the support that they deserve.

Can I gently suggest to the Minister that he needs to be careful here? There is is already a significant lack of trust in the Government among those impacted. Sir Robert’s study made a number of recommendations, but we have not heard the Government’s response to those recommendations, including on the setting up of an arm’s length body to administer the compensation scheme. Can he confirm that the Government accept that recommendation?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will know that that is one of the things that Sir Brian is looking at and that we will respond to Sir Brian’s findings. We take the matter enormously seriously and we understand the real desire for maximum speed; I know that people have waited for a very long time to get what the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire called limited justice. However, the truth is that I very much hope and believe that we are in sight of that endpoint now.

I am trying to be polite, Dame Angela, but significant recommendations from Sir Robert’s study were put to the Government. Not all of them are about compensation moneys; some of them are about the administration of any scheme, so that the Government are ready. Can we have some sort of response from the Government about those aspects of that report, please, because that will build confidence and do away with the lack of trust out there?

The hon. Gentleman will have heard me say that we are working across Government to make sure we are in a position to respond very quickly to what happens with Sir Brian’s report in the middle of next year. I understand that there are questions of trust for historic reasons, but I hope that the fact that the Government have been able to respond quickly, promptly and to our own timescales on the delivery of the interim payments will do something to show that the Administration are absolutely committed to doing the right thing.

Not all of Sir Robert Francis’s recommendations are about the future and a final compensation scheme. Some relate to the support schemes that people are dependent on now. Why should action on those recommendations be delayed until the middle of next year when people face a cost of living crisis now? Surely if the Government responded to the more acute recommendations, saying they want to wait longer, would that not at least be a start?

I will say to the hon. Lady what I said to the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North a few moments ago: my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and I are meeting the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North in the coming weeks and I would be happy to make sure that that is at the top of the agenda.

It is really not acceptable to say that the Minister will meet the APPG as a way of deflecting from the important points that have been raised in the Chamber and the promises that have been made by successive Ministers in the Cabinet Office to this group of people who have suffered for far too long. We were told there would be a Government response to Sir Robert’s review. That is what we were told; that is what everybody is expecting. We were never led to believe that we would have to wait until the middle of next year when Sir Brian produces his final recommendations. The Cabinet Office put forward that work to have the review so it is ready to go as soon as Sir Brian makes his recommendations. It is totally unacceptable that the Government are behaving in this way.

I hope the right hon. Lady will not see it as deflection that we want to meet her and discuss these matters with her. I am sorry that she is dissatisfied with the response today. She will have a chance to discuss this with the Minister for the Cabinet Office and me in coming weeks, as she knows, because it is in her diary.

For the sake of Hansard, the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire said that that meeting will be in private, but I am quite confident that at least one of the people participating will talk about it in public afterwards and that it may be the start of a longer dialogue.

It is probably not a matter for me, but I observe that in here we are on the public record, so the Minister might wish to make some comments that he knows the Public Gallery and anyone who watches our proceedings will hear, rather than relying simply on a private meeting.

Thank you, Dame Angela. As I say, this is the continuation of a conversation that I very much look forward to having with the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North and the Minister for the Cabinet Office.

I hope the Minister will appreciate that a number of people who have come today to listen to the proceedings, the people who are watching and those who will watch on playback may not feel reassured that the Government are taking the matter seriously. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) mentioned how people do not want to have to travel again to relive and retell what they went through. I hope the Minister will understand that a number of us do not feel that his response has been acceptable.

I hear what the hon. Lady is saying, but I want to assure her that we take the matter extremely seriously. That is why the inquiry has been set up, why we have engaged fully with it, why we responded immediately to the call for interim payment, why we paid those payments on time and why we will continue to do what is necessary to see that justice is done.

I will now turn to the point raised by the hon. Member for Foyle (Colum Eastwood) on backdating payments for Northern Ireland. I am afraid I will have to write to him on the issue, because I will need to consult colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care and the Northern Ireland Department of Health. I will write to him as swiftly as I can.

I am grateful for that commitment. Can the Minister bear in mind that we do not have a single Minister in Northern Ireland over any devolved area right now, and that people in Northern Ireland are getting a bad deal as a result of this scheme? The Government today published a budget in the devolved space for Northern Ireland, so what I am asking for is very doable for this Government. Please, please take it seriously.

I understand what the hon. Member is saying, and I will write to him as swiftly as I can.

A couple of Members raised the matter of destroyed medical records, and the inquiry is considering that closely. We expect the inquiry to make findings on this important issue, and we will respond to them as soon as we can after the inquiry reports.

To those individuals and others who are out of scope of the interim payments we have already made, I emphasise that the interim payments that the Government have announced are the start of the process, not the end. There is much work still to be done. Sir Robert’s compensation framework study has been warmly welcomed by the inquiry, and without prejudicing the findings of the independent inquiry, we fully expect Sir Robert’s wider recommendations to inform the inquiry’s final report when it is published next year. Until that time, the Government will continue to work in consideration of the broader recommendations of the compensation framework study so that we are ready to respond promptly when the inquiry concludes its work, as was our intention when we commissioned the study.

There is a point I wish to make that bears much repeating. No sum of money can ever compensate for the turmoil that infected people and their loved ones have faced, but I hope that the interim payments and the further work being undertaken by the Government demonstrate that we will do everything in our power to support them.

I thank everybody who has contributed to the debate. I think it has been strong and clear in terms of the strength of feeling across political parties in this House about what needs to be done.

I have to say to the Minister that I am deeply, deeply upset by his closing remarks and the fact that we have had to wait eight months to have a Minister in front of MPs to answer our questions about Sir Robert’s work. We all welcomed that piece of work, and we welcomed the fact that the Cabinet Office was looking to get a compensation framework in place and ready to go for when Sir Brian makes his recommendations next year. We absolutely support that, but the fact is that we were told very clearly that we would have a Government response to that review so we could see what the Government’s thinking was and know what direction they were going in, ready for next summer. To be told that we have to wait until next summer to find out the Government’s view of the compensation framework that Sir Robert has put forward is absolutely—I am speechless, actually. I am so upset by this.

We fought tooth and nail to get a public inquiry. We fought tooth and nail to ensure that compensation was ready to go for next year, and now we are being told this by the Government. It is absolutely outrageous. I will not leave this here. The hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) made it clear that we will relentlessly pursue the matter. I am sure that every Member in this Chamber will relentlessly pursue the Government to do the right thing. The way the Government are behaving with this group of people is not right. It is outrageous, and we will not leave it at this.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered the infected blood inquiry and compensation framework.

Social Care

[Rushanara Ali in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of social care within local communities.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing me this debate, and it is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Ms Ali. I am particularly pleased to see the Minister back in her rightful place, although she will know that now she has taken on responsibility for care, she will have me on her back for as far ahead as the eye can see while she is doing this job.

Much of what I want to say will be unusually positive about what social care offers communities. I am conscious that the social care debate is often surrounded by crisis and difficultly—quite rightly—but there are so many positive aspects to it that I want to touch on. As co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on adult social care, I am struck by how underrated the positive effects of good care can be, not least economically. Given the recent decision to delay the introduction of the payment cap, as recommended in the Dilnot report, I should also take the opportunity to urge the Government to take wider action. I hope they take the chance to conduct a full review of the whole system, not just funding. I welcome the extra money committed by the Chancellor, but it is clearly yet another temporary solution to try to tide local authorities over. I hope Ministers can be creative in finding a stable and sustainable way of increasing the money available to the care sector. I have my own ideas, but this is not the time for them.

Funding is one key issue, but I emphasise to the Minister that it is not the only one. I will identify four other areas where we need new thinking if we are going to “fix” social care, to go back to the phrase used by the last Prime Minister but one. The first is the workforce. It needs to be bigger, by more than 100,000, eventually. To achieve that, it needs to be better paid and have a higher status. I would like to see, for example, nurses in the care sector on the same “Agenda for Change” pay scales as nurses in the NHS. Otherwise, we will continue to lose nurses from the care sector to the NHS.

The second area is the voice of care within the new integrated care boards. This change is a chance to improve the integration of health and care systems without creating another massive bureaucracy, which is too often the effect of integration. At the moment, I fear that the new ICB system is settling down with the voice of care providers being relatively unheard. Local authorities are clearly key players in the system, but so are other providers.

The third issue I hope Ministers can concentrate on is the use of technology, both for sharing information between different parts of the system and for giving those in receipt of care more control over their daily lives. We are not exploiting widely available technology anything like enough, and the prize for getting it right is that more people will be able to stay in their own homes for longer. That is much better for them—it is what the vast majority of people want—and of course for the taxpayer. Given both those imperatives, I think it ought to be a high priority. It is particularly important for people living with dementia, which is a subject worthy of its own debate.

The fourth issue that I want to bring to the Minister’s attention, which expands on the idea of people being able to stay in their own homes for longer, is the provision of housing. I have written to the Minister and the Housing Minister about how we are failing to build anything like enough supported housing for older people, particularly in the form of retirement villages. Our provision is something like 10 times smaller than that of comparable countries. That is another issue that is worth a debate in itself, so I will refrain from going down that rabbit hole, but it could be a hugely important contributor to improving our care system.

The Minister will be aware that the current problems facing the NHS would be greatly reduced if there were a proper plan for social care. Each month, there are 400,000 delayed discharges from hospitals because of a lack of social care support. That has knock-on effects on NHS capacity and on ambulance delays. Something like 13,000 patients should be receiving care in the community but are blocked in hospital beds. At the end of April, some 540,000 patients were waiting for assessments, care packages, direct payments or reviews, so fixing social care will take some of the strain off the NHS and free up capacity for others. In that regard, I am delighted that the Minister is responsible both for care and for hospital discharges. Having those responsibilities in the same ministerial portfolio is an outbreak of sanity and common sense in Whitehall that we should all welcome.

I promised to be more positive than is usual in social care debates, so I want to spend a few minutes highlighting the value of social care to local communities. First, it has a big economic value to local communities. Skills for Care found that it contributes £51.5 billion in added value to the economy of England every year. Although half comes from the wages of social care staff, a large proportion of the economic value comes through harnessing local business to support the provision of social care through access to transport, maintenance, activities and equipment. That creates a cycle of local spending, benefiting local industries and communities.

I am not just talking about professional care. Carers UK estimates that unpaid care provision saves the economy £132 billion a year, which would otherwise be a cost to the state. In other words, it saves an amount approaching what we spend on the NHS every year. The thought of that money being added to taxpayer-funded provision is unthinkable.

Care provides economic value by supporting people to live independent lives. It gives people the ability to control their own finances and in many cases gets them back into employment. Of course, it contributes to overall economic provision. That in turn reduces the number of people relying on benefits, which reduces the welfare budget.

Interestingly, Skills for Care’s figure of £51.5 billion contrasts with the amount that local authorities spend on care, which was £21.4 billion in 2021-22—less than half the economic value. That is instructive, because the wider public perception is always that social care is a drain on public finances, but it is not. It actually has a net economic benefit.

As I said, the care workforce is one of the key areas where we need investment—not just in the recruitment of staff, which is often the focus of these debates, but in the retention of staff. Social care is about much more than having to fix a broken system or act as a bed-clearing service for the NHS. It is about ensuring that there is support to enable older and disabled people to lead the best lives they can, and with as much control over their own lives as possible. The social care workforce is key to enabling that.

Some 1.79 million people work in social care in England, in something like 39,000 different establishments. The problem of recruitment and retention is evident, because we have 165,000 vacant posts in social care, which is the highest number on record and has increased by more than 50% in recent years. The word “crisis” is overused, but it can be legitimately applied in this case, not least because the number of posts filled has dropped by 50,000—the first drop ever in the number of social care workers.

Average vacancy rates across the sector are nearly 11%, which is twice the national average, at a time when we are finding it difficult to fill posts in many areas of the economy. The reasons are not hard to find. A care worker with five years’ experience is paid 7p per hour more than a care worker with less than one year’s experience, and the average care worker pay is £1 less per hour than that of healthcare assistants in the NHS who are new to their roles. It is not surprising that people in the social care workforce are turning to employers who offer more attractive pay rates.

Because of the issue with pay, the providers of social care increasingly have to rely on short-term agency staff. That has an impact on the standard and continuity of care, but it also has a high cost. A market report by Cordis Bright estimates that there will be a 157% rise in agency costs, which will increase from £56 million in 2021-22 to £144 million in 2022-23. If the trend continues, agency staff costs are likely to increase by between £175 million and £220 million by 2023-24. I suspect that the huge cost will result in services being handed back to local councils by providers, which simply cannot cope with such staffing prices.

A report by Public Policy Projects, which I chaired, recommends a number of things that would help the situation, including raising the minimum wage for social care workers, mirroring the NHS “Agenda for Change” pay scales, and positively promoting social care as a technically skilled and fulfilling career. I would support something similar to the Teach First scheme in order to get some of our brightest and best young people into social care and to raise its status, so that people can see that it is fulfilling work and will provide not just a job, but a career. In the coming months, I hope I can persuade Ministers to commit to bringing forward a full workforce plan for social care, with pay progression in line with the NHS, better terms and conditions, training and other structures.

Apart from that, the sector needs support through long-term funding. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have understood the importance of a long-term strategy and funding base for the sustainability of social care.

It is always a pleasure when Ministers move straight out of Select Committees into ministerial jobs, because there is a public record of everything they think about individual issues. That is particularly helpful with the Chancellor: while he was Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, it produced numerous reports setting out the need for an additional £7 billion a year for social care. That is why I have high hopes in this policy area.

I welcome the fact that the Government have outlined their intention to provide £500 million in discharge funding from the NHS to social care. I hope we receive more detail on that and about when, where and how that funding will be made available.

Just like every other sector, social care is suffering from inflation. According to a cost of living survey by Methodist Homes, 94% of its community schemes had heard members or residents express concerns about the rising costs of living, while some 49% of respondents said that increased transport costs were a significant issue among their members.

Social care providers expect their energy costs to increase up to sixfold next year. There is a real danger that rising energy costs could significantly reduce the number of services available and will have an immediate impact on discharges from hospitals into the community.

The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services has reported that nearly half of all directors of social care services are not sure that unpaid carers will be able to cope financially with the inflation problem. That could lead to more demand for professional social care services. I urge the Government to guarantee that adult social care providers are defined as a vulnerable sector in respect of the energy bill relief scheme after April 2023.

An analysis by the County Councils Network found that inflation could cost councils £3.7 billion in extra costs if they keep social care services running. I fear that is not sustainable and the quality of care will decrease. That is just one example of why it is unfair to rely on local council tax payers to fund so much of social care. The pressure should be taken off local budgets and social care should be funded through national taxation. That would be both fairer among different areas of the country with different tax bases and, in the long run, much more sustainable.

The Government made a number of welcome commitments in their “People at the Heart of Care” White Paper, but that was published nearly a year ago. Many of us are eagerly waiting for those commitments to be put into practice. As I have said, the care sector is not only a completely essential service in a civilised society but a positive economic and social force in local communities throughout the country. We need a coherent plan to address the many problems of the sector, but we should never forget that those who need care are often the most vulnerable among us, and those who provide the care are often the best of us. They deserve the best we can offer them.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ali. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) on securing this debate.

It is about time that we celebrated the huge value and potential of social care, and about time that we see the fact that we are an ageing society, and all living for longer, as something that we should be excited about, proud of and look forward to, not something that is simply a problem and a drain. However, we must also be realistic about how we get from where we are to fulfilling the full potential of social care.

I shall make three broad points today about the value of social care, first, to those who draw on it, secondly, to the communities they live in, and thirdly, to the wider economy—a point the right hon. Member for Ashford rightly touched on.

At its best, social care is about ensuring that every older and disabled person can live the life they choose, in the place they call home, with the people they love, doing the things that matter to them most, as Social Care Future has so powerfully argued. Put simply, social care is—or should be—about ensuring that every older and disabled and person can live an equal life to everybody else. That is its intrinsic value.

I would go further. We all benefit when we have a decent social care system, not just because we may all end up using it or relying on it because of having to care for and support our own parents, but because we ourselves may live to require social care. This is not going to happen to somebody else: it is going to happen to us all, so we had better get it right.

I also argue that our communities massively benefit when we have a decent system of social care. We lose out when older and disabled people cannot make their full contribution in the workplace, in our voluntary and community organisations, and in being part of our lives, like everybody else. It is a tragedy that so many older and disabled people feel shut away and shut off from the rest of their communities. They lose, and we lose too.

I am optimistic about social care. I believe that in the 21st century—the century of ageing—social care is an essential part of a modernised welfare state and our economic infrastructure. But I am also realistic about the challenges we face. The truth is that social care is in a worse situation than it has ever been, after a decade of cuts, the pressures of covid and now the cost of living crisis.

I recently heard directly from members of the Care & Support Alliance about the quite frankly awful choices facing users and their families: disabled people trapped in their own homes because they cannot afford fuel to go out, and their care packages are being cut; older people skipping meals or only eating cold food because they do not want to use their gas and electricity; tens of thousands of people waiting for care assessments, seeing their health worsen day by day; thousands more trapped in hospital, where neither they nor their families want them to be; and families having to spend even more money on care, or cutting back support and giving up their own jobs because they cannot afford the help they need for their loved ones.

As the right hon. Member for Ashford said, at the heart of it all is the absolute crisis in the care workforce. Vacancy rates are up by more than 50% in the past year. There are a record 165,000 vacant posts. Employers are simply unable to recruit or retain the staff they need, especially when people can earn more in hospitality and retail. The Government have still failed to produce a proper, long-term workforce plan. I was very interested in the right hon. Gentleman’s comments—I agree with them—about how we could look at how the care workforce might link up with “Agenda for Change” so that we can get a decent workforce system and plan across health and social care.

Recently, we finally heard details of how the £500 million social care discharge fund will work. I understand that £300 million is going to the integrated care boards and £200 million to local authorities. How much of that will go directly on paying more for the workforce? We cannot do the discharges without the staff. We may need beds, but it is really about the staff. Will the Minister say more about that, because it is an absolutely essential point?

Alongside what I call the intrinsically moral case for care is the increasingly strong economic case. I believe that our care system is, like the NHS, the bedrock of our national prosperity. If the care sector is struggling, other parts of the economy will begin to break down, as those who need care see their own health suffer and the demands on families and friends mount. Having more and better paid care workers in every village, town and city will probably make the biggest contribution to levelling up the economy and getting growth into every part of the country, because we know that care workers do not save their money but spend it locally. Not every rural village can have a solar factory, but every village, town and city needs decently paid care workers. That would make a huge contribution to women’s equality too. We know that the workforce is predominantly female, often from black and minority ethnic communities, and always low paid.

First, then, having more and better paid staff could help to boost jobs and growth. Secondly, it is about helping the rest of us stay in work. Almost 5 million people are already juggling work and care. That is one in seven of all workers. Half have to give up work because they cannot get the support they need to look after their loved ones. Families lose their incomes. Businesses lose their talents. The Government lose their taxes. We would not accept half of all new parents completely exiting the workforce, so why do we accept it for family carers?

The truth is that in modern Britain social care and, I would argue, childcare are as much a part of our economic infrastructure as the roads and the railways. They should be at the heart of our economic policy and strategy for growth. That is why Labour has made improving care one of the four missions of our industrial strategy. We understand its centrality to the workforce and economic growth. We are calling for a 10-year plan of investment and reform, and a new deal for care workers to ensure they get the pay, terms and conditions, training and career progression they need. We need to improve access to care early on, because the quicker people get help, the more likely it is they will stay living independently for longer.

Thirdly, although we will always need care homes, we need a fundamental shift toward prevention and early intervention, with a new principle of “home first”—putting the home first every time. That includes greater housing options, home adaptations, technology to help people to stay living independently and, critically, work with local voluntary and community groups to do things such as tackle loneliness and isolation. People do not always need to turn to the state for the help and support they need.

Fourthly, for disabled people, who are all too often completely cut out of this debate, social care is not all about helping them to get up, washed and dressed—vital though that is. It is about them living independently, having fulfilling lives and having the same sort of access to friends and work that everybody else takes for granted. We need to ensure that working-age adults with disabilities have greater choice and control over their support and personal budgets. We need to make direct payments really work and give people the power to change services, as they know what is best.

Finally, I want to talk about unpaid carers—an issue that has been going on for years and years. Carers say they have to battle their way around the system, telling their story time and again. They need joined-up services; one point of contact, information and advice; proper breaks; and flexibility at work. I think the family friendly and flexible working agenda for the future is absolutely about people in their ’50s and beyond, and I am not just saying that from a selfish perspective.

In conclusion, in the 21st century and in one of the richest countries in the world, the goal of ensuring that all old and disabled people live the life they choose should not be regarded as extraordinary. It is the missing part of the jigsaw of the welfare state. It was never part of it when it was created, because back then life expectancy was 65 and women stayed at home. We need to change our thinking so that social care is at the heart of the modernised welfare state and an essential part of our economic infrastructure. We cannot do it all at once, but with a 10-year plan of investment and reform we can achieve it.

I have to say that it beggared belief that the Chancellor, when Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, said that his greatest regret as Health Secretary was not putting in place a long-term plan for reform, but then put the final nail in the coffin of reform in his autumn statement. I urge the Minister to make the case again. Yes, we need to tackle the immediate challenges, but we need a long-term vision to be implemented. I look forward to her comments.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) on securing this debate. I thank him for all the work he does as Chair of the all-party parliamentary group on adult social care and for his long-standing dedication to the social care sector—not least by calling debates such as these. I look forward to more. I thank him for his words earlier. I took away from what he said a phrase that sounded very similar to him saying, “I’ve got your back when it comes to social care.” His dedication to social care is with good reason. Social care is too often overlooked, yet it is so important. It is important to people across the country, important to those who need care to live and vitally important to their families. Social care employs around 1.5 million people across the country and it is a significant part of the economy.

I agree with so much of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford has said this afternoon. I agree with him on the importance of the social care workforce, including the important point about status. I agree with him on the importance of the voice of social care within integrated care systems, not just with regard to local authorities but care providers too. I agree with him about the potential of technology, particularly to help people stay in their own homes, and on housing for older people and those of working age who need care. That in itself would be worth another debate. Indeed, I have recently spoken to our colleague the Housing Minister about that and I know she is interested in taking the matter further. He also rightly talked about the economic value of social care and the importance of unpaid carers, as did the hon. Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall) today and on other occasions.

I will pick up on some of those points and talk about what we in Government and I as Social Care Minister are doing, starting with what social care does and what it is for. Social care starts with the person who needs care and, closely alongside that, those who may care for them unpaid—usually a family member. Our ambition in Government is to make sure that all those who need care get it and get it in a way that works for them, meeting their own needs and circumstances to a standard that we would rightly expect in our society.

Care should enable people to live their lives to the full, with the greatest possible independence, while recognising that caring can also place great demands on unpaid carers. We need to be able to support carers themselves to live their own lives, alongside caring for those they love. While we are on the subject, it is also worth mentioning the significance of social care for working-age adults and remembering that social care is not just about older people living in residential care homes. That is often what people think about but it is far from it. It is about helping many thousands of people earlier in their lives to live life to the full. Many of us will only really consider social care when we or a loved one need to draw on that support—often in a time of crisis. However, we should not wait until that point to realise how important social care is to all our lives.

The scale of the social care workforce stands at around 1.5 million people and the size of social care in our economy is valued at around £15 billion per annum. We all know that health and social care are intrinsically linked. While I am always determined to talk about the value of social care in its own right, we also know that one of the reasons we have around 13,000 patients in hospital at the moment who could and should be somewhere else, usually their own home, is because of the pressures on our social care system.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford mentioned funding. I will say to him and the hon. Member for Leicester West that last week’s autumn statement showed that the Government recognise the importance of social care. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt) announced up to £2.8 billion of additional funding in 2023-24 and up to £4.7 billion in 2024-25, specifically for social care and also discharge from hospital into social care. That was the biggest funding increase that social care has ever had and that is despite the difficult decisions that had to be made in the autumn statement to ensure broader economic stability.

In the run-up to that statement, the Government had listened to the concerns of local government and took the difficult decision to delay the planned adult social care charging reform from October next year to October 2025. Crucially, the funding that was in place for that reform over that period will be retained in local authority budgets to help them meet some of the current pressures in social care.

The substantial funding settlement that social care received in the autumn statement will do three things. First, it will help social care afford the extra costs the system faces, which I have heard loud and clear from local authorities and care providers. Secondly, it will ensure that more people can be discharged from hospital when they are ready to leave, and that they get the social care and recovery support they need. That builds on the £500 million adult social care discharge fund, which will go to local care systems this winter. Thirdly, and importantly, it means we can proceed with ambitious reforms to the social care system. That involves investing in the workforce, better data and technology, and increasing the oversight of the social care system. That will improve access and quality. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford urged us to take wider action, and I assure him that we are doing that.

Our 10-year vision for reform was set out in the “People at the Heart of Care” White Paper, and we are already acting on that. In fact, some of the work I kicked off last time I was social care Minister has already made great strides. For instance, the introduction of social care assurance at local authority level, led by the Care Quality Commission, will be launched next year, giving local authorities, the public, hon. Members and the Government much more insight into the vital part that local authorities play in commissioning and overseeing the provision of social care in their areas. The next steps for us are to set out in more detail the plan for some of the other areas of reform—most notably the workforce, data and care records, technology and, with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, housing.

I assure hon. Members that our reforms are ambitious and will lay the foundations for generations to come. Our wider reforms to social care will go hand in hand with the establishment and development of our integrated care systems. Forty-two ICSs across the country bring together NHS organisations, integrated care boards, local authorities and, importantly, care providers in integrated care partnerships. We are ambitious about doing that crucial thing that many hon. Members have talked about—joining up social care and the health services more effectively.

In the work that I am doing as Minister with oversight of hospital discharge—I see myself as important in joining up the two systems at the level I am at—I am already looking to integrated care systems and their leaders to be the lynchpins in joining up the NHS with social care more effectively than ever before, so that people are cared for in the best place for their needs. That is often not hospital. In turn, that ensures that hospitals have space for those who really need to be cared for there.

I want to spend a moment talking about the workforce in the near term. Our passionate, compassionate, skilled and dedicated social care workforce, including local authority social workers and occupational therapists, makes such an important contribution to our communities. I truly want social care to be a rewarding career with clear opportunities for progression, where people are rightly recognised for the important work they do. In our reforms, I want to address some of the problems that my right hon. Friend raised for those working in social care—for instance, career progression.

Right now, in recognition of the shortages in the workforce and the vacancies, we are working hard with the Department for Work and Pensions to promote adult social care careers to jobseekers. Earlier this month, we launched a new domestic national recruitment campaign. Anyone who has been watching “I’m a Celebrity”—some colleagues may have been—will have seen some of those very effective adverts. I look forward to them helping more people go into social care in the short term. We are also doing some work to support international recruitment to help with some of the near-term pressures on the workforce.

I want to talk a bit more about carers, because for most people care begins at home with their families. Many millions of people across the country care for loved ones, and I recognise what that commitment means for them and their own lives. In fact, today is Carers Rights Day, and I am therefore glad that the Health and Care Act 2022 gave carers new rights. They include new duties on NHS England and the new integrated care boards to involve carers in their public engagement; new provisions on the integrated care boards to involve carers in relation to some of the services that they oversee, such as prevention services and the diagnosis, care and treatment of the person for whom the carer cares; and responsibilities for NHS trusts to involve patients and carers, including young carers, at the earliest opportunity in discharge planning for people who may need care and support as outpatients. Discharge is a moment when there can be a real worry of significantly greater burdens on carers, so involving carers in those decisions is important. I should also flag the importance of respite and support for unpaid carers, which is recognised by the nearly £300 million of funding this year for respite services through the better care fund.

I thank all hon. Members for their well-informed and thoughtful contributions to the debate. We are deeply committed to supporting adult social care, the millions of people who rely on it for themselves and their families, and those who work in it. I am committed to supporting social care, reforming social care and making sure that, as a society, we recognise social care for what it is: essential, important and truly valued. Finally, I thank everyone providing care on the frontline—people who go the extra mile, day in and day out. I thank them for what they do.

I will cheer everyone up by not taking the opportunity, which I think would be available to me, of winding up for the next 45 minutes; I will simply make two brief points that have come out of the debate. I am very grateful for the commitment made by the Minister.

The first is the degree of consensus that underlies this difficult subject. Frankly, the hon. Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall) said almost nothing I disagreed with, and I suspect that I said almost nothing that she disagreed with—and, of course, I agreed, definitionally, with everything that the Minister said. We all know what the problems are and what we need to do to solve them. It is a matter of political will and drive.

That is the other, less cheerful, point. I have personal reasons for my interest in the issue. My father died of dementia, and therefore spent the last few years of his life in the care system, which inspired a deep personal interest, as it does in many other people. However, I was responsible for this matter when I was First Secretary of State. That was five years ago now, and five years later we are still going round the same course again.

Having arrived for the end of the previous debate, on the contaminated blood scandal, I was struck that colleagues across the House were complaining that things were moving very slowly. I set up that inquiry in Government. That problem obviously goes back a long way, but the solution started five years ago, and it clearly has not got there yet. When we have such intractable problems, too often the whole machinery of government—this is not remotely an attack on Ministers—moves incredibly slowly, even when there is large-scale political consensus on what we need to do.

Finally, Godspeed and good luck to the Minister and her ministerial colleagues, because this issue needs to be driven by Ministers. Across the House and within the political parties, we do not particularly disagree about the solutions, but the issue needs the active pursuit of energetic Ministers if the necessary changes are to be made. Those changes are desperately deserved, both by those who provide care and by those who receive it. I wish all the best to the Minister in dealing with this.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered the matter of social care within local communities.

Sitting adjourned.