House of Lords
Thursday 30 March 2023
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Derby.
Yes, the Government are committed to continuing to work towards our ambitious target of 300,000 homes a year, as set out in the 2019 Conservative manifesto. Annual housing supply is up 10% compared to the previous year, with over 232,000 houses built and delivered in 2021-22. This is the highest yearly rate for the last 30 years.
I am grateful to my noble friend, who is dealing heroically with housing and the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, which after eight sittings still has as many groups ahead of it as at the first. Does she understand the concern that the concession made over Christmas to head off a rebellion in another place has made it even more difficult to hit the 300,000 target? Does she understand that many of us want to give the other place an opportunity to think again by amending the Bill, and so help the Government to hit their target?
The Government are committed to building more houses of the right type in the right places, but we know at the moment that there are economic challenges faced by the sector. We need to work as closely as we are, and more closely—and with Homes England—to better understand those challenges and to provide support. We have already consulted on changes to the planning policy that will support how we plan to deliver these houses in our communities, and we will respond to that consultation in due course. I assure my noble friend that we remain committed to a plan-led system, and national planning policy that expects local authorities through their plans to make sufficient provision for housing and identify the sites to deliver these much-needed homes to meet local needs.
My Lords, if, prior to planning approval, land for both high-density public and private housing development was acquired at agricultural acreage prices, as has happened in parts of Europe, and then allocated for both social rental and restricted leasehold sale to housing associations and housing trust development programmes, would that not be a huge incentive for construction levels not seen since the 1970s, as against today’s numbers, where scarcity is driving up prices and denying millions a home?
My Lords, will my noble friend bear in mind the immortal words of William Morris, that a thing of use should also be a thing of beauty? Can we have some attention paid, far more than in the past, on the quality of housing, and make sure that it can easily be equipped to deal with climate change?
My noble friend is absolutely right and if he has the time over the Recess to read the levelling-up Bill, he will see that the Government have plans and are committed to building better houses with better design, and building more energy-efficient housing as well.
My Lords, changes to the planning system, to which the Minister referred, pose a risk to the supply of new housing. In a recent public letter to the Secretary of State, 19 leading organisations from across the housing sector expressed serious concerns about the impact of proposals, particularly for the new infrastructure levy and its impact on the supply of housing, particularly social and affordable housing. What steps are the Government taking to respond to these widespread concerns and protect affordable housing delivery?
We do not agree. We absolutely want to protect the amount of affordable housing and particularly the social housing part of that affordable housing. We believe the Bill will help us to do that. We will continue with it and continue to deliver much-needed housing in that sector.
Does the Minister agree that, of the 300,000 target, 10% or 30,000 homes ought to be for older people’s housing—retirement housing—because this gives us terrific gains in terms of health and care facilities? It also means two for one because, for every one of those homes, another is released by an older person moving on. Can we in the levelling-up Bill therefore insist on local authorities including provision for older people—retirement housing—in their local plans?
The Bill makes it clear that local authorities, in their local plan, have to include housing for older people and for disabled people and other vulnerable groups. The Government want to deliver the best possible outcomes for these groups by helping them to live independently in safe, appropriate and good-quality housing for as long as they can possibly stay in it. The £11.5 billion affordable homes programme includes the delivery of new supported housing for older, disabled and vulnerable people, and our planning rules already mean that councils must consider them in their plans.
Targets do not get homes built. People do, people with a wide range of skills. Given that every single report, from Kate Barker in 2004 to the recent BEIS figures, have warned us of a severe skills shortage in the construction industry, what are the Government’s plans to reverse this decline? Do the Government see SME builders as part of the solution, as they appear to have been phased out of significant housebuilding altogether over the past decade?
We are collaborating across government to ensure that we are supporting the sector. The Department for Education is improving training routes into construction and creating opportunities for workers to retrain by working with employers to make apprenticeships available and more flexible and to promote T-levels. The Government are increasing funding for apprenticeships across all sectors, including construction, to £2.7 billion in 2024-25. We are continuing to fund more apprenticeships in non-levy-funded employers, which are often SMEs, and the Government will continue to meet 95% of the apprenticeship training cost for those companies.
Can my noble friend estimate the significance of a recent report that the Nationwide Building Society has been directly involved in the construction of 239 properties on wasteland? This would suggest that there are other ways that we can make sure that the Government’s target figure can be met.
My Lords, having somewhere safe, stable and secure to live is essential for good mental and physical health. For too many people, housing insecurity and poor mental health reinforce one another. Will the Minister commit to ensure that all new housing developments include within their plans a priority to promote good mental health and well-being for the population?
I thank the noble Baroness for that question. This is something that should be brought up in the LURB as we discuss it further. She is absolutely right. We need more good-quality housing in the United Kingdom because we know that if somebody is in a good-quality, safe home their mental health and physical health are better.
My Lords, I declare my interest. I was grateful to the Minister for mentioning energy efficiency in one of her earlier answers. In the light of the CCC’s report about adaptation and the Government’s proposals today on energy security, will she look at my Amendment 486 to the LURB? The Government might save themselves some time by adopting it in relation to solar panels on new housing.
Arrivals Duty Free at UK Airports
Duty free on arrival would place additional pressure on the public finances, to which excise duty makes a significant contribution. Any loss in tax revenue would have to be balanced by a reduction in public spending, increased borrowing or increased taxation elsewhere. Although there are no plans to introduce such a scheme, the Government keep all taxes under review.
I thank the Minister for that Answer. Is she aware that arrival duty-free stores have had considerable success in Norway and Switzerland, where they provide additional commercial revenue streams for the airport to supply growth, and that passenger spending would increase by 30% if they were brought in in this country? Will the Minister ask the Treasury to commit to discuss arrival duty free with airports and ports and explore the wide-ranging economic benefits for the UK through consultation?
My Lords, we welcome engagement on this issue, and we have heard the case put forward for duty free on arrival. As I have noted, the Government believe it would place additional pressure on public finances. One challenge is that any potential uplift in spending potentially displaces spending with other domestic duty-paid retailers and therefore could compete against them. The Government would also need to be confident there was adequate infrastructure and resourcing to combat fraud and ensure compliance. We have no plans to consult on duty free on arrival, but we keep all taxes under review and we consider all available evidence as part of the tax-making policy process.
My Lords, public health considerations are a consideration in the decision-making process. I am sure the noble Baroness will welcome both the changes that we have made to the system for alcohol duty, relating it to strength, and the decision in the Budget around uprating.
My Lords, Brexit has presented the travel industry with a wealth of opportunities, and the clear advantages of permitting duty-free purchase on arrival into UK airports would provide us with a level playing field along with our global competitors in this area. Will the Minister urge the Secretary of State and the Chancellor to reverse the current situation, which is damaging our tourist sector and our world-class retail sector?
My Lords, I have set out the position on duty free on arrival, but of course my noble friend is right that, following our exit from the EU, we have been able to introduce changes. One of those changes has been outbound duty-free sales of alcohol and tobacco for passengers travelling to the EU from Great Britain, including by rail and on board cruise ships. That is a new opportunity for retailers to offer that service.
My Lords, I think what the noble Lord, Lord Goddard, said was very sensible and I hope there will be a proper review of this matter. As the noble Baroness is the Minister who has been responding to me on my duty-free Question, could she now please give us a plain and simple answer for why, if Northern Ireland is still part of the EU, duty free cannot be got from Northern Ireland to Great Britain? More importantly, if you can get duty free from anywhere in Great Britain to the rest of the EU, why can we not get it from Belfast?
My Lords, Northern Ireland enjoys frictionless trade with both the rest of the UK and the EU, and the Government are committed to ensuring that that remains the case. Introducing duty-free shopping for goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK or the EU would undermine that commitment.
My Lords, it may well be that the introduction of duty free has been one of the fantastic benefits of Brexit, but it seems odd that the Government have taken the opportunity of Brexit to get rid of tax-free shopping. That means that wealthy tourists who used to come here and shop now go to France, Germany, Spain and Italy. It hits our regional airports and our small manufacturers. The change has been opposed even by the Scottish National Party, which must be a clue that the Government have got this catastrophically wrong. Will the Minister keep this policy under review and eventually change her mind?
My noble friend is a persistent campaigner on this issue. He is right that, in leaving the EU, we were not able to maintain the previous policy of offering tax-free shopping to non-EU citizens only; it would have to be extended to all visitors, which would come with a significant cost. However, I reassure my noble friend that we keep all taxes under review, and we welcome representations to help to inform future decisions on tax policy.
My Lords, the Government were slow to back the tourism sector during the coronavirus pandemic, U-turning on a special deal for airports and airlines and missing the opportunity to tie support to green initiatives. Their flip-flopping on the issue of tax-free shopping for international visitors and slowness on the issue of arrivals duty free have led many in the sector to question whether the Treasury truly understands the challenges that the industry faces. What plans, if any, do the Government have to bring forward a cross-departmental strategy for boosting British tourism?
My Lords, I reassure the noble Lord that the Government fully understand the contribution that tourism makes to our economy. To pick up his point about the Covid pandemic, through the pandemic the UK Government provided over £37 billion to support the tourism, leisure and hospitality sector in the form of grants, loans and tax breaks. Since then, the Government have contributed to various successful campaigns to stimulate recovery, including the £10 million National Lottery Days Out scheme and efforts by VisitBritain to deliver its international marketing campaign.
My Lords, following the question from the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, who mentioned the Scottish National Party, is the Minister aware that in Scotland we have had a Minister for Tourism—which includes what we are talking about in this Question today—since 1999, but the current Government of Scotland have made no such appointment? Instead, they have appointed a Minister for Independence, when the Prime Minister has rightly ruled out a referendum. As a Treasury Minister, will she get her officials to look into this unauthorised expenditure by the Scottish Government?
My Lords, I will say that it shows that the Scottish Government’s priorities lie in the wrong place, instead of seeking to address the priorities of the people of Scotland, whether it is tourism or improving their health and education systems. I think the people of Scotland would welcome a greater focus on those issues and less of a focus on something on which we recently had a referendum that settled the issue.
My Lords, further to the answer that my noble friend has given, surely this is a question of the propriety of the use of public funds. The Scottish Government are involved in spending public money on a matter for which they have no rights. If these people were in local government, they would be being surcharged.
My Lords, returning to the abolition in 2020-21 of the right to reclaim VAT on purchases made in high-street shops, I think the Minister said that nowadays that would cost a considerable amount. But the tourism and retail industries contest that claim. It is two years since that decision was made. Surely the Treasury has up-to-date details.
The noble Baroness is right that there are direct costs of offering any scheme through VAT being refunded but there may be indirect benefits in terms of stimulating tourism and other spending. The Treasury seeks to take both those issues into account when looking at these issues. When the decision was taken to withdraw VAT-free shopping for visitors, the Treasury also held a round table with the industry to hear those views. As I said to my noble friend Lord Vaizey, we continue to welcome representations to help to inform future decisions.
My Lords, Covid-19 resulted in significant reductions to passenger numbers and bus service levels. To mitigate that, the Government have provided over £2 billion in emergency and recovery funding to keep vital bus services running. On 9 February we announced a further extension of that support until 30 June. As a result, bus service provision in England outside London remained at over 85% of pre-Covid levels in 2021-22.
My Lords, last week two separate zero-emission buses projects, in Milton Keynes and Stevenage, collapsed when the private sector partner, Arriva, pulled out, saying it was because passenger numbers had not recovered after the pandemic. What specific assessment have the Government done of the reasons for the 18% drop in passenger numbers since the pandemic? What more can be done to encourage the private sector to participate in these zero-emission pilots?
My Lords, it is very disappointing that Arriva decided it was no longer willing to take part in those projects. Other bus operators are taking part in projects elsewhere in the country, and indeed Arriva itself is still participating in other separate zero-emission buses projects. Essentially, we very much hope that it will come back to the table once, and if, passenger numbers increase.
The reduction in passenger numbers is related to changes to concessionary travel and to people going to work and working from home. We believe that we have stabilised at this point, and now we look forward to bussing back better.
My Lords, I draw your Lordships’ attention to my registered interest as chairman of Transport for the North. May I ask my noble friend to give some long-term assurance on the amount of support we are giving to bus companies? What has been done has been very welcome, but there is uncertainty about what will happen after 30 June, and buses are needed as a reliable form of public transport for our country.
I absolutely accept what my noble friend is saying. From the Government’s perspective, we have had to see what happens to patronage and where service levels have ended up, given the current levels of support. We are also looking at the impact of the £2 bus fare cap. All these things are going into our analysis of what we may be able to do to support the bus sector after 30 June.
I keep hearing this from the Labour Party, and I am not entirely sure which regulations and powers Labour is proposing to give back to local transport authorities. As the noble Lord well knows, at the moment, local transport authorities are required to produce an enhanced partnership, which is between them and the bus operators. If they do not want to do that, they can take all the powers they want and franchise the whole system.
Questions is fun today, isn’t it? The Government will not be issuing guidance to plumbers and electricians, on the basis that they probably know how to carry their tools. We are looking with great interest at the Mayor of London’s proposed extension of ULEZ. I would also point out that he announced—yesterday, I think—something called the Superloop for outer London, which sounded very new. However, I checked and in my area that includes the existing X26, so the Superloop involves quite a substantial amount of rebranding, as often happens with the Mayor of London.
Does the Minister accept that there is an urgent need for reform of bus service funding and an end to this hand-to-mouth approach caused by the short timescales for Department for Transport decision-making? Does she also accept that any new funding mechanism should be based not on competitive bids but on greater devolution and less interference from the Department for Transport?
I believe I have already addressed the point about the short-term nature of the funding. I agree it is not ideal; however, it has been necessary as the whole system has transitioned. I reassure the noble Baroness that we will also be looking at BSOG reform this year. To remind noble Lords, this is a very important amount of money: some £250 million goes into the sector, which keeps bus fares low, but we have to make sure that it also supports net zero. There are all sorts of different things we can do with bus funding. In 2021-22, 57% of all income for the bus sector came from central and local government.
My Lords, many people rely on buses to get to work, especially in cities, including, of course, disabled people. Given the urgent need to close the disability employment gap, which continues to be at a high of around 30%, what assessment have the Government made of the impact on disabled people’s ability to get to work in light of the trends in the provision of bus services?
As we set out in our long-term national bus strategy, ensuring the safe and comfortable movement of all people on buses, including those with accessibility issues, is an absolute priority. I will take back to the department my noble friend’s specific question about disabled people. In a similar vein, it is also worth mentioning some further good news: the accessibility information regulations should be laid today, which, I am sure, many noble Lords will welcome.
My Lords, I wonder if the Minister would be kind enough to go back to the department for me and then drop me a line on the appalling treatment of the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority in respect of central government funding. It is a mystery to all of us how the Government can talk about better buses when buses are actually disappearing.
We asked all local transport authorities to prepare bus service improvement plans; some were better than others, and the best ones were given funding. Regarding the ones that were not so good, we supported the local transport authorities by providing them with revenue support so they could upskill their staff and improve their BSIPs for the future. I believe that is what happened in South Yorkshire, and I very much hope it has been able to use the money we gave it successfully.
We are not planning any changes to the levels of concessionary bus fares, but we are looking closely at the implementation of the concessionary fares scheme. Over the course of 2023 we will look closely at the reimbursement guidance and the calculator to make sure that bus operators are getting the correct amount of money for the people they carry.
My Lords, the statutory concessionary bus fare scheme provides free travel for pensioners and disabled people from 9.30 am to 11 pm Monday to Friday, and at any time on weekends and public holidays. Given the change in use patterns, that people needing to get to medical appointments often have to travel before 9.30 am, and that many older people—including someone I was talking to in Liverpool at the weekend—are providing childcare that enables other members of their family to work, should that statutory concession not operate 24 hours a day on weekdays as well?
My Lords, we have looked at the concessionary scheme and we have no plans to change it at this time. However, I remind the noble Baroness that the £2 fare cap is currently in place, and that will benefit those who are not able to use the scheme early in the morning.
My Lords, my understanding is that when a bus is cancelled at very short notice, often because of congestion, that data is not filtering through in real time to Google Maps or any of the national APIs. This makes it very difficult for people to plan their journeys and has an impact on economic productivity. Will the Minister look into this and see what can be done to put it right?
I will happily take that back to the department. The Government set up the bus open data service a few years ago now, and for the first time we were able to consolidate all the information from the bus operators and make great strides towards providing the real-time information that passengers need. But I will certainly take that point back to the department to make sure we are considering it.
Ukraine: Depleted Uranium
My Lords, I declare my interest as a serving Army reservist. Given the lack of tangible evidence to the contrary, we do not recognise the presupposed potential risk to health or the environment. The UK notes that environmental and long-term health effects of the use of depleted uranium munitions have been thoroughly investigated by the World Health Organization, the United Nations Environment Programme, the International Atomic Energy Agency, NATO, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the European Commission and others, none of which has documented long-term environmental or health effects.
My Lords, for those of us who are students of history, the present times seem very much like 1913. Every few weeks, there is a ratcheting up of confrontation and no one has any apparent desire to end this and seek peace. There are health hazards involved and the UN has looked at them. Is the Minister morally happy that we are now supplying depleted uranium shells to Ukraine? When will we begin a serious search for peace?
Does the Minister agree that, whatever legitimate concerns people may have about the health and environmental impact of uranium-depleted shells, which I personally share, President Putin’s claim that he is looking to store tactical nuclear missiles in Belarus because the West is collectively beginning to use weapons with a nuclear component is utterly bogus, given that British forces have been using these armour-piercing shells legally for several decades, in accordance with Article 36 of the 1977 protocol additional to the Geneva conventions?
The Minister mentioned the United Nations but did not take account of its report, which says that the use of this ammunition is likely to cause chemical toxicity, which can result in skin irritation and kidney failure. Is he aware of that report? The other point is this: have we not handed Mr Putin an ill-founded but successful propaganda opportunity to claim falsely that the allies are seeking to introduce a nuclear element to the conflict? Who authorised the use, and indeed the supply, of this ammunition? Who took account of the possible public responses which people such as Mr Putin might take advantage of?
My Lords, I reiterate that multiple scientific bodies, including the UN, have studied this at length and concluded that there are no, or minimal, risks of long-term health effects from exposure to DU. On the point about Putin’s posturing, he is simply trying to deter our support for the forces of Ukraine. It is fundamental that we supply Ukrainian forces with these rounds, due to their armour-piercing capabilities, so that those forces can engage Russian adversaries from further distances.
My Lords, I have read reports that depleted uranium shells cause birth defects in infants. That very thought, or even the uncertainty, is such that it will lower the moral standing of both the UK and Ukraine to use them. As has been said, it gives a very effective weapon to Vladimir Putin to escalate conflict. Surely that is not desired.
My Lords, on escalation, it needs to be reiterated that Putin signalled his intention to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus as early as June 2022. He has been playing this game for a long time and is simply trying to capitalise on the supply of these munitions to our Ukrainian allies.
My Lords, the Minister mentioned a number of organisations that have concluded that these weapons were safe, but is he aware that the Royal Society carried out a report and concluded that any impact on personal health and the environment is, in its words, “very low”? Does he also agree that it is incredibly hypocritical of the Kremlin to criticise this supply of weapons when it has been using depleted uranium shells from the start of the war?
Let me say to the Minister, because it is important to continually restate our unity of purpose in this Chamber, that His Majesty’s Opposition fully support the provision of depleted uranium munitions to Ukraine by the Government. The crucial point is to say to President Putin: you will not get a propaganda coup from this. The important point, which I reiterate, is that despite the word “uranium” these are conventional weapons used in many conflicts. Is the task for us all not to prevent a cynical use of western fears by Putin to justify placing tactical nuclear warheads in Belarus?
I personally thank the noble Lord opposite for the support from His Majesty’s loyal Opposition, and the whole House, in our continued resolute support for Ukraine. He is absolutely correct that this is nothing but Putin’s brinkmanship. Putin could end this war tomorrow by cease-firing and withdrawing his troops from Ukraine immediately.
My Lords, is it not important that we keep a sense of proportion here? People in Ukraine are being blown to smithereens by Putin’s missiles. There may be arguments about the health effects of these weapons but those are as nothing compared to what is happening to the Ukrainians. That is why it is so important that we continue to support them in every way we can to defeat this tyrant and his dreadful behaviour.
I thank my noble friend for that support. He is entirely right that the major threat to life and the environment, and to the way of life of the people of Ukraine, is coming from the shelling and merciless bombardment from Russia’s forces. That must end immediately.
My Lords, the positioning of Russian short and intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Belarus offers Russia no advantage whatever, beyond what it already achieves from its current basing arrangements. What it does is to demonstrate, since it is contrary to the Belarusian constitution, that under its present leadership that country has become a wholly Russian-subsidised and Russian-dominated puppet state, completely contrary to the wishes of a great many of its people. In all of this, will the UK Government undertake to do all that they can to support the Belarusian people in their resistance to their oppressive regime?
The noble and gallant Lord makes a very important point. We condemn the Lukashenko Government’s provision of support to Putin’s unprovoked and illegal war in Ukraine. We are very concerned about the recent passage of constitutional amendments in Belarus which enable it to renounce its nuclear-free status, and its recent decision to host Russian nuclear weapons on its territory.
My Lords, we should be very grateful for the intervention from the Front Bench opposite. I strongly reinforce what my noble friend Lord Forsyth said about losing all sense of proportion. This is a widely used uranium-depleted metal and very little to do with nuclear power. The absurd proposition seems to be that being killed by one of these shells might cause skin irritation, whereas if you are killed by a shell without it you would just be dead. Can we please keep a sense of proportion in this Chamber about these matters, because at the moment we seem to be losing that?
My noble friend is absolutely correct. I reiterate that DU armour-piercing rounds are effective. They are legal and fully compliant with the law of armed conflict, while extensive research and tests have shown them to be safe to those operating these munitions.
Building (Public Bodies and Higher-Risk Building Work) (England) Regulations 2023
Motion to Approve
Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the future of adult social care given (1) the recent reports from the House of Lords Adult Social Care Committee (HL Paper 99) and the Archbishops’ Commission on Reimagining Care, (2) the Care Quality Commission s local authority assessment duties which commence from 1 April, and (3) His Majesty’s Government’s stated intention to publish a social care plan in Spring 2023.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful for this opportunity to introduce a debate which has a particular resonance in this House and a real urgency. I am very pleased that so many Members of the House have been able to take part today, particularly members of the Adult Social Care Committee. I am delighted to share the debate with the Church, alongside the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle and the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. We are considering two reports, in respect of which Church and state are joined in values and prescriptions. We are also anticipating some of the changes coming down the track. I regret that we do not have the national care plan today, as we had hoped, but we can anticipate the CQC changes. There is a lot to discuss, and the debate will go far wider than the two reports before us.
We have not yet had a reply to our Select Committee report, A “Gloriously Ordinary Life”, which was published last December, but I hope the Minister will be able to say something about the national care plan, not least when it will be published and when we can debate it. Perhaps he could answer one or two of the outstanding questions, such as: will the £500 million workforce funding plan be halved?
I said that this debate has a particular resonance in this House, and there can be very few noble Lords who have not had the experience of caring for someone close to them. It is estimated that one in two of us is likely to become an unpaid carer by the time we reach 50. For some people, it is a lifetime’s commitment; for others, it is an overnight change in circumstances that leaves them with a future which is darker and very different. Overall, at any one time about 10 million adults of all ages come into contact with adult social care. When it matters so much to so many people, we are bound to ask why, as a whole, it has been out of sight and off the public radar for so long. Perhaps a better question is: why do we not care more about it—sufficient to make it the social and political priority it needs to be? What do we need to change in order to care more, and to plan and provide more effectively for a fairer and more robust service? Why is it not a national imperative? The answers to these questions are rooted partly in human frailty and partly in the history of the NHS and the time in which it was born: a time when women did not work and people did not live as long.
What is significant about the two reports is not that they reach similar conclusions, but that they are rooted in similar values which start from the assumption that adult social care has so far been denied the opportunity to be what it could and should be: a service that enables people to live a gloriously ordinary life which is fruitful, active and valuable. The support provided is not transactional or contractual; it is based on a generous and mutually supportive set of relationships which reflect what, at best, being cared for and caring mean. The Archbishops’ Commission’s report, Care and Support Reimagined, describes it as a fulfilled life based on love, mutuality and interdependence, embedded in the concept of a national care covenant.
Today’s realities are very different. Many of those who need care or support in order to care, particularly as unpaid carers, battle their way through a barrage of services, systems, agencies, tests and charging regimes that seem designed to deter demand until needs become extreme. The daily realities are set out in our report in the words of those who live that reality. We were extremely privileged to hear so many witnesses share their experiences and their lives with us—people who have lost jobs, homes and health in the process of caring. That co-production helped our report to reach a wider audience, and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude, as we do our superb committee staff—Megan Jones, Daphné Le Prince-Ringuet, Alasdair Love and Abdullah Ahmad—our wonderful special advisers, Jon Glasby and Anna Severin, herself an expert by experience, and every member of the committee who gave so much time and insight and shared their own experiences. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Laming, could not be in his place today. He kicked this off through the Liaison Committee and helped us settle on a topic in a very well-worked field which has not had the attention it deserves—the plight of the unpaid carer.
Caring goes on day and night, without public acclaim, in private, behind closed doors, and with pitiful reward. Indeed, unpaid carers were described by no less than Jeremy Hunt, when chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, as the least visible aspect of a service which, overall, suffers from “entrenched” invisibility. Understanding what that means for adult social was a task we undertook, and trying to work out how to dismantle it consumed much of our inquiry, because invisibility takes many forms and has many impacts. Adult social care may be a nationally funded service, but it is locally delivered. It does not have a coherent national profile; it is fragmented across 18,000 organisations. While care homes are, tragically, more in the national spotlight because of Covid, the rest of the service is below the radar until you need it—when you cannot find it. At its most graphic, although it is the same size as the health service and of equal importance to the well-being of the nation, its budget is a fraction of the NHS’s: £17 billion compared with £153 billion. As we know—this statistic is all too familiar—a third of local government funding has been lost in the past decade. Compared with the NHS, adult social care is not the national treasure it should be.
This is not a remote failure. At the start of 2022, 2.6 million over 60s were living with some form of unmet need, such as the basics of washing and eating, and 2.2 million hours of care had been lost in the first three months of that year. Half a million people are now waiting for assessment. Care support, as it was described to us, even when it comes with the best of intentions and people, can still make people feel very grudging and guilty rather than supported.
The relative invisibility of the service is compounded by a lack of information. We were astonished by what we did not know. The number of unpaid carers is estimated at between 4.2 million and 6.5 million, but there may be many more who are not registered because of the problem of identification. We know that they save the country £132 billion a year, but less well known is that they receive the lowest of all benefits—£2 an hour, or £69.70 a week. To get that, you have to work for more than 35 hours a week and fulfil a means test. It is no wonder they are worried sick about heating and food bills, and that they do not manage to stay in work—and when they do, the support they get is significantly less than that offered by other countries. Put together with a paid workforce which is not valued for its exceptional skills and which works for less than the minimum wage, it is hardly surprising that they are driven out of a job they love or that it is so hard to find a personal assistant these days.
The reports provide all the evidence any Government would need as to why this is urgent, and they set out a plan for change. Both say unconditionally that there must be a radical shift in perception and investment in all parts of the service, so that adult social care can become the transformational life-enhancing service it could have been designed to be. We heard someone say to us informally, “The NHS saved my life. Adult social care has helped me to live it.” That was a graphic description.
The greatest failure has been the failure to plan strategically for an ageing society. The result is that we see longer life as something to be borne, a burden, a nuisance—and that cannot now just be fixed. That needs to be seen together with the repeated failures to cap residential care; to implement the Care Act 2014; to integrate social care into the health service, until recently; to prepare a realistic adult workforce plan based on skills, a full pay review, and a resilient service that people feel proud to be part of; and to challenge the false economy of underinvestment in adult social care year on year, at a time when the impact on the health service alone is immeasurably worse.
Add to that the failure to honour the promises that have actually been made to unpaid carers: better leave, a better carer’s allowance, better respite. It is a catalogue of disappointment. There has been so much analysis and diagnosis, so much hand-wringing over failure and so little meaningful change.
But the future is catching up with us: we will have a population of about 2 million in 10 years’ time who will be ageing without care, with no family to look after them. Where are the plans for these people to get the support they need? At the same time, if we are smart, we have new technologies and new devices that can help reduce risk and plan for where the skill gaps are. I think of the wonderful Tribe Project we came across, which does outstanding work but which ought to be all across the country. We saw so much good practice in local authorities as different as Wigan and Somerset, and an appetite for innovation and for engagement with the community. There are tremendously creative ideas at local level, all waiting to be galvanised and shared.
The most challenging question of all is what needs to change before we care more sufficiently to make adult social care a national imperative. Four things are necessary: to raise adult social care’s voice, visibility and agency; to revisit and build on what already could work better; to build capacity through workforce skills and strategic investment; and to change the way we view it—as a unique social good in itself, not simply part of propping up the NHS.
First, and simply, adult social care has to have a louder, more coherent and challenging voice, so that it can be more powerfully championed inside and outside government. It has been too easy to get away with simply patching up adult social care in an emergency and parking the workforce strategy. It has not had the power to fight for priority, which is extraordinary when we think of the power it has to change lives, for better or worse.
We recommend what looks like an easy reach, but which could make a huge difference: a commissioner for care and support to lead that fight, to raise that voice, to hold Ministers’ feet to the fire, to do some shaming if necessary, but also to celebrate and mobilise the best. That champion will be a champion for unpaid carers as well, to make sure the Government cannot get away with any more delay and procrastination there.
Reducing invisibility means knowing more: to do better, we have to fill those information gaps. We have to have a national plan for data on adult social care, so that we actually know who is caring when and where; so we know where the gaps are, where the resources can be deployed best, and what we need to invest in most effectively. That could also be helped by creating an R&D network akin to that in the NHS, so that we could trap ideas, innovation and good practice. If we have increased visibility, we can have more and better opportunities to design more flexible services—more “choice and control”, as is described, whether through better access to better packages that work more effectively, more personal assistants with less bureaucracy, direct payments that actually get to where they are needed, or giving respect to enable unpaid carers to give their own expertise more effectively, as full partners in providing care.
I have been banging on about housing in this House for well over a decade. We need accessible and adapted housing, so that we do not have thousands of people stuck in hospitals. They should be able to go to a safe home and be looked after safely, not just at times when care is needed, but urgently, as a matter of sensible planning for an ageing society. The social care White Paper recognises the role of housing, so I very much hope we will see some funding come forward to actually meet that desire.
So much of what is in these reports is not new; so much was set out in the Care Act 2014—principles, processes, project design. It is tragic that it has been on the statute book but not implemented by local authorities, which have not been able to put the training plans in place; they have not been funded to do so. That leads to the inescapable reality that adult social care needs a national investment strategy.
Compared with the costs of failure and delay, adult social care is not expensive. Again, when the Chancellor was chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee in 2017 he called for an annual increase of £7 billion between 2021 and 2023—this at a time when energy companies are scooping up hundreds of billions. This is the same Chancellor, though, who did not put any additional money for adult social care in the Budget. I ask the Minister what he thought of that.
In conclusion, so much of this is not about money at all; it is about moving away from the culture and perception of a service where the dominant language is not that of celebration but of “burden”, of “dependence”, of “failure” and of “crisis”, towards one which values and empowers the people it serves and those who do the caring, paid and unpaid. Among the assumptions which must change are the long-held assumptions that disabled adults and older people are not capable of living a life that is as rich and fulfilling as everyone else’s; that social care work is unskilled work; and that families will always be there to care.
Let me put it another way and quote Social Care Future:
“We all want to live in a place we call home, with the people and things we love, in communities where we look out for one another, doing what matters to us.”
It seems to be the most modest of ambitions—so many of the things that are asked for are so modest—but one that is well within reach if we choose to do it. The greatest risk, as our report says, is not to change, and the hardest question is, if not now, when? We have waited long enough to make adult social care a national treasure as well as a national imperative. I really hope the Minister agrees with me this afternoon. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, and to have a chance to thank her for her outstanding chairmanship of the committee. I also thank our superb professional team.
Our report’s introduction describes adult social care as
“largely out of sight and off the public agenda until we need it.”
That is in strong contrast to the NHS, despite there having been, in the last 25 years, no fewer than eight Green Papers, four White Papers, three cross-parliamentary committees and two full government inquiries. We should ask ourselves why it is that a sector so vital to one in five of our population at any one time, to the overall health of the nation and to the functioning of the NHS has been so overstudied and, as we found, so underresolved over such a long period.
It is mostly, I suggest, because it has “just grown”, and is now highly and almost unmanageably complex. I give just three examples. The first is funding. Public spending on adult social care, which is around £22 billion, is a mix of central government grant and council tax. Some £11 billion comes from private expenditure. At least £132 billion is contributed by an army of unpaid carers, often family. Actual funding arrangements vary, from self-funding care home residents, through a mix of local authority or NHS top-ups, to the fully publicly funded.
The second example is commissioning. Commissioning responsibility is split, in England, between 152 local authorities and the NHS.
The third example is provision, which is equally complicated, with 95% of residential and nursing beds being in the independent sector. Agencies provide some home care, and, in all, 18,000 organisations run around 34,000 establishments. National accountability and responsibility are, of course, divided between the levelling-up department, the NHS and the Treasury.
The effect of all this on those needing social care, almost always urgently, is that they face a lack of comprehensible information even to get into the system. They then find, all too frequently, a shortage of provision, delays, confusion and unclear accountability. Our report contains wonderful examples of good practice and ingenious solutions to these problems, but also graphic evidence from people struggling to cope at the same time with grievous personal or family situations via a massively complicated system. Their courage, and that of those caring for them, is immense.
The effect on the NHS of neglecting social care must also be tackled. We all know the NHS is experiencing unprecedented problems, some resulting from the pandemic, of growing demand and staffing and funding difficulties. How acceptable is it that every single day 10% of hospital beds are occupied by patients who do not need them but cannot be discharged because social care is not available, and that preventative social care is not available to avert many hospital admissions in the first place? The NHS has got to be fixed, but it cannot be fixed without first fixing social care.
The Government know this, and, to their credit, they do have solutions, not least from reports that they themselves have commissioned, such as the Dilnot report of 2011; from legislation they have passed, such as the 2014 Care Act; and White Papers they have published, such as People at the Heart of Care in 2021. For the one in five of us, and for the health of the nation, it is now time to see some implementation.
My Lords, I have had the privilege of being a member of the Adult Social Care Committee, chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, and I am now a member of the Select Committee on the Integration of Primary and Community Care, chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, so I have come to think of the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, as my partner in crime on both of those, as we question a series of professionals coming in to try to tell us just how bad the situation is currently.
We are having this discussion in the run-up to a general election, nearly a decade on from the passing of the Care Act and more than two decades on from the royal commission on the future of long-term care, and I suspect we are no nearer a resolution now than we were then. But I think it is important, as we are in the run-up to a general election, to make a few recommendations to all those people in political parties who are drawing up their manifestos.
The first is that there needs to be an update of the Dilnot commission proposals. We need a realistic assessment of the needs of older people and adults with disabilities for long-term care and the extent to which that can be funded by individuals’ capital assets. A crucial element of that assessment has to be the availability and cost of trained skilled staff, because that is a huge issue in the sector. For the first time, a further element needs to be the number of people ageing without children—that is a phrase which covers a number of different circumstances. We have now got to the point where Secretaries of State for Health admit openly that we have a health and social care system predicated on the fact that the majority of care, and management of care, will be done by families. There are at least 1 million people who do not have children, and it is children we are talking about. We do not even record the number of men who do not have children; we do not have that basic data, and yet we are expecting them to manage care. Unless and until we do that, there will be a profound effect on those people when they come to moments of crisis, such as hospital discharge. We need the Government to start to really look at this issue.
The second recommendation is that we need, as a matter of urgency, the development of legislation, policy and protocols that governing the use of, and access to, data of health and social care users. Currently, we have a system in which the sharing of information just between the departments of an acute hospital is utterly random, and between the different parts of the health and social care system, between acute and community health, and social care and local authorities, is non-existent. We talk about care pathways, but they are rapidly becoming a fictional idea. I defy anybody—a professional, a user or a carer—to know what a care pathway is and how to get from one place to another. Unless and until we sort this, we will have an ineffective, expensive mess: duplication of services on the one hand and lack of access to basic services on the other.
My third point is that, as regulators of health and social care—particularly the CQC as it goes into the new single assessment framework—look at these new integrated care systems, they need to specify who is responsible not just for a single episode of care but for care pathways. We have not begun to see that yet, and it is fundamental to our ability to build a system which works in the long term.
I suspect, in the run-up to the election, there will be calls from some people to say that we ought to take care away from local authorities; that for the sake of efficiency, we either put everything under the NHS, or outsource much more to the voluntary sector, charities and faith groups because they will make better use of limited resources. I would caution against that. Local authorities have a public equality duty and access to population data, and to data about individuals within their areas. I think it is crucial that we stick with them.
Finally, as president of the National Association of Care Catering, I want to make a plug for meals on wheels: old-fashioned, much denigrated, but an absolute lifeline to people. I had the privilege of being an undercover meals-on-wheels volunteer a couple of years ago—I said I was a trainee; I do not think most of them would have given me the job. The immense value of low-tech services to older people cannot be overestimated. We really should make sure that those services which give great value are maintained for older people.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for securing this important debate, for her Select Committee’s outstanding report on adult social care and for including the recent report of the Archbishops’ Commission on Reimagining Care in the debate title. I am also very grateful to my noble friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle, who co-chaired the commission. He will be addressing some of its specific recommendations later. I would like to speak about the motivation for its commissioning by the most reverend Prelate the Archbishop of York and myself.
First, in common with those of almost every political, religious or social belief, we think the current care system is broken. It cannot be tweaked; it needs reimagining. We have had the same reason for the Church reports on housing and, I regret to say, the same indifference to them from the Government, despite the enthusiasm of the industry in both cases.
Secondly, each of the reports we commissioned is based in Christian values which have guided this country at its best for centuries but overlap almost exactly with those of other faith groups and those of humanists. We were discussing this, over an Iftar meal on Monday evening, with Muslim leaders from across the country. Anything like housing, care, households, families, ethnicity or race has to have a value base which is realistic, mitigates possible harms and exalts the value of human dignity. The values must also maintain a healthy realism on the tendency of individuals and institutions, including government and the Church, to look for short-term fixes in their own interests, not long-term solutions for the common good. The list of reports and White Papers, so eloquently put by the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, which really should have ended with “and a partridge in a pear tree”, illustrates this point finely.
Thirdly, each report makes demands of government but also of every other aspect of society. In terms of care, it may be companies and businesses, charities, families and households, and we always point to the needs for the Church of England to improve and up its game. Every part of society is needed to be involved in care.
This commission was started in April 2021 and produced its final report in January of this year. We need an understanding that care and support is not an end in itself but the means by which every person can begin to fulfil their potential as a human being as it varies through life. The commission’s central recommendation is for the development of a national care covenant. This would clarify the mutual responsibilities of us all—individuals, families and communities, alongside local and national government—in relation to care and support.
Funding matters. If it is our starting point, we will fail. Once we know what kind of care system we are aiming for, we can begin to see how it could progressively be paid for. Much as I admire His Majesty’s Treasury, if we start with it, we will be pragmatic but are unlikely to be imaginative.
The revolutionary value that should be at the heart of our social care system is interdependence. In the report, it replaces the myth of autonomy for each person. No one is autonomous; we all rely on others at every point of life and death. We must recognise that reality, with its beauty and dignity. Interdependence builds community; autonomy creates atomisation. Atomisation is painfully described in a book with that name as the title in the English translation but which in French is called Les Particules Élémentaires, by Michel Houellebecq. Autonomy takes us to Huxley’s Brave New World; interdependence overcomes differentials of class and power and offers the prospect of robust compassion. Autonomy ends up with dependence on the state, because we all need support. It is a myth, and the truth is found in the prayerbook phrase
“whose service is perfect freedom”.
Interdependence takes us away from a narrow argument about who should provide care and instead says that responsibility lies with all of us to different degrees: with families and communities; with government, with regard to funding and implementation; and with NGOs, the voluntary sector and community actors such as churches, with regard to participation.
So I ask the Government and the Minister: will they begin, as we move forward, to reimagine the care system and to look at setting out clearly through a national care covenant the mutual responsibilities we all have?
My Lords, I, too, start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for securing this debate today, for her very sensitive chairing of the Adult Social Care Committee, on which I was privileged to serve, and for her tireless commitment to improving the landscape of care, which is a real conundrum of our time. We must “reimagine” it, as the most reverend Primate urges, and, while many have claimed that they will fix it, it remains unfixed.
No one chooses to be cared for, or to become an unpaid carer. If the noble Lord, Lord Laming, was here, he would tell us that either could happen to any one of us at any time. But, as our report points out, both are invisible. This invisibility leads to confusion around what social care is and who delivers it. While the NHS is there “from cradle to grave”, individuals who do not currently need care cannot imagine they ever will and therefore fail to plan for such a time.
I draw your Lordships’ attention to my interests as laid out in the register, in particular my work as chief executive of Cerebral Palsy Scotland and also with people with neurological conditions. My lived experience says that we must not view social care through the prism of the NHS. Many of the people I work with are neither ill nor old; they just need help to be able to live what our committee’s report called
“a gloriously ordinary life”.
I know people who choose to study with the Open University and miss out on all those extracurricular experiences that I am sure many of us look back on with fond nostalgia, because they cannot be confident that they will be properly supported to get around campus and get to lectures like their contemporaries. I know parents who have to give up their own professional lives when their adult child leaves formal education because the system assumes that they will; and I know people who remain living with elderly parents because there is no suitable accommodation for people under the age of 65. Our committee heard from many witnesses who were not ill or old but could not get the right support. Worse than that, they were worried that, if they contacted their local authority for a review, the support they did have would be reduced.
For many of working age, what they want and need are good PAs, personal assistants. These are professional enablers who help you do what you want, whether it is getting to work, feeding you, taking you to the pub or, in a case highlighted to us during the course of our inquiry, enabling someone to pay their respects to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at the gates of Balmoral—something that could never be assessed as an outcome by a local authority care package.
Yet there are not enough PAs. You are really stuck if your PA is ill or does not turn up, and the challenges of becoming an employer and dealing with recruitment, PAYE and pensions too often just puts people off. We heard evidence in our committee from Enable Scotland, a charity which works with local authorities across Scotland delivering their PA model of care, where the charity deals with all of those employer issues and provides a personalised service to people who want it. I encourage the Minister to look at this model.
For too many, as we have heard, contact with social care services is forged in crisis and fraught with difficulty. The providers of last resort are family and friends, who are thrust into roles they neither sought nor are supported to fulfil as unpaid carers. I believe the Minister himself has been a carer and appreciates the challenges. He has called unpaid carers
“the backbone of the system”—[Official Report, 20/2/23; col. 1434.],
but I am afraid that, despite warm words, unpaid carers continue to be taken for granted.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, pointed out, carer’s allowance is the least generous benefit and considerably less than the minimum wage. There is little respite, little support and severe financial implications, but too many families feel they have no other options.
If we do nothing else in the Government’s forthcoming social care plan and future work, I urge the Minister to improve identification of unpaid carers, including children who care. Self-identification is not working and neither are the formal systems set out in the Care Act. There are still so many gaps. We heard about the No Wrong Door initiative successfully employed in Liverpool. How can the Minister ensure initiatives such as this are more widely adopted?
As others, particularly my noble friend Lady Shepherd, have said, over the years, Ministers have been given a veritable shopping list of solutions. I hope these two reports and our debate today can add to the impetus the Minister needs within government, because the last thing people who rely on care want is yet another plan that fails to be backed up with action.
My Lords, as another member of the Adult Social Care Committee and declaring my interests in the register, I am pleased to make a short contribution to this very important debate. I too congratulate my noble friend Lady Andrews on securing this debate and, more importantly, I praise her knowledgeable and passionate chairing of the committee and her opening speech today, which I fully endorse.
The evidence we received throughout our inquiry was for recognition and support for social care in general and unpaid carers in particular, as a largely hidden workforce. The evidence was compelling, inspiring but also at times harrowing, and I praise all the contributors. As the committee stated at the beginning of our report:
“Creating a sustainable social care system in which people, their families and friends can thrive is a national imperative”.
A sustainable adult social care service must be seen as
“an indispensable partner to the health service”
and clearly and genuinely integrated with it. Surely no one can disagree with that. As we further noted, the new integrated care boards and systems must be at the forefront of realising this ambition.
As we have heard, to achieve it, investment and resources must be forthcoming. Again, the committee made clear that the Government must increase the financial settlement for adult social care over three years and then commit to sustaining realistic, long-term and protected funding for the sector to enable the robust planning of services. So it was clearly disappointing that there was no mention of sustained funding in the Budget, or any recognition of the need to reform the social care funding system based on the laudable principles established by the Dilnot inquiry.
Linked to this funding settlement is, as we have heard, access to the key benefit for carers—carer’s allowance. It is the lowest benefit rate of its kind—I do not apologise for repeating that—and it is not reflective of the extraordinary value of unpaid carers, as we have already heard today. Some of the most shocking evidence we heard from unpaid carers was about families’ lives being suddenly and unexpectedly overturned by some catastrophic event, perhaps a critical or terminal illness or a life-changing accident, with their immediate income and long-term financial planning in absolute turmoil.
So access to carer’s allowance must immediately be made easier by lowering the threshold of carers’ hours and ensuring that the earnings limit is uprated in line with the national living wage and in law. Further, the DWP should fundamentally review the carer’s allowance and report back to Parliament within one year to give some hope of financial support for this army of unpaid carers—I would be very grateful for the Government’s views on that today.
Touching very briefly on workforce, we wait expectantly for the Government’s social care plan and the workforce proposals within it. The current situation of low pay, limited career opportunity and thousands of vacancies in the sector is an utter disgrace. The committee’s recommendation that the Government must produce, with people who work in and draw on adult social care, a comprehensive, long-term, national workforce and skills plan, is an absolute priority.
Finally, it is essential that a laser focus is maintained on adult social care, and particularly on the incredible work and dedication of unpaid carers. To this end, the committee strongly believes in the establishment in the next 12 months of a commissioner for care and support to act as a champion for older adults, disabled people and unpaid carers. Critical early priorities for such a commissioner would be to include oversight of a government-commissioned, independent public review of the Care Act 2014, working with local authorities to ensure that the Act is fully implemented, and also to set up, as we have heard, the identification of the millions of invisible unpaid carers, perhaps through NHS patient records—with their permission—to ensure a mechanism to provide carers with information, self-care and digital resources to support them. They deserve nothing less.
My Lords, I declare an interest as the recipient of a personal health and social care budget. It was a great pleasure to serve on the Adult Social Care Committee last year, and I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, on her very skilful chairing, which ensured that the voices of all those involved in social care were heard and listened to.
One of our significant recommendations is that the Government work with local authorities, the voluntary sector and social care providers to embed the principles of co-production. That will give staff the necessary skills and the balance of power to the individual receiving care.
Co-production bloomed with the passing of the Community Care (Direct Payments) Act 1996, which was initiated by the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, in his 1993 Private Member’s Bill. I remember watching the late Baroness Masham of Ilton championing the legislation with skill and wisdom; I think I can speak on behalf of all of us when I say that we miss her fierce presence today and I pay tribute to her inspirational legacy.
The Act enabled disabled adults to purchase social care tailored to our individual needs, giving us choice and control; it is what enables me to be a Member of your Lordships’ House today. Under the Act, disabled people established local centres for independent living and worked with their LAs to educate and support other disabled people in employing personal assistants to meet their needs using the co-production model. Regretfully, the committee heard evidence that this essential support has eroded with a lack of investment. Older, disempowering models of social care provision such as institutional care and threadbare support at home are now commonplace—we need to get back to co-production.
Our report proposes specific funding to ensure that local authorities commission peer-led, independent organisations to promote innovation and capacity building. Information, advice, advocacy and peer support are key; local authorities already have duties under the Care Act 2014 to provide information and advice. Part of the funding identified in the current White Paper should also be allocated to making direct payments and personal assistance a realistic option.
This is an urgent problem. In a survey of 1,000 people by the LGA last year, 77% found it more difficult to recruit a PA—that has been my own experience. Not enough is known about the role of PAs. One witness told us that if it were recognised as a valuable and skilled role, “many will intuitively see that as a vocation—as a career”. Raising its profile would attract more people to the profession. The report recommends that a government-led workforce revaluate the pay and working conditions of PAs, and appropriate training.
To conclude, our committee endorsed Social Care Future’s simple challenge for social care: to make possible the ambition of people who “want to live in the place we call home, with the people and things we love, in communities where we look out for one another, doing what matters to us”. Indeed, our report is titled A Gloriously Ordinary Life—that was how one witness described their aspiration. The Government have the power to ensure that this is not a pipe-dream.
My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell. I learned so much from her. It was also an honour to have served on the Adult Social Care Committee under the expert chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, and I also pay tribute to the excellent support staff that we had. When I joined the committee, I thought it would be an important learning experience in an area that I was not particularly familiar with. However, as we met and listened to witnesses, it became apparent that this was not an academic exercise but, sadly, a practical guide for me and my family, as it is in one way or another for every family in the country.
I will concentrate on just one area of the report, on page 45 with the heading “Navigating the social care system: a constant fight”. Paragraph 147 states:
“Whether it is trying to get support for themselves or for the person they provide care for, unpaid carers often find that they are left to their own devices when it comes to navigating the adult social care system”.
As stated in our report, witnesses found it difficult to organise formal support for the person they care for.
Because of the difficulty of accessing care and support, social workers and local authorities are seen as gatekeepers, and there is little trust in the system’s ability or willingness to provide help. How sad, as my noble friend Lady Fraser said, that some unpaid carers told us that they live in fear of assessments which they see as a process designed to minimise their needs so as to deny them support.
I totally understand. My mother is suffering from brain cancer and has 24/7 care at home in Liverpool. We have experienced, and are experiencing, both some of the best and the worst that the system has to offer. On the positive side, the care and attention of the Marie Curie Hospice in Woolton, Liverpool, led by the deeply sensitive and professional palliative care doctor Dr Mark Mills and his team, has been exemplary. While mum is at home, the staff at the hospice have been an enormous comfort and help, not just to my mum but to my sister and brother too.
On the other hand, the experience we have had with the local authority assessors has been woeful. On 9 February, my mother was assessed by a nurse via Zoom. The nurse was in Kent and my mother was over 200 miles away, unable to communicate, in her bed in Liverpool. The assessment was to decide what the immediate next step for her care plan should be. The report, compiled by a nurse who has never met my mother, was then to be sent to an unknown panel of people who also have never met her to decide the best course of treatment and care. This absurd assessment was executed over a three-hour Zoom call seven weeks ago, and as I stand here today, we have heard nothing. The system is sadly broken. As we speak, we should consider that people up and down the country are battling to understand an incomprehensible system at the same time as trying to care for their loved ones as best they can.
During the committee’s deliberations, we understood that we were not going to be able to change a system that desperately needs an overhaul, but we were attempting to move the dial a little to bring some clarity to people doing their utmost to care. Our committee has made 36 recommendations, and that only scratches the surface. Each one is important. My own experiences have made me think more carefully, for example, about the point forcefully and powerfully made by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, about people without children ageing. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, and the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, I urge my noble friend the Minister to look carefully at recommendation 9, where we ask the Government to establish a commissioner for care to bring about a more accessible adult social care system. I concur with the suggested actions on page 45 of the Archbishops’ report that assessment and budget planning should be simple and consistent, and that care planning services should be focused on what matters to people.
I appeal across this House to all parties and to none to help that commissioner to take the politics out of care. We must come together to find and implement an urgent solution so that people up and down the country can fulfil with dignity what the late Lord Sacks wrote in his book Celebrating Life—that the supreme act of caring is to make a difference to someone else’s life. In his book the Dignity of Difference, he said, “To care is to look into the face of the other and see their uniqueness, their vulnerability and their pain”.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak in this debate today, and I congratulate my noble friend Lady Andrews. I have lost count of the number of debates on social care in which I have participated in my 25 years in your Lordships’ House, and it has often been a rather depressing experience. I would often have to cajole, persuade or even beg people to take part. I took to calling the few stalwarts who could always be relied upon to speak—the “usual suspects”. We were a small but devoted band. For me, the best thing about today’s debate is the number of your Lordships speaking and the attention that is being drawn to social care, at last. To be able to call my noble friend Lady Andrews and the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury “usual suspects” is a measure of the progress being made. Their influential reports mark, in my view, a step change in views about social care, which for so long has been the poor relation or the Cinderella vis-à-vis the NHS.
That is not to say that the social care scene is any better than the dire situation to which I have drawn attention over the years. On the contrary, it is worse, as the statistics and examples cited in the debate today illustrate. There is not enough money, not enough integration, too many broken promises, and too many vulnerable people and their families neglected. I, like others, had hoped that we would have the long-promised plan from the Government today, but in its absence we must once again rely on promises and assurances that the Government hear our pleas and will answer our questions.
Your Lordships will understand that, for me, the most important recommendations in both the reports we are discussing today were about unpaid carers. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Polak, for sharing his moving personal experience on the issue of being an unpaid carer. Our social care system relies heavily on the care and support from these carers. In fact, they outnumber the paid health and care workforce by at least two to one. Many live in poverty or on its margins, often building up poverty for the future because of a lack of access to pensions and paid employment. Their health suffers physically and mentally, as we have heard.
The House of Lords report makes a series of sensible and modest recommendations, recognising that carers have to deal with a baffling range of organisations and agencies, which is stressful and time-consuming. For example, the report recommends that carers should be properly identified and have mechanisms for getting information. It states that carer’s allowance is inadequate and should be reviewed—hurrah—and recognises how important respite care breaks are and that there should be ring-fenced funding to provide them.
The recommendations from the Archbishops’ Commission are summed up as a new deal for carers which ensures that they have the practical, financial and emotional support to be able to provide care, maintain a loving relationship and live a full life themselves. These are modest enough demands which surely every carer deserves so that they have opportunities for a rest, better advice, better financial support, and coproduction so that they are involved in planning. None of these recommendations is rocket science, and neither are any of them unreasonable. They are simply actions and commitments which would help unpaid carers do what they want to do, willingly and with love: provide care for their loved ones, as well as caring for themselves.
It is a great disappointment that the Minister is unable to respond to all these recommendations today in the absence of the Government’s plan. I acknowledge that their White Paper, People at the Heart of Care, published in 2021, set out a 10-year vision for adult social care in which unpaid carers were recognised as equal partners in care. I cannot fault the Minister for the words he has shared many times in your Lordships’ House when acknowledging the vital role played by carers. I was delighted by the support his noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Johnson, gave to the Private Member’s Bill that would give carers access to unpaid leave, which we hope will receive Royal Assent very soon. However, carers are at breaking point. I ask the Minister to assure the House today that he knows that more funding and better integration is vital for their support. Warm words are not enough.
Beyond carers, can the Minister assure the House that when we finally see this long- awaited plan, it will have some vision in the spirit of that 10-year plan, and that it will make some attempt to address the causes of the difficulties in health and social care and not leave the Government open to charges of yet another sticking-plaster solution? Health inequalities must be addressed. They are the result of poverty and inadequate services, which are in turn the result of many years of spending cuts. The most efficient way to ensure our health and social care services are not overwhelmed is to make sure that people do not need them. If we could rebalance the agenda towards the prevention of ill health, that is the sort of vision and focus that could give some hope for the future of social care and reassure the carers who are its main providers.
My Lords, I considered myself fortunate to sit on the Select Committee, most able chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, and joined by experts and enthusiasts for the subject, along with brilliant witnesses. A few years ago, I would have had to declare my interest as the chair of a national charity providing services across England for adults with a learning disability. That is where my heart is. I echo the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, to the Minister about the national care plan.
Everyone has a right to the best life possible, and that includes people with learning disabilities, but they face obstacles that are hard to imagine. Their challenges can be complex and certainly lifelong. Even so, with the right care, support and encouragement, everyone with a learning disability can find more enjoyment, comfort and satisfaction in their lives. We saw evidence of this on our several visits. I also met pensioner children: children of our age being cared for by their parents. I met 70 year-olds being cared for by 90 year-olds. They would have had it no other way. I just cannot imagine that.
The Care Act 2014 changed the way that adults in England who require care due to old age, illness or disability receive their support. It replaced most existing legislation on this issue. The Guardian called it
“the most significant change in social care law for 60 years.”
I remind noble Lords that it received its Second Reading in the House of Lords when Jeremy Hunt was Secretary of State. Its authors were Health Ministers Paul Burstow MP and Norman Lamb MP. At its heart was the well-being principle, which established local authorities’ responsibility to safeguard and further the well-being of those under their jurisdiction. It introduced new ways of supporting adult social care. A set of national minimum eligibility criteria was introduced to ensure that people across the country received the same care for the same needs. It rather begs the question of whether local authorities and the CQC ensure that these criteria are being delivered now. That would make a good Oral Question to the Minister; I have put a marker down.
The Care Act 2014 is governed by six principles to safeguard vulnerable adults from harm: empowerment, protection, prevention, proportionality, partnership and accountability. They are as important now as they were nearly 10 years ago, and they are all to be found in the Select Committee’s report, A “Gloriously Ordinary Life”.
Looking back, why did we need the Care Act 2014? Previously, there were lots of different laws on care and support in England, and it was difficult to know what support and care one could get. The Act brought them all together under one new law and determined what type of care people should get. The Act also gives guidance and information for authorities on how to use its provisions appropriately. It gives clear and simple rules and advice on care and support for adults. The Act helps to improve people’s independence and well-being. It aims to protect vulnerable adults from any kind of mistreatment, giving people who need support more control over what happens. Consequently, it has improved their quality of life by keeping them safe and protected.
My noble friend Lady Barker brought up the issue of costs. Alongside that Act was a discussion about paying for care, influenced by Andrew Dilnot, now warden of Nuffield College, who was also a witness to our committee. Back then, he was chairman of the UK Statistics Authority and of the Commission on Funding of Care and Support, which reported in 2011.
The six principles I mentioned that govern the Care Act 2014 to safeguard adults were first introduced by the Department of Health in 2011, and they are embedded in the Act to apply to all health and care settings. It is the law that sets out how adult social care in England should be provided. It requires local authorities to make sure that people who live in their areas receive services that prevent their care needs becoming more serious or delay the impact of their needs.
Disabled adults and older people, as well as unpaid carers, frequently pointed to the vision described by Social Care Future. With the right care, support and encouragement, I believe that everyone with a learning disability can find more enjoyment, comfort and satisfaction in their lives—their glorious lives, as the title to the report realised.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Andrews for initiating this debate, and congratulate her on the Select Committee report. It has been said before, but the report follows other distinguished predecessors. When preparing for this debate, I pulled out my well-thumbed copy of the Dilnot report and the Economic Affairs Committee’s report—otherwise known as “Lord Forsyth’s report”—together with speeches made by my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley. Here we are again: the needs are more desperate and the achievements are less. Some 58,000 fewer older people now receive long-term care, compared with 2015-16. There will be no major development until after the general election, as the introduction of a cap on lifetime care costs and changes to the means test have now been postponed until October 2025. As has been said, these changes were contained in the Care Act 2014, yet we know that 10 years will have gone by before we even start to build a system.
Those providers in the social care industry—if they are caring and conscientious—are seeing diminishing profits and worse deficits. More than half of providers had to turn down admissions and 20% of them have closed services. Those that are less caring and conscientious are making good money out of human misery. Local government funding is half of what it was 10 years ago. What help will the Government give to providers in their remaining two years? In particular, will they continue the enhanced support for energy costs at least to assist providers to stay in business?
With no long-term policy changes in prospect, we have to turn to the short-term mitigations, with the top priority being staffing. Can the Minister tell the House whether it is correct that the Government’s promise in the social care White Paper to dedicate £500 million for
“investment in knowledge, skills, health and wellbeing and recruitment policies”
has been cut by 50%? The executive chair of the National Care Association, Nadra Ahmed, representing the independent carers, believes that the report of these cuts is correct. Martin Green, the chief executive of Care England, commenting on the rumour of cuts, said that
“it will set back social care for many years to come.”
The number of vacancies in the care sector is 165,000. The number of additional social care workers required is estimated to be 480,00 by 2035. Skills for Care has predicted that the UK will lose 430,000 carers in the next 10 years if those aged 55 and over take retirement. Hft and Care England published the 2022 Sector Pulse Check report, which covers, among other things, how the care sector is mitigating staff shortages. The “refer a friend” scheme, international recruitment and increasing use of agency staff each contains its own problems.
“Refer a friend”—a scheme where existing members of staff refer friends or relatives in exchange for financial reward—was the most popular method of recruitment, selected by 24% of respondents. In my view, this method contains real risks that suitability and skills will take second place to the loyalties of relationships. We have seen the consequences of this in various cover-ups of mistreatment of the most vulnerable. I have been a fellow of the CIPD for more than 20 years. Unless the right checks and balances are in place, the “refer a friend” scheme could be seen as a sub-optimal recruitment method.
The second method is international recruitment, used by 15% of respondents. In February 2022, the Government expanded the shortage occupation list; that was welcome but the primary barrier here is pay. The minimum wage that the Government have set for care workers employed from overseas is £10.10 per hour, which causes a disparity in pay between overseas workers and the existing workforce. Obtaining a certificate of sponsorship is bureaucratic and time-consuming, often taking up to 12 weeks. Visa applications are also an issue, with costly legal services beyond the reach of smaller providers. Even the agencies that provide these staff can no longer guarantee to provide workers, which has broader implications for the NHS. Many NHS nurses are doing extra shifts in adult social care rather than working overtime in the NHS. The report concludes that
“failure to manage this market will see nurses leave both the NHS and adult social care and become agency nurses at a few, select high-paying agencies.”
In conclusion, if you are in need of social care and money is not a worry, you can probably still receive a good experience. If you are poor, growing old will be the biggest challenge in your life at a time when you are least able to cope.
My Lords, I have had the great privilege of sitting on both the Adult Social Care Committee and the Archbishops’ Commission on Reimagining Care. I also pay tribute to the outstanding work of their respective chairs, the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, and Dr Anna Dixon.
When the two reports were published, it came as no great surprise that there were huge areas of overlap. In fact, a careful analysis has revealed at least 17 different points of congruence, ranging from providing everyone with the opportunity to lead a full life, through to appointing a commissioner for care and support and properly implementing the Care Act 2014—all of which have already been mentioned.
As we have heard, the role of unpaid carers, including children, was highlighted in particular by both reports. Because that became such a central feature of the Select Committee’s investigation and report, it is being fully addressed by many noble Lords speaking in this important debate. Rather than repeating their valuable contributions, I, like the noble Lord, Lord Polak, and the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, want to focus on another area of concern raised by both reports, namely the current difficulty experienced by those who try to navigate the statutory care and support system. Phrases such as a “baffling range of organisations” and a “fog of confusion” abound. As we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, whose long-term contribution to this debate we so value, dealing with the complex and circular bureaucracy is time-consuming and frustrating.
As we heard from the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, the commission’s central recommendation is the development of a national care covenant. This covenant would emerge from a major programme of public engagement with cross-party support and significant co-production, as with the NHS constitution. It would reflect four main themes. The first is the empowering of communities, which have a vital role to play in all this, not only in addressing practical needs but in combating loneliness and social isolation and fostering physical and mental well-being. Both the committee and the commission witnessed many good examples of that happening in practice, but we all know that supportive and inclusive communities do not just happen by accident; they need investment and nurturing. They also need local authorities to work in partnership with them, to provide a network of community-based support for everyone.
The second theme is a new deal for carers that includes recognition of their value. We applaud that recognition in the White Paper, People at the Heart of Care. As we have heard, as well as respite and, where necessary, financial support for unpaid carers, care for carers is essential to the future of social care.
The third theme is a universal entitlement to care and support, including the pooling of risk, to ensure that everyone is able to lead what the committee calls a “gloriously ordinary” life.
The fourth theme is the acceptance of our mutual responsibility as citizens. A covenant of this kind would make it abundantly clear that social care is not just the state’s responsibility. As citizens, our rights come with corresponding responsibilities; the principle of interdependence, mentioned by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, emphasises the simple fact that, in this arena, all of us have a vital part to play.
The commission began its report with a call to rethink attitudes and values, several of which have already been mentioned. It concluded that, ultimately, the whole care system needs to redesigned rather than merely adjusted. However, a national care covenant that would rebalance roles and responsibilities was its key proposal. I very much hope that His Majesty’s Government might consider this alongside their other plans for implementing the recommendations in People at the Heart of Care, which we all look forward to seeing in the very near future.
My Lords, social care is the Passchendaele of the welfare state. It is now 25 years since I sat on the royal commission on this subject. Since then, there has been a veritable snowstorm of excellent reports—including the two in front of us today—with, often, government promises and, sometimes, government policy statements. However, all have melted the moment they touched the ground.
I cannot hope to cover the whole subject in the time available to me so I will concentrate on one issue that is very close to my heart. After that royal commission, my noble friend Lord Boateng called me into his office; he was in charge of funding long-term care. He asked me a very good question: “If you had a bit of money to spend in the social care field, where would you spend it?” I replied, unhesitatingly, “On increasing the pay of social care workers.” Then, I said by £1 an hour; now, it would be more like £2. It is a scandal what goes on now for both the workers involved and the people for whom they care.
In January this year, Skills for Care reported that 10.9% of posts—around 170,000 of them—were vacant, meaning people will not be properly cared for. According to the latest figures, a care worker in the independent sector earns £9.66 an hour; in local authorities, it is £11.03. Care workers’ pay has dropped behind that in other sectors. In 2012-13, retail assistants earned 16p an hour less than care workers; today, they get 21p an hour more. One care manager is quoted by the Commons Health and Social Care Committee as saying:
“I dread hearing Aldi opening up nearby, as I know I will lose staff.”
Being a social care worker does not just involve hard skills, though there are those. It also involves soft skills in getting on with people. Do we really want those soft skills transferred to behind cashier points in supermarkets?
There are also problems of low promotion. People love the job but cannot see the way forward. There is also the problem of local authority finance. Councils are trying to push care home fees down. Homes make it work because they charge the councils the marginal cost of putting up with someone and get the rest of the money back off the private payers. The Government said that they would tackle this. Can the Minister kindly tell us where they have got to? I would be most grateful.
This problem is going to get worse and worse, for the simple reason of demographics—an increasing elderly population with increasing care needs. The overall population in England grew by 7% in the 10 years between 2011 and 2021. The number of people aged 85 or over rose by 16%, so nearly three times as fast. Many of those people will need care. By 2038, 57% more adults in the population will be 65 or over, compared with today. How are we going to care for them?
I make this final point. There is a crude choice in social care. You can spend the money that you have available on helping people to pay their care home fees, which helps the top half of the population, or you can spend it on providing better care. The Government plan to prioritise a cap. Fortunately, the proposal for that has now been ditched, or postponed indefinitely. However, they should have prioritised the first, with better care for all, starting with better care for those who give their lives to these difficult but rewarding tasks.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Andrews and her committee, and the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, on two excellent reports, and address my contribution to the urgent recommendation for a proper social care workforce strategy.
I declare an interest. When I was general secretary of the TUC, we sought and secured core participant status in the Covid public inquiry. We worked closely with Covid bereaved families’ campaigns throughout. I believe that the evidence is there that many Covid deaths in care homes and among front-line workers—disproportionately among black and ethnic-minority workers—were entirely preventable. From the start, the Cinderella status of the social care service was symbolised by that failure to provide staff with proper PPE. The absence of proper sick pay also put staff and service users at terrible risk. Statutory sick pay is still far too low, at just £99 a week, and 2 million people in this country do not earn enough to qualify at all. No worker should be forced to choose between going into work and risking spreading a virus, or staying home but being unable to feed their family.
Many hoped that the pandemic would spark a sea-change in our social care service, and that severe cuts to local authority budgets, inflicted over many years, would be restored, but today the service is still subsidised by the love, the labour and the low pay of unpaid carers and the social care workforce, predominantly women. In my experience, staff care deeply for those whom they care for, and find their work profoundly satisfying. While progression routes are poor and training needs to be improved, be in no doubt that this is skilled work. However, that vocation is being exploited. Nearly a quarter of the workforce are on zero-hour contracts. Most care workers earn barely above the national minimum wage, which is currently £9.50 and due to rise to just £10.42 in April.
The Government rebranded the national minimum wage, calling it a living wage, but the real living wage, calculated according to how much it costs to lead a basic decent life, is much higher: £11.95 in London and £10.90 in the rest of the UK. The Resolution Foundation, along with many others, has argued that the bottom rate of pay for care workers needs to be significantly higher even than that, just to tackle the crisis in recruitment, retention and turnover. Service users, their families, and decent employers, know that even with the potential of new technologies, the heart of the service is human. How we treat and reward care workers reflects how much we, as a society, value those who receive care. No doubt the Government will ask how we pay for it. Part of the answer must be a fairer taxation system. It cannot be right that a care worker pays a bigger share of her income in tax than the private equity chief who buys up care homes, saddles them with debt, and then sells them on for profit.
I am proud that as part of its New Deal for Working People, Labour is committed to a policy of sectoral fair pay agreements, just as the New Zealand Government have introduced, and as is common across Europe. It is only right that first in the queue for a UK fair pay agreement should be social care workers. I hope that we can build a broad consensus for this approach, bringing Governments, employers and unions together to lift the status of social care as well as the pay, conditions and morale of staff. Investing in our social care service would relieve pressure on the NHS and, I hope, act as a catalyst for creating the decent and properly staffed and funded service that those in need of care deserve, and that care workers themselves have well and truly earned.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, that social care jobs—indeed, all jobs—should pay a real living wage. It should be a foundation of our social contract. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, and her committee, for this report, which shows great compassion and sense, as does the report from the Archbishops’ Commission on Reimagining Care. We can hope only that the Government will follow their lead. There is little that I could disagree with in the intentions of either report, but as Greens we always aim to go further, so I particularly acknowledge the interrelationship of other policy natures and the nature of our society, rather than looking at social care as a stand-alone unit or looking simply to join it up with healthcare. This is really systems thinking.
First, I give a personal reflection. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, referred to the 1 million people who do not have children. This is personal to me, since I am one of the 18% of women of my age, and most ages now since those born in the 1950s, who do not have children. I have no brothers and sisters—no living relatives at all. That reflects the position of increasing numbers of our society, something that we are entirely unready for. Civil society is generating solutions. I note particularly the Older Women’s Co-Housing project in north London.
The Government do not need to direct these, but they must do far more to enable them to happen, for we have now a society that does not care for the vulnerable. Any of us could be left in that situation, at any time. That is why Green Party policy is free social care to all who need it. Provision of free social care must be central to any green new deal. When you hear that phrase, you might think of hard hats and solar panels, but you should equally think of a person caring for someone and meeting their needs—someone holding another’s hand when they need it.
That would be central to what the most reverend Primate referred to as a fulfilled life, which we should be offering everyone. Care must be provided, as the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, said, in a way that is “not transactional, not contractual”. That is our vision, and why the Green Party says that the profit motive has no place in any form of care provision—health or social. The terrible state of our care system owes a great deal to privatisation, which has taken public and individuals’ money and often put it into the hands of hedge funds and other tax-dodgers, while exploiting our workers and providing terrible care.
A study this week from the Guardian showed that the five largest private care chains are taking £150 million a year in taxpayers’ money for places in elderly care homes rated as “inadequate” or “requiring improvement”, including some classed as “not safe”. The leading earner from public funds is HC-One, a chain of 285 care homes majority-owned by a US private equity company. It was paid £50 million, the Guardian calculated, by town halls in 2022 for homes in the two lowest CQC categories.
Many noble Lords have referred to unpaid carers. Another Green promise is a universal basic income—a foundational, secure payment to every member of our society. If they chose to be a carer, we would top that up. This is a system in which everyone would have the security to care without fear of poverty. That truly is system change.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, alluded to, we are that point in the electoral cycle where parties are drawing up their manifestos. I am not expecting other parties to adopt wholesale the Green vision—although I would be happy if they did—but I will offer a couple of smaller-scale policies that I would be very happy if any party wanted to steal.
First, I was speaking earlier today about the concessionary bus travel scheme. How about we extend free public transport to family carers? That would be a modest acknowledgement of the contribution they make to our society. Secondly, young carers are far too often ignored. They often start at a terribly young age, with huge responsibilities. The pupil premium should be applied to them to help their schools support them. Thirdly, on housing, we were talking this week in the levelling-up Bill about the need for vastly better housing, both newbuild and refit, and every new home should be built to lifetime homes design standards. That would mean that people could stay longer in their own homes.
I have a final thought on technology. There is no doubt that it can help a lot, particularly in medical care, by providing security and reassurance and notification of when help is need. But please, let us not assume that a robot, no matter how snazzy, can actually provide human care—the comfort of a human touch, the thoughtful listening to a cry of pain. If noble Lords are tempted by the technological care vision, I point them to the Isaac Asimov novel The Naked Sun. There is a great deal of robot “care” in that, and I promise you it is a dystopia.
My Lords, I declare an interest: I was the general secretary of Unison, the public service union, which represents over half a million health and social care workers—members who worked throughout the pandemic.
As we have heard today, despite all the inquiries, reports and initiatives, no matter what the Government may say, social care has not been fixed—far from it. As we have also heard today, it is quite simply broken. This has been said not just in this Chamber. The King’s Fund states that there is no credible programme to address the issues and that the workforce is in crisis. The social care ombudsman highlights an underresourced system, unable to consistently meet the needs of those whom it is designed to serve. The Care Quality Commission, the independent regulator, despite its own workforce challenges, states that the workforce crisis in adult social care needs to be addressed urgently.
I do not detract from the issues involved in kinship care and unpaid care, which have to be addressed as a matter of urgency, but there is also consensus across social care that nothing can be achieved in the sector until the workforce crisis is addressed. A third of staff leave every year. There are over 165,000 vacancies—more than in the NHS. Vacancy rates are at over 10% and are growing by the day. Many staff are on zero-hours contracts and many have no sick pay arrangements. Many people who work in domiciliary care are not even paid travelling time between visits to people in their care, meaning that they earn less than the minimum wage. There is alarming exploitation of migrant workers, with repayment clauses tying them to their jobs and employers. This is done throughout social care.
A small number of councils do show the way, agreeing ethical care charters with their providers and unions that cover training, pay rates and standards of care. A small number are sharing best practice. But these councils are few and far between. In too many areas, career development and progression are simply non-existent. The pay differential between a new starter and an experienced, long-serving member of staff in social care has been squeezed down to a measly 7p an hour. This feeds the increasingly high turnover rate of staff and reinforces the image of care work as a low-skilled, unregulated profession.
Astonishingly, despite the massive problems, the social care sector has no workforce plan and the Government lack ambition to deal with the crisis in care. What is needed more than anything is a Government committed to a national care service. Call it what you want, but we are crying out for a national care service, with a Government who recognise the beneficial impact that social care could have on the economy. It would boost the independence of those who receive care and allow more women who deliver the bulk of unpaid care to play a larger and more active role in our economy.
We need to raise the status of the care sector in our society, with a new deal for care workers, making social care an attractive sector to work in. Caring for the future is an integral part of any industrial society moving forward, and something that is long overdue. We need a Government who will ensure that no private equity firm is able to profit from running care homes where they are failing residents and underpaying staff. We need a Government who care for carers; a new Government who will boost the status of social care, making it the profession it really should be—one that people want to work in. We need a new Government who will change the perception of social care from being merely a drain on resources and make it a crucial component of the drive to boost economic growth. That is where the future of social care should lie. It is a massive challenge to all of us, but one that we have a duty to tackle together.
My Lords, I also thank my noble friend Lady Andrews for introducing this debate in such an inspiring way. I was not a member of her committee and nor was I, for obvious reasons and much to my regret, a member of the Archbishops’ Commission, but I can hardly express ignorance of the reports or of the many reports that have come out before this, so I am fairly well informed.
We have become so used to debating a situation that has been a disgrace for so long that it has become a sort of constant background noise that we have managed to ignore. For example, we are all fully aware that, for many years, large numbers of patients have been stuck in acute hospital beds quite unnecessarily, when they would be much better cared for in the community, but they cannot be moved, sometimes for weeks, because there is no one out there to look after them. Nowadays, it is almost as difficult to get out of hospital as it is to get in. If that phrase sounds familiar, it is because I have used it many times before in the more than 20 years that I have been in this House. I may be a bit of a bore on the subject, but I will emphasise a few more obvious facts.
As others have mentioned, the number of patients who need care in the community is rising as the population ages, yet the number of staff available to support them is going down. No one seems surprised by that anymore. In my few remarks, I will concentrate on the workers on whom this whole shaky system is dependent; it is they with whom the buck stops.
The care workers’ lot is not a happy one. Recruitment is difficult and retention is worse. The turnover rate of care home staff is 35%; that is a third of staff leaving every year. I have heard various figures, such as 105,000 adult care worker vacancies advertised every day and 15,000 fewer filled posts last year than eight years earlier. As we have heard, pay is a significant factor in this poor recruitment and retention. An average of £9.60 an hour means many can earn more in jobs at Tesco or Amazon, and about a third of them are on zero-hours contracts, as we have heard.
But it is not just about pay. We must pay them at a rate commensurate with their responsibilities, but it is about much more than that. These workers are at the bottom of the feeding chain: they are underappreciated, underrated and underrespected. We know that nurses and doctors are widely respected in the community, but not care workers. There are no media articles extolling their virtues and no TV programmes or films with them as heroes. They are the neglected end of the health and social care system. “Entrenched invisibility” was the phrase I heard today, yet we absolutely depend on them. So many of the problems in the NHS—bed blockages, ambulance queues, long waits in A&E and departments on trolleys waiting for beds—are due directly to the paucity of care in the community. So it is here, with the care workers, that we should begin.
As we have heard today, we must give them the recognition and respect that they deserve, by not simply giving them a salary that recognises their important roles but much more than that. We must offer them a training programme that is both mandatory and nationally recognised. We must then give them a professional qualification and a place on a national register. Only in this way will they hold their heads up as qualified professionals, along with the prospect of career progression within care work or even on to a nursing career as, for example, nursing auxiliaries. Will the Minister please ensure that something along those lines is included in the long-awaited social care plan?
I know that this is not a novel set of proposals. I recently took a rather unrewarding look back at some of the speeches I have given on this topic in the Lords over the very many years that I have been here. I am more than used to not being listened to—how could I not be, having been married for more than 50 years? On this occasion, at least, I hope the Minister will give me a little more encouragement.
My Lords—follow that. As the excellent reports we are debating today make clear, we are failing those in our society most in need of our care. As we have heard powerfully in today’s debate, the social care sector is in crisis due to chronic underfunding and the repeated deferral of hard decisions. Fundamentally as a society, we are sending the message that we do not truly value caring and caregivers.
The care that people, both older people and those of working age, need to have a good quality of life is often either unaffordable or unavailable. People who could be supported to stay in their own homes are being moved into residential care and people who are medically ready to leave hospital are unable to, because the care they need in the community is just not there. This has knock-on effects throughout the NHS. We know from the CQC’s latest State of Care report that the health and care system is gridlocked and is unable to operate effectively or, in some cases, at all—as we heard so poignantly from the noble Lord, Lord Polak.
As we have also heard, demand for care is rising as people live longer and often with more complex needs. As my noble friend Lady Barker explained, we now have a growing number of people without children of their own. Recent analysis from the King’s Fund showed that overall requests for social care have hit an all-time high.
At the same time, as we have heard, the workforce is in near meltdown. I want to explain why I use that term. We know that there are severe staff shortages and problems both in retention and in recruitment, which mean that current needs are not being met. Without major change, things are going to get worse as demand grows. As we have heard, according to the King’s Fund, the current social care staff vacancy rate is the highest since records began: 165,000 unfilled posts is a huge number.
Looking ahead, Care England estimates that the number of adult social care jobs will need to increase by 27%, to around 2.3 million, by 2035. In reality, we are looking at the prospect of further workforce reductions over the next 10 years as the current care workforce, more than a quarter of whom are over 55, retire and are not replaced. Poor pay and conditions are key drivers affecting recruitment. One in three care workers is paid the minimum wage, or less as their travelling time between clients typically goes unremunerated. At the same time, other sectors are offering far higher rates for, frankly, less demanding work.
It is a scandal that the social care workforce is among the lowest paid in our economy and zero-hours contracts are prevalent. The Health Foundation has found that staff experience much higher levels of poverty and deprivation than other UK workers and health workers. For many in the sector, career progression is simply non-existent. Given all this, it is not a surprise that the workforce is in near meltdown.
The impact of these workforce shortages on both patients and the wider NHS is devastating. First, increasing numbers of people, especially the elderly, have unmet care needs. Due to a shortage of care workers, 170,000 hours a week of home care could not be delivered during the first three months of 2022. That is seven times more than spring 2021.
Secondly, there is a backlog in initial assessments and long waiting times for many people to have their needs assessed. Shockingly, people are dying while waiting for care. Age UK found that some 37,000 people died in 2020-21 without receiving the care that they were waiting for. According to the CQC’s recent State of Care report, only two in five patients are able to leave hospital without delay when ready for discharge.
Many of these problems, which so many noble Lords have talked about, are rooted in funding, which has been inadequate for many years. According to the Health Foundation,
“When the pandemic hit … government spending per person on social care was lower in real terms than in 2009/10”.
This is compounded by how social care funding is often piecemeal, with crisis cash in winter making planning harder. This is exacerbated by the fact that the actual costs of providing care, either in the home or in running a care home—wages, Covid expenses and the increased costs of food and heating—are rising, but many local authorities are rationing social care to those in greatest need due to inadequate funding from government. This point was underlined last year by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman. At an individual level, a failure to introduce a cap on lifetime care costs means that one in seven people over 65 faces catastrophic costs of more than £100,000.
Like other noble Lords, I was particularly alarmed to read recent press reports suggesting that the Government are poised to cut £250 million from investment in the social care workforce in England. I join the noble Baronesses, Lady Andrews and Lady Donaghy, in asking the Minister, when responding, categorially to either confirm or deny that this is the plan.
Of course, all of this results in an overreliance on informal unpaid carers, as demonstrated vividly in the recent report of the Select Committee chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. According to Carers UK, in England the number of unpaid carers outnumbered the paid health and care workforce by at least two to one. Many other speakers have pointed this out passionately in our debate today. Millions of unpaid carers are having to bear the negative effects of social care workforce shortages and a lack of funding for social care. This leaves far too many of them with very little support, often feeling isolated and undervalued in the face of the relentless demands of caregiving.
Too many unpaid caregivers face financial hardships themselves, as they receive little financial support. Many find it hard to juggle staying in paid employment with caring. That is why I was so pleased to support the Private Member’s Bill put through the Commons by my honourable friend Wendy Chamberlain MP; it had its Second Reading here recently. It creates a new entitlement for employees to take up to a week of unpaid leave a year in order to provide or arrange for care. Yes, it is a very small step forward in improving employment rights for unpaid carers, but it is important none the less.
The most depressing thing in today’s debate has been the litany of broken promises of reform over the past decade. We had Dilnot, endlessly postponed; and White and Green Papers that never materialised. As my noble friend Lady Jolly reminded us, the Care Act 2014 was a seminal piece of legislation, but key provisions in it have been indefinitely postponed. The Government’s “Build Back Better” plan for health and social care, published in 2021, led to the passing of a law to collect a health and social care levy, but this was then reversed and the charging reforms outlined were subsequently delayed—again.
Despite all this doom and gloom, I want to end with some solutions to add to the others that have been put forward. There are five things on my immediate wish list which I am very much hoping to see in the long-awaited government social care implementation plan.
First, we need to invest in the workforce, pay wages people can live on and offer career progression by professionalising the care sector. That is why I am so pleased that Liberal Democrats are calling for a legal obligation to provide a carer’s minimum wage, to be set at a rate of £2 an hour above the national minimum wage. This much-needed boost is long overdue, and I know others have referred to it.
Secondly, the Government need properly to fund local authorities so they can continue to provide the social care services they are legally required to, and ensure that care homes are paid a realistic rate rather than relying on excessive cross-subsidisation by self-funders.
Thirdly, we desperately need to integrate services, so that there is a joined-up preventive approach which reduces the risk of reaching crisis point and needing care home placement or hospital admission. I hope the development of 42 integrated care systems can help bring this about, but concerns remain that social care sector providers struggle to get their voices heard within these systems.
Fourthly, we must provide more support for informal carers and introduce a statutory guarantee of regular respite breaks for unpaid carers.
Finally, as others have said—including, very powerfully, the noble Lord, Lord Bradley—the carer’s allowance must be reformed so that it no longer discourages carers from remaining in paid work. The carer’s allowance is the lowest benefit of its kind and does not reflect the contribution of unpaid carers; it must be increased.
I therefore ask the Minister: what assurance can he give me that the vital issues that I and others have underlined will indeed be addressed in the Government’s plan?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for securing this important debate and for her excellent introduction, and I sincerely endorse noble Lords’ praise for her expert chairing of the Select Committee. She was just the right person to lead this authoritative cross-party group, whose spotlight on adult social care could not be timelier as we are now in sight—we hope—of the Government’s long-promised follow-up White Paper. It is a moment that many of us cannot quite believe in, having waited so long for something to come out of the oven-ready, back-pocket social care plan promises made since this Government took office. We have had a decade of social care reform failure and have become used to hearing that world-leading proposals are on the way, only for them to be delayed, substantially changed and delayed again.
We were led to believe that the White Paper would be the national plan we have been promised, and that we would have it as the backdrop for today. Now we understand it will be published in the recess, that it is a two-year update rather than a plan, and that next week we may have the promised workforce plan—or a bit of it—and a key policy document on primary care. Like other noble Lords, I hope the Minister will be able to enlighten us on what is happening. Can he explain why all this has to be in recess, rather than when Parliament is sitting? We are still awaiting the Government’s response to the Select Committee report. Can he say when that will be published, so that, post-recess, we can have an urgent and full debate on the report as well as the White Paper?
When we get the White Paper and any workforce proposals, we will examine them in detail to judge whether they are anywhere near being the comprehensive national plan for social care we have been led to expect, with the milestones for reform the Minister has promised, including on workforce, data and technology. The first White Paper was strong on vision—on what social care could look like—but only partial in terms of the issues it addressed and the mostly short-term sticking plaster funding it came up with. It was also decidedly lacking on how today’s and tomorrow’s demands for social care could be met, addressed and funded, or how it fitted in with the then proposed cap on care costs, or the fair costs of care proposals.
The urgent need for a comprehensive national plan is where the Lords Select Committee report comes in. It is a giant piece of work that leads the way on reform, with clear stepping stones. I congratulate the whole committee on its depth of analysis and its understanding of the extent and reach of social care, impacting 10 million of us at any one time. The report focuses on giving disabled people drawing on care and support the same choice and control over their lives as other people, on fair pay and recognition for care workers, and on support for unpaid carers. These are the key fundamentals of social care reform which we fully support.
I welcome today’s contributions by so many noble Lords, including eight other Select Committee members, and in particular the contribution from my noble friend Lord Bradley, who spoke from these Benches with his usual wisdom and expertise. Contributions have ranged across key social care issues; we could not have had a more comprehensive debate. I hope the Minister will make sure that he promises to follow up with a written response on any issues he does not have time to address, and will forgive me because I have so much to say and do not have the time to say it.
I want to underline five key issues. First, the Lords committee’s report underlines the imperative for a fundamental rethink and a change in society’s perceptions of and attitudes to social care. It builds on the current legislative framework for care eligibility and entitlement achieved through cross-party support for the Care Act 2014 and promotes social care’s positive benefits as an essential service which benefits individuals, society and the economy, not just as an ancillary to the NHS, as my noble friend Lady Andrews has so ably stressed.
In this context, I welcome the Reimagining Care Commission reflections of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle, which strongly reinforce the Lords committee’s ambition of making social care the national imperative it needs to be. In particular, the commission demonstrates the breadth and reach of social care across communities, and I applaud the vital work that faith communities do which helps to plug the enormous gaps locally in social care provision. In the words of Labour’s shadow Minister for care, Liz Kendall, the report is “refreshingly bold”, which is exactly what is needed. I also commend the commission’s work on the national care covenant, and look forward to continuing dialogue on this.
Secondly, I emphasise the importance of choice and control by disabled adults over their care and support, which was strongly supported by speakers from across the House, in particular in the forceful contribution by the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, underlining what she has been saying for years, and especially the importance of coproduction. Of course the care of older people is vital, but working-age adults with disabilities make up one-third of social care users and half the budget for social care.
The committee’s spotlight on the more than 1 million people living on their own, without families or children, is also welcome. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, spoke strongly on this, as did a number of other noble Lords. As a carer, I know how thoroughly the current system relies on advocacy, usually by relatives who are unpaid carers navigating their way for their loved one’s entitlement to care services, which so often fail to speak to each other. I always fear for people living on their own who are receiving domiciliary social care; they are often without other visitors or friends and are utterly dependent on the system working well and seeing to their needs. Their well-being has to be a key part of what a good service looks like.
Thirdly, it is important to value care workers with proper career progression and the pay, training, and terms and conditions that they deserve. Every speaker has made a strong case for this and for the comprehensive workforce plan that is urgently needed. We have today had added expertise and weight from the former general secretary of the TUC, my noble friend Lady O’Grady, and the former general secretary of UNISON, my noble friend Lord Prentis. Record levels of staff vacancies, with the highest rates in domiciliary care, for registered managers and for nurses, need an urgent and long-term solution, not just short-term funding or reliance on local councils to raise funding to meet costs, with all the difficulties and inequities that brings.
Fourthly, I strongly echo the deep concerns of all noble Lords, especially my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley, that unpaid carers are at breaking point. In reality, they have received very little concrete support to date, apart from government backing for the Private Member’s Bill giving them one week’s unpaid leave from work. How are the Government going to address unpaid carers’ huge daily problems of poverty and exhaustion, and the lack of available and affordable respite care?
Fifthly, the key message from today has to be that reform and change for social care must be whole-system wide: a long-term, joined-up comprehensive plan. On residential care, for example, which a number of noble Lords mentioned, every day it becomes glaringly obvious that urgent reform and fundamental changes are needed to the current business model, and this must be an essential part of any comprehensive national plan. Only last week we saw reports of councils spending half a billion pounds over the past four years, buying up beds in care homes rated as inadequate or as requiring improvement by the Care Quality Commission, driving up profits and dividends for private investors at the same time as residents suffer unsafe treatment, mostly because the homes cannot fill their chronic staff shortages in many areas. Poor-quality providers which put private profits before care should not be tolerated. Does the Minister consider that the current business model for residential care is fit for purpose? What are the Government’s plans to ensure that public money is spent caring for residents?
This situation starkly underlines the precarious position local authorities continue to find themselves in as providers of care, care homes and domiciliary care. As noble Lords have said, this is all in the context of a 29% overall reduction in funding since 2010—one-third of the funding has been lost.
The Government have had 13 years to deliver on providing a concrete future for social care, but their measures have, for the most part, been disjointed, stop-start, short-term crisis reactions. They have failed to identify and deliver on the root causes of the issues facing older and disabled people. Demand for social care is now hitting a record high, and the current picture was graphically painted by noble Lords today. The King’s Fund’s excellent briefing sums it up by stressing that key trends in social care are all going in the wrong direction: demand up, access down, financial eligibility tighter and charging reform put back, the costs of delivering care rising with local authorities paying more for care home places and home care support, the workforce in crisis, unpaid carers receiving less support, and public satisfaction with social care lower than ever.
A national plan for social care has to be just that: national. It must be comprehensive, long-term and cross-system to provide joined-up integrated care in the home and community, tackle fundamental inequalities in the current system, and deliver a new deal for care workers and support, care and respite for unpaid carers. Step-by-step investment and reform is the only away to provide the stability, certainty and long-term planning to achieve the fundamental shift towards early intervention, prevention and rehabilitation that is so desperately needed.
My Lords, it is my pleasure to respond to the excellent debate today, to follow so many distinguished speakers and, probably most of all, to hear, in my noble friend Lord Polak’s words, the politics being taken out of care. Today has been an excellent example of that, and I hope I can follow in that vein.
I regret that our social care report has not been published today. As noble Lords will be aware, we were hoping it would be published yesterday, and we were going to offer an embargoed copy of the report so that everyone could contribute. That is the reason for the delay in responding to both committee reports. I undertake that we will respond to both reports after we publish our social care report, and I personally offer a round table to everyone who is interested, where I will seek to bring the relevant officials along as well. I hope we can have a productive conversation in a similar vein to this one, where we all get around the table as people who care about this issue and, as mentioned, take the politics out of care.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for securing today’s debate, all noble Lords across the Chamber for their thoughtful and considered contributions, and all those who have sat on the committees that have been mentioned. I feel that they have really added impetus to this whole debate. I hope the report that we offer will answer many of these points, build on the progress made so far in this space and bring a vision into reality.
Before I go into detail and respond to the reports, starting with the Lords Select Committee report, I would like to say how fitting the words “gloriously ordinary life” are. I was struck by the whole sense that, if I caught the phrase right, we can live in a place we call home, with the people we love and the things we care about. That is something that we can all agree with and commit to as our North Star and vision for what we hope to do.
Not only is it vital that we allow people to live in the way that they want but it is a vital part of our health service, as mentioned by my noble friend Lady Shephard and the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, who had many brave words to say today. We all know it is vital to unblock the system. Some 13% of our beds are blocked at the moment, to answer my noble friend Lady Shephard’s point. As the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, said, it is often as difficult to get out of hospital as it is to get into it. We have put in funding to help with this issue: £700 million of funding this year alone to help with discharge and £1.6 billion over the next two years. This whole debate shows that it is vital not just to the well-being of our people that we have a good system of social care but to our health service in improving the whole flow of the system.
On that, I reassure noble Lords that the Government recognise the importance of responding to the Lords Select Committee report. As mentioned, we will release a response shortly after the social care report is published—I hope, as I say, next week. I assure the committee that the Government agree with the vision in the report. We particularly welcome the committee’s view that social care does not have the voice and the visibility that it deserves. That often means that people are not supported to meet their ambitions. By rethinking attitudes to care and support, we can ensure that people access the care and support that meet their needs.
Equally, I thank the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle and the Commission on Reimagining Care for its recent report, Care and Support Reimagined: a National Care Covenant for England. I was struck by the words, “care based on faith and values”, where we recognise that we all have a mutual responsibility in delivering that. That struck a chord with me, along with the idea of the need to develop a national care covenant, where we all look to do our part in delivering the system. I look forward to developing those thoughts more at the round table.
It is important that we recognise the important contribution that communities and faith organisations make to adult social care. We echo the commission’s vision for care and support that is inclusive, universal and fair, and recognises our mutual responsibilities as citizens. The Government are keen to work collaboratively to make change a reality, and, having spoken to Minister Helen Whately, I know how much she enjoyed the meeting she had with the commission and how keen she is to drive forward the report.
I turn to the Government’s vision for adult social care. Again, I apologise; I feel that my hands are slightly tied behind my back, having to make this speech prior to the publication of our report. As we all know, back in December 2021 the Government published People at the Heart of Care. This set out a 10-year vision that put people at the centre of social care to make sure that everyone who draws on care and support feels empowered to have the choice, control and support they need to live independent and fulfilling lives. This is a vision that aims to make social care fair, accessible and of high quality, and to lead to better outcomes for people who draw on, work in and provide care and support. This Government remain committed to that vision.
I am pleased to report that the Government’s upcoming plan will outline how we will make progress towards this vision. It will also provide the clarity asked for by this House on key policy areas, including outlining how we plan to allocate the funding set aside for reform. Ahead of that publication, I would like to share some of the progress that the Government have made so far.
I start with the workforce, the importance of which the noble Lords, Lord Lipsey and Lord Prentis, and the noble Baronesses, Lady O’Grady and Lady Tyler, to name just a few, focused on. This was a point reiterated by our Prime Minister the other day. We all know that the social care workforce is one of our biggest assets, but we recognise the challenge we have right now to recruit a workforce of the right size, with the right skills, that feels appropriately motivated and rewarded. The Government have taken action to boost workforce capacity with recruitment opportunities both at home and abroad, with over 55,000 visas granted for care workers and senior care workers last year. This is complemented by our national recruitment campaign, Made with Care.
To respond to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, our upcoming plan for adult social care will include proposals for a new adult social care workforce pathway, building on our commitments in the People at the Heart of Care White Paper to give a career structure for people in this vital sector. Our chief nurse champions and raises the profile and visibility of nursing in social care, working alongside the Chief Social Worker for Adults to increase the recognition and appreciation of all our care workers.
On funding in this space—this is a point noble Lords have heard me make many times before but it is worth reflecting on—the £7.5 billion increase over the next two years will flow through to workers. The vital point is that it will largely flow through into the workforce.
Many noble Lords talked about technology. We all know that to increase workforce capacity we have to significantly increase the use of digital tools. Last year, we made £35 million available to the integrated care systems to support sector digitisation, including the adoption of digital social care records. As a result, approximately 52% of providers now have a digital social care record, up from 40% in December 2021, and we have plans to extend this much further. These records can provide up to 20 minutes per care worker per shift, and allow more time to provide care and support. Good data is fundamental to the delivery of high-quality care and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, mentioned, sharing that data is vital as well. Our use and understanding of adult social care data is better than it has ever been, but we know there is a lot more to do.
From next month, our flagship client-level data project will become mandatory for local authorities in England. This will transform our understanding of people’s experiences and outcomes. For the first time, we will be able to track an individual’s journey through the health and care system to aid with navigating its difficulties—again, as mentioned by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and my noble friend Lord Polak. Also as of Monday, the Care Quality Commission will begin to assess local authorities’ delivery of their Care Act duties, including those for unpaid carers. This will make good practice, positive outcomes and outstanding quality easier to spot locally and share nationally, while identifying where improvement and additional support is needed. But as much as data and technology could help, I totally agree with the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett: there is no substitution for the loving care of a human.
To ensure that care and support is personalised to people’s needs, our White Paper rightly sets out our ambition to support high-quality, safe and suitable homes, recognising that they can help people of all ages stay independent and healthy for longer. That is why, alongside the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, we will shortly launch the older peoples’ housing taskforce. It will bring together experts from across the sector to make recommendations on how people can access the housing they need.
I turn to the area of unpaid carers, which we all agree is the backbone. As noble Lords are aware, it is something that I have personal experience of. The point was brought out very well by my noble friend Lady Fraser, among others, because it is important that we recognise the vital role that unpaid carers play in our communities. We all owe them a debt of gratitude. Under the Care Act 2014, local authorities are required to undertake a carer’s assessment for any unpaid carer who appears to have a need for support, and to meet their eligible needs on request from that carer. This year, we have earmarked over £290 million for unpaid carers through the better care fund, including to provide short breaks and respite services. It is a step in the right direction; I use those words advisedly because carers are a vital area, as many noble Lords, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, have recognised, and there is a lot more that we need to do.
I hope that I have addressed many of the questions as I have gone through. I will try to pick up a few others and, as ever, follow up in writing in detail. It will be after the reports are published next week—and, to answer the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, yes, we are planning to publish more on people at the heart of social care next week.
In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, yes, the ICBs will be at the forefront of this system for the planning and provision of social care. However, I will need to come back in writing on his question around the role of the DWP in analysing and reporting in this space.
In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, we definitely embrace the principles of co-production. I hope that will come out in the report itself, as we work with 200 stakeholders in the provision of it all. We really hope to see the ICBs at the forefront of this and the better care fund being a key part of co-production.
I was struck by the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, about 90 year-olds caring for 70 year-olds. I await my next Oral Question after the Recess.
The noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, asked about help for providers on energy funding. Again, I hope noble Lords would agree that we have provided significant help. I am glad to see that, the last time I looked, gas prices were lower than last summer, when the action was prompted. They are moving in the right direction, but it is probably an example of needing to watch this space, while being mindful of the issue at stake there.
I hope that I have answered many of the questions raised. In conclusion, over the past year, the Government have invested significantly and have secured another £7.5 billion of funding for over the next two years—but this is only the start of the journey.
This is one of the areas covered in the report that will be published next week. At this stage, I can say only that the need for the training and development of our social care staff is understood and recognised in that report. I hope that it will give a response to the noble Baroness’s question, and that she understands why I cannot say more at this point.
Taking the words of the Select Committee’s report, I hope that these actions show that we are moving in the right direction
“to live in the place we call home, with the people … we love”,
based on faith, value and our own mutual responsibility in delivering that aim. Once again, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for securing the debate and this valuable opportunity to discuss the future of adult social care. I reiterate the hope that we can all gather at a round table to discuss this once the report has been announced and we have responded to the various other reports. Finally, I extend my thanks to everyone who works in the social care sector and to the unpaid carers for everything they do to support others.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for his response, for the compassion he shows and for the shared values we clearly hold across the Chamber. He had a difficult job trying to sum up and satisfy the consensus of opinion and expertise across the House while not being able to tell us what the national plan will contain. We regret that it will be published in the Recess. We would like an immediate opportunity to debate it. I hope that business managers will give us that opportunity as soon as possible when we come back, and that we can have a substantial debate on it, as well as on the Select Committee’s report. In the meantime, I think that everyone would be very grateful to join him and officials around a table, not least because it signals the inclusivity which marks the debate and marks what my noble friend Lord Turnberg called the “noise” that has been associated with the debate for so long. We want to take up that offer.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Polak, for identifying the need to take politics out of social care, because that is only too evidently what needs to happen. We must be as committed to finding the investment, particularly in the workforce, as we are to making sure that we understand the values we share.
I thank everyone who has taken part; it has been an exceptional debate. I thank noble Lords for their generous response to both reports. It was very good that we had the opportunity to listen to the most reverend Primate and the right reverend Prelate on the notion of a covenant and the very specific overlap in the consensus about what needs to be done—it has been an incredibly valuable opportunity because of that.
There have been very valuable speeches from across the Chamber, including from my noble friend on the Front Bench. It has been a comprehensive debate, but it has been as broad and rich as it has been deep because of the personal experience that it has called up, as well as the range of professional experience and the types of caring that people know about—learning disabilities, elderly care, disabled people. We heard from the trade union perspective the challenge of reconstructing a workforce that is modern and fit for the future. We heard from the unpaid carers’ perspective.
It has been an extraordinarily important debate for the Minister, because the challenges that have been articulated and the detail have been rooted in real experience over many years across this House. This House has a very long memory, having been here before, time and again. This is the time for change. Whatever is in that national care plan will be tested to destruction against our experience of 20 to 30 years of waiting and hoping for something better and bringing it to the boil in different ways. Nothing about this is easy and nothing will be particularly quick, but let us have some clarity, total transparency and reality, but let us also have that vision. The most reverend Primate started by asking who is responsible. That is such a fundamental question, and the answer is that we all are. That is something that has come out in the inclusive nature of this debate as well. With that, I beg to move.
Climate Change in Developing Countries
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, earlier this month the United Nations launched its latest global warming report, claiming that there needs to be a cut of 80% in CO2 emissions by 2040 in order to limit warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade. If it should go beyond 1.5 degrees centigrade, the impact of heatwaves, drought and sea level rises will become significantly more extreme. That report, compiled by 93 of the world’s top climate scientists, was approved by UN members at talks at Interlaken in Switzerland. It says that cash flows to help developing countries cut their emissions must be raised by six times over current levels.
In the next few moments, I will talk about mini case histories of countries that I have visited and know in a bit of depth. As it happens, on Saturday 18 March, I went to my old college, St Catharine’s, and listened to Professor Willis talking about Antarctica. Not too many people live there: indeed, none are recognised as living in Antarctica. Professor Willis is a glaciologist. He and his colleagues measure the effects of changing glaciers and ice sheets. They believe it is exceptionally important that the planet moves to net zero as soon as possible and tries to keep the planet’s global average temperature rises below 1.5 degrees to avert devastating impacts on human and economic life and climate change. They have done some measuring of glaciers and global sea level: the sea level is rising at an accelerating rate. Between 1901 and 1971 it rose 1.3 millimetres a year, but between 2006 and 2018 it rose 3.7 millimetres a year—nearly three times as much.
These scientists try to predict the future of the planet and their view is that there is a particular case that they believe is possible within the confines of what I have already mentioned, whereby, by going to net zero by 2050, we will just about survive. These scientists are quite adamant, though, that it is exceptionally important for countries to move to net zero by 2050, otherwise the effects will be totally devastating for the life of all of us on this planet.
That is Antarctica. Secondly, I will say a few words about the Falklands. I had the privilege of representing Parliament 10 years after we recovered the Falklands. They have gone on and done a good bit of work, and all praise to them. They have had a plan, since 2018 through to the current year, which they call the comprehensive environment strategy. Every time a decision is taken in the Falklands, they look at the environmental impact. That is not a bad place to start. They recognise, though, that this may mean that some of the traditional, practical side of life may have to change there, but they are a small country—just 3,000 people—and they need help from us.
My third case history is Samoa, right in the middle of the Pacific, which, again, I had the privilege to visit. It comprises nine small islands in the middle of nowhere. Its Prime Minister stated recently that while we are all impacted, the degree of the impact in Samoa’s circumstances is enormous. In Samoa, there are already communities who have moved from one low-lying atoll to another to ensure that they can live safely. They know full well that, unless something happens, rising storms will remove Samoa from the world.
I will say a few words about the Cayman Islands. I declare an interest: my youngest son works there. They know what hurricanes are like. I have seen the results of hurricanes, on the ground in the Cayman Islands. The results were horrific. Every year, they worry particularly in the hurricane season, around September. I wonder why His Majesty’s Government are providing some special resources to Antigua, Barbuda, Jamaica and Saint Lucia, providing a person called a climate advisor, whereas the Cayman Islands, with 66,000 people, the Turks and Caicos Islands, with 3,900, and Bermuda, with 62,000, at the moment get nothing.
Finally, I will look at some bigger countries. I will start with the Maldives—I have had the privilege of chairing the all-party group on that country, although I am not currently the chairman—and Sri Lanka, which has a population of about 21.6 million, about one-third of the UK. I have been involved with Sri Lanka since 1975, when I started the all-party group. The Sri Lankans know what disaster is. A few days after the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004, my wife and I went out there to try to help. One thousand people were killed in a single train; thousands were killed just by two waves that came in at a huge height, and demolished the south and the south east, roughly speaking, so the Sri Lankans know what disaster means.
I am very proud to read what the current Prime Minister of Sri Lanka said when he was at COP 27. He made it quite clear that his is a country that admits it is in financial difficulties. It was hit hard by Covid and, sadly, has experienced war, and it is now seeking the help of the IMF. Nevertheless, it is trying hard to do something in relation to what I have just been talking about. He claims that Sri Lanka has commenced the process of reducing carbon emissions. It has initiated marine spatial planning and established a climate office, which in itself is a good thing to do. It is leading the Commonwealth blue charter action group on mangrove eco-systems, and overcoming the obstacle of communication, in that it thinks it would be valuable if there was an international climate change university. He has offered to set it up in Sri Lanka and work with an ancillary university in the Maldives, so there is co-ordination.
However, the Sri Lankan Prime Minister also pointed out recently:
“It’s ironic that the $100bn pledged annually has not been available in the coffers to finance climate challenges”.
Understandably, the Sri Lankans would like some action on that front. In their view and mine, the developing countries are worst affected by the rise in emissions from the industrialised world, and they really need to be compensated for that degree of loss.
I conclude with a brief summary. The time has come for us to sit down together, stop the talking and take some practical action. I should like to see the Commonwealth, assisted by His Majesty’s Foreign Office, to create a task force with the varied skills to give advice, help and motivation for the plans for the small dependencies and countries such as those I referred to. They need a clear policy framework to know what is possible and what can be financed. I know there is a joint fund, split between the FCDO, the Department for Business and Trade and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but, frankly, it is too cumbersome and is not targeted precisely enough. My right honourable friend in the other place said that finance is key to deliver the trillions of dollars needed for climate change, but I do not think we have that structure at the moment.
We have not listened carefully enough to the likes of Professor Willis, who was the man I listened to the other Saturday. It is so important to the world to move to net zero by 2050, and doing so will limit global warming and sea levels rising to more manageable levels. If we do not, it will be the biggest crisis ever faced by humanity.
My Lords, of the 54 members of the Commonwealth, 32 are small states and 25 are small island developing states. As I have no doubt the Minister will say, the Government accept that many of these are vulnerable to the effects of climate change and natural disasters. Many are low-income countries with poor access to basic services and subsistence farming. The effects of climate change can be catastrophic in these circumstances.
Moreover, as a House of Commons Select Committee said,
“climate change … exacerbates … inequalities and amplifies risk and deprivation for the most vulnerable, including children.”
According to the UN, women and children are 14 times more likely to die in a disaster than men. With every disaster, women’s rights and progress towards gender equality are threatened. “Loss and damage” is the term invented at COP to focus on vulnerable countries suffering from the unavoidable negative impact of climate change that cannot be prevented with adaptation methods. Examples are sudden violent storms and floods, as happened in Pakistan, or slow-onset changes, such as sea level rises, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Naseby. They are taking place because of the global failure to mitigate them and the need for considerable financial resources and investment in the green economy to address them.
Although there was a breakthrough at COP 27, which established a new fund for loss and damage, the question remains as to how it will be implemented. The UK has a seat on the UN transitional committee examining this, so what do we intend to do to ensure sufficient funds will be made available to meet the needs of poor countries, particularly those in the Commonwealth with which we have historic ties? So far, there has not been enough commitment from rich and polluting countries, including the UK. Can the Minister tell the House what was agreed at the very recent meeting of this committee in Egypt? Will he accept that the only specific loss and damage commitment made so far is a promise to pay £5 million under the Santiago network—a miniscule amount given the recent estimates that developing countries could face more than $500 billion in annual damage by 2030 and that by 2050 the economic cost of loss and damage could reach $1 trillion?
Although the UK has made a larger commitment under the international climate finance programme, UN predictions suggest that this is not nearly enough. Given that the ODA budget is seriously squeezed by the decision to move from 0.7% to 0.5% of GNI and now by the huge inroads into this budget being spent within the UK on refugees from Ukraine and elsewhere, is there not a case for finding resources for climate finance focused on mitigation and adaptation from outside the ODA budget? Also, should not the UK take the lead in mobilising new finance more widely in the spirit of Alok Sharma’s argument that there is a need—
“to incentivise every aspect of the international system to recognise the systemic risk of climate change”.
He included multilateral development banks and the private sector. The Commonwealth is one of the forums where this should be done. The start the UK made in helping to form the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub needs to be taken forward, with an emphasis on developing green economies in the most affected countries. What are the Government’s plans, especially but not exclusively in small island countries?
Lastly, what steps are being taken to obtain contributions from the private sector, notably fossil-fuel companies? The industry is heavily subsidised around the world, and in the UK it has been making excessive profits. Is it not now time for taxes and levies on these profits to be used on the “polluter pays” principle to address loss and damage?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, for tabling this Question. In his travelogue, he mentioned, to my alarm, the areas for which I am directly responsible—I suppose because they could not go anywhere else—notably, the Falkland Islands, Antarctica, Sri Lanka and Bermuda; I do not know what is going to happen to Kent.
The OECD’s most recent States of Fragility report found that, in 2022, 23% of the world’s population were living in fragile contexts, often linked to climate change, but 73% of the world’s extreme poor were. This figure is projected to rise to 86% of the world’s poor on the lowest incomes by 2030. For the Anglican Communion, within 165 countries over 150 of them are affected by such changes.
Climate change is one of the three chief causes of fragility highlighted in the OECD report. Climate change is not in and of itself the driver of violent conflict; however, it is a significant force multiplier, and violent conflict is the easiest way of preventing people from taking any action on climate change by making such action impossible. Drought, flooding, food shortages, desertification, other natural disasters, and even the disappearance entirely of some land, all increase the chances of large numbers of people having to move to survive—and their movement creates conflict. In 2019 alone, 24.9 million people around the world were internally displaced by climate-related disasters; that is more than the total number of refugees in 1945.
Global faith leaders meeting at the Vatican just before COP 26 were told by the head of the IPCC that at our present rate of progress, climate change-driven migration could increase to as much as 800 million or more by 2050. Environmental peacebuilding suggests that partnerships will be required to mitigate conflict and enable the control of changes to the environment. What action are the Government taking to consider the current and future risks of climate change-driven conflict, and will they look at opportunities for environmental peacebuilding and at where reconciliation approaches might best take root between competing and conflicting groups?
The Integrated Review Refresh 2023 uses the words “peace” 14 times, “climate change” 16 times—but only once in terms of threat multiplication—and “reconciliation” zero times. In the past, the Government were committed to preventing conflict through a mediation unit set up in 2018 or thereabouts, but during and since Covid that unit has been run down to two people and gets no mention in the review. Will the Minister undertake to address this issue? We would be glad to work with him on this, using our considerable global experience and expertise. Following our introductions, the UN’s Mediation Support Unit has been mentoring and training Anglican bishop peacebuilders in northern Mozambique and is starting in South Sudan and possibly the DRC. The UK Government used to be ahead here but are now far behind in this much cheaper and more effective means of dealing with conflict than any other means.
Secondly, there is an urgent need for developing countries facing the brunt of climate change to develop resilience. For example, Malawi’s maize yields could fall by a fifth by 2050 without action, but with climate-smart policies, its production could increase by more than 700%. Kew Gardens is also developing climate change-resistant coffee for west Africa. Will the Minister outline how much money the UK contributes each year towards climate resilience in developing countries? Will he give an update on when it is likely that we will return to our 0.7% target for ODA, as promised? The deployment of the additional 0.2% on supporting developing countries to adapt in the face of rising temperatures and climate-related disasters will be far cheaper for this country in the long term than dealing with the consequences of such disasters.
Finally, for the poorest and most affected countries, it is too late to adapt to climate change. Finance for loss and damage, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, was agreed in principle at COP 27, but much work needs to be done to pin it down. The fund should make grants, not loans; it should be comprised of new money rather than that taken from existing or reduced pledges; and it should be allocated on the basis of need, paid for by countries that have contributed most to climate change. Will the Minister update the House on the UK’s involvement in providing finance for loss and damage and how it fits with our other funding commitments?
My Lords, I agree with all the speakers thus far. I want to concentrate my remarks on the Commonwealth in particular and how we should be helping it. The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, specifically asked the Government what the plans are for new economic policies—not a rehearsal of what we have done in the past but what we can do in the future.
Some 2 billion to 2.5 billion people live in Commonwealth countries. They have a special rapport with our country. We have undertaken, in general terms, to deepen co-operation with them on climate change, nature loss and environmental depletion.
I endorse the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, about Sri Lanka, with which I am also very familiar. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, remarked, we have lands in the Commonwealth, and islands, but Sri Lanka is a noble combination of the two: a massive block of land that is an island similar to ours. We must not underestimate a country of 20 million people that has one of the highest literacy rates in Asia. They are capable of doing well and are now receiving IMF special funds, subject to restrictions and conditions, following Covid.
I turn to the current situation in the Commonwealth from our point of view. We were the head of the Commonwealth Heads of Government unit from the time of the 2018 CHOGM. We produced a Foreign Office communiqué last year, updating three things we have undertaken to do. The Climate Finance Access Hub is still going, but to what extent or how is not known. There is the Commonwealth Blue Charter—co-operation on ocean-related issues—and the funding of dedicated climate advisers to island countries, particularly in the Caribbean: £38 million for 23 programmes. Finally, there is a strategy for funding international development. What else is on the books? What are we prepared to spend, and when and how do we propose to implement it? These are questions properly to be asked by our citizens, not just the citizens of Commonwealth countries who are suffering more than us.
On 13 March—two weeks ago—the integrated review concerning the environment was dealt with in the other House. The summary of the matters that were discussed was dealt with by the Foreign Secretary. The Opposition particularly criticised him for a lack of emphasis on co-operation with the Commonwealth. He replied with these remarkable words:
“I reassure the House that even if not written down explicitly, it"—
“is absolutely interwoven throughout this document.”—[Official Report, Commons, 13/3/23; col. 555.]
If anybody can understand that, please come and explain it to me afterwards. “Absolutely interwoven”: do we now have a new species of documentary telepathy that we are supposed to use to interpret public policy? Surely, we can have some frank talking: what are the plans, how much, and when?
Action is required now. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to which the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, referred, took eight years to compile its report. It is probably one of the most profound examinations of these issues that has ever been undertaken, anywhere in the world. A critic of our Government says in the report that the window for rescue is shrinking, especially the limiting of global warming to 1.5 degrees, thereby avoiding risk to us and our descendants. United Nations Secretary-General Guterres said that the climate time bomb is ticking. This report is our survival guide to living, for all of us.
I have here, to show noble Lords and noble Baronesses, a copy of the Environment and Climate Change Committee report produced by this House; it is one of the thickest I have ever seen and one of the most comprehensive I have ever read. It called for action six months ago. The Climate Change Committee in the Commons said the need for a plan was critical. Action now—but when, how much and how far?
My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, both for initiating this debate and for his excellent speech. I also thank noble Lords on all sides for their excellent contributions. I declare my interest as the chief executive of United Against Malnutrition and Hunger.
There are three principal arguments that I want to make today. The first is that, although the UK—under Governments of all colours—has been in the vanguard of climate leadership, there is still a huge gap between where we are and where we need to be. The fact that the gap is even greater for some other industrial nations is no excuse for us.
Secondly, the people who are on the front line of the world’s failure to act are those who have contributed least to climate change and are most vulnerable to its effects. Unless the UK and the rest of the industrialised world radically adjust our economic approach, we are going to bring further misery upon those countries and their people and, ultimately, ourselves.
Thirdly, there is a real danger that “green” is becoming a dirty word in many front-line climate states, where there is growing anger at the rich world’s failure to act, our tendency to lecture and our refusal to take responsibility for the damage that has already been and continues to be done.
The facts, as we have heard, are stark. According to the World Meteorological Organization’s report, Provisional State of the Global Climate 2022, the rate of sea level rise has doubled since 1993 and the 10-year average warming for the period 2013 to 2022 is now estimated to be 1.14 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial baseline, compared with 1.09 degrees Celsius between 2011 and 2020. Further, ocean heat was at record levels in 2021—the latest year that it was assessed—and the upper 2,000-metre depth of the ocean continues to warm, a change that is irreversible on centennial to millennial timescales. The World Bank estimates that climate change could push an additional 100 million people below the poverty line by 2030. The Pentagon describes climate change as a “threat multiplier” and a “key driver of fragility”. Stanford University research estimates that climate change has increased economic inequality between developed and developing economies by 25% since 1960.
Meanwhile, millions of people in Africa, Asia and Latin America are being pushed into food crises by extreme climate events, the frequency of which has doubled since 1990. Indeed, in the short time that we are taking for this debate alone, 354 children will have died of malnutrition. This crisis is being exacerbated by climate change; and of course, as the most reverend Primate highlighted, the climate is having an impact on migration and conflict.
Yet no country is acting with anything like the urgency that the situation demands. Today, we have had an announcement from the Government that has, I am afraid, only underscored the chasm that exists between rhetoric and reality. As I say, in the front-line climate states, there is a growing sense of anger and cynicism as a result. I was recently in South Africa as part of a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation, and I was struck by how insulated we are from that sense of anger and injustice, which is felt not just in South Africa but across the continent.
Countries are tired of being told to keep their carbon wealth in the ground by people who got rich off the back of burning theirs and continue to do so, and who refuse to compensate developing economies for keeping theirs in the ground or to help finance the transition to new energy sources. These countries want climate justice, which for them means recognition of loss and damage, and compensation, not just concessionary finance or no finance at all. As Oxfam’s briefing pointed out, while COP 27 achieved a historic breakthrough in establishing a fund for loss and damage, how this is operationalised will be critical.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, mentioned our membership of the Transitional Committee and how important it is that we play a progressive role in that. However, as a country, we have yet to make a financial commitment for loss and damage, and our climate finance, which was meant to be additional to overseas development assistance, has come entirely from our depleted ODA funding. The UK International Climate Finance Strategy, published today, seems to continue to take this position. I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us whether the £11.6 billion mentioned in the statement is new money or money coming from existing resources?
We need to get real. We need to think much more profoundly about what things such as the Just Energy Transition Partnership with South Africa mean, and what climate justice means. Certainly, many in South Africa feel that “justice” and “partnership” are far more evident in rhetoric than in reality. For a long time, we have talked as if climate change were something that might happen if we did not sort things out soon. But it is not; it is something that is happening now. The water is literally heating up around us, and the tragedy is that the first victims are those least responsible and most vulnerable. That surely is a morally unsustainable position. As the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, concluded, it is time to stop talking and start acting with the urgency required. Otherwise, humanity faces its greatest calamity.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, for initiating this debate, which makes the case that global development and climate action are intrinsically linked. The APPG on the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development made the point at the end of last year that delivering the sustainable development goals can also address climate change. This was evidenced by the most reverend Primate in his contribution.
In terms of how we set the example, what steps are the Government taking to incorporate the SDGs into the nationally determined contribution plans under the Paris Agreement? As my noble friend Lady Blackstone reminded us, of the 54 Commonwealth members, 32 are small states and 25 are small island developing states. As we have heard in the debate, many of these countries are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and natural disasters. Last year, the Commons International Development Committee identified climate change as one of the three recent drivers of poverty around the world. The others of course were the Covid-19 pandemic and the increased levels of conflict. The committee also described climate change as a threat multiplier, arguing that it exacerbated existing inequalities and amplified the risk of deprivation of the most vulnerable, including children.
Multilateralism is key to agreeing policies which can help the world, including developing countries, to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Of course, the United Nations provides great opportunities for the United Kingdom to lead on climate action. Do the Government agree that climate should be promoted as the fourth pillar of the United Nations? The Commonwealth is also vital to multilateral action and as an institution that can tackle climate change. As the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, reminded us, the final communiqué of the London CHOGM included a commitment to take urgent action to mitigate climate change, reduce vulnerability and, as the most reverend Primate said, increase resilience.
Last year’s FCDO update on progress in meeting that commitment highlighted the support through the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub and the Commonwealth Blue Charter with funding, as the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, said, to support the deployment of dedicated climate advisers in Antigua and Barbuda, Jamaica and St Lucia. In their strategy for international development, the Government stated that the UK would help small island developing states develop both “economic and climate resilience” through international aid and climate finance support, with the goal of enabling these countries to no longer need United Kingdom aid by 2030. What is the Government’s current assessment of meeting that target?
The integrated review refresh made a commitment to strengthen the resilience of the most vulnerable Commonwealth members to climate change, nature loss and environmental degradation. In presenting that refresh Statement to the Commons, the Foreign Secretary said that he would be meeting the leaders of Commonwealth countries that week. What was the outcome of those discussions? What progress was made?
Earlier this month, I met the senior team at BII, which is nearly midway through its five-year strategy. They committed by 2026 that at least 30% of total new commitments by value will be in climate finance, making it one of the world’s largest climate investors in Africa. I was struck by two programmes that they highlighted to me. One was the new investment partnership to scale sustainable forestry across sub-Saharan Africa; the other was a new investment in Bangladesh which aims to accelerate transition of critical economic sectors, such as the garments industry, to more resource-efficient production. Both are good examples of where development finance can effectively deliver against the twin challenges of climate change and economic development, both vital if we are to achieve the STG agenda.
In conclusion, can the Minister tell us what discussions he or the department have had on the progress of the BII strategy, mid-way through, and what prominence will be given to climate change in developing the next five-year plan?
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, for securing this debate. As he illustrated with frightening clarity, climate change and biodiversity loss are the defining challenges of our time and many developing countries including Commonwealth members are particularly vulnerable.
This is not a futuristic scenario. This is not all about predicting where we are going to end up, much as that matters and is important, but, as the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury pointed out, it is happening now. He made that point forcefully and extremely well and it was picked up and echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Collins.
Just in the last year we have seen drought in Australia, flooding in New Zealand and record weather patterns in Pakistan, causing mayhem for millions of people. We have seen heatwaves in India claim lives and wipe out livelihoods. The recent report, which has been mentioned a few times, from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finds that nearly half the world’s population live in the danger zone of climate impacts. It is also estimated that climate change will push 100 million people into poverty by 2030. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, made clear, the pain will be felt and is being felt disproportionately by women and girls. I reassure her that this is recognised and reflected in the programmes we are developing and have already developed.
Meanwhile, extreme weather and damage to nature are fuelling a raft of other problems—food insecurity, water scarcity, pandemics and, as the most reverend Primate said, conflict and instability to name just a few. Unprecedented global action is therefore needed to tackle climate change and to protect and restore nature on a scale that we have never seen before. This must be coupled with full-scale economic transformation, the global shift to net zero, and climate-resilient and, crucially, nature-positive economies. It will require trillions of dollars of investment. I will come back to that point in a few moments.
In this, the UK values its strong relationship with our fellow Commonwealth members. In an increasingly turbulent world, this family of free nations continues to work together to advance our common values and address our shared challenges. Key among them, the thread that runs through them all, is a terrible concern about what we are doing to the world’s climate and environment.
As was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, in total the Commonwealth represents 2.5 billion people, so this is an incredibly valuable club and we can get more out of it on this agenda. However, the Commonwealth has long been a strong advocate for the concerns of its most vulnerable members. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that this includes the 25 small island developing states. Although they are not part of the Commonwealth, I include the British Overseas Territories, which were referenced earlier, in response to my noble friend Lord Naseby. I believe that I am the first Minister to have the overseas territories mentioned in my title and I intend to do everything I can to be their champion in government. The Foreign Office, or FCDO, is like air traffic control for the OTs; the levers of delivery are across Whitehall. I have been bombarding colleagues across government with very bossy letters about the need to step up and support our overseas territories much more than we are doing at the moment.
At the last Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, leaders including the UK stressed the urgency of enhancing climate ambition and action in this current critical decade. At CHOGM 2018, leaders adopted the Commonwealth Blue Charter, which has already been mentioned—an agreement to tackle marine environment problems. The UK is a member of six of the 10 action groups set up to deliver the charter and has provided support to progress the work of all the groups. The UK will continue to use its voice on the international stage to advocate for Commonwealth countries. That includes placing action on climate and nature at the forefront of our international agenda.
We know that the commitments that we secured at COP 26 will count for nothing if they are not delivered. Under our presidency, developed countries made some genuinely strong new commitments on climate finance, with many doubling or even quadrupling their support. The UK is leading by example in delivering our commitment to double our international climate finance to £11.6 billion by the financial year 2025-26. The Government fully expect to be held to account on that promise and will not leave the next Government, whoever they might be, with an impossible task in the final year. I am very pleased to make that commitment today.
Our commitment also includes investing at least £3 billion in solutions that protect and restore nature, and tripling adaptation finance from 2019 levels to £1.5 billion. I think I am responding here to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Oates, but I cannot read my own writing. He raised 0.7% again, and he is right; I agree. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury made the same point, and he is right too. I would love to see us return to 0.7%, but it is not something that I am capable of doing. I am very keen to see it happen as soon as possible, but I am afraid that I cannot say anything more useful about it.
The noble Lord, Lord Oates, also talked about the UK in the world. We can do much more, but it is not fair to say that we are isolated. We are seen by numerous countries around the world as the primary champion among rich countries on nature, forests, climate, indigenous people in local communities and making sure that small island and climate-vulnerable states get more finance. That is a general view and it is merited, but I acknowledge that we need to do much more.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, mentioned that he had a meeting with BII a few days ago. I think that BII has the capacity to be an incredibly valuable tool; it can leverage a lot of extra money. I strongly encourage BII to focus more on small island states and climate-vulnerable nations. It is harder to do, which is why the government bank—if you like—is well placed to intervene in those kinds of countries, as the private sector will not. I would encourage it to do much more of that and to focus on the natural environment much more, because there is no pathway to solving climate change that does not involve nature. But I agree with the noble Lord’s broader points about that.
Our refreshed integrated review, published this month, places our work to tackle climate change, environmental damage and biodiversity loss as the first thematic priority. Today’s plan is another step forward. It outlines how the Government will boost the country’s energy security and independence, reduce household bills and maintain a world-leading position on net zero. We will also continue to lead internationally, building on our COP 26 presidency. Two documents we are publishing today are the 2030 strategic framework, which I really do encourage people to have a look at—I suspect it will be ignored by the media, but is one of the most important documents that the Government have produced; it really intelligently identifies the importance of nature in this challenge, not just climate change but poverty as well—and the international climate finance strategy. They show what this leadership actually looks like.
We are delivering on our commitments, including the £11.6 billion that contributes to the $100 billion global climate finance goal each year. The international climate finance strategy sets out our ambition to support the clean energy transition, protect and restore nature and biodiversity, facilitate adaptation and build resilience, and develop sustainable cities, infrastructure and transport. Since 2011, our international climate finance investments have helped, we believe, more than 95 million people in developing countries to cope with the effects of climate change. Since that same year, we have spent over £1 billion in climate finance for Commonwealth countries. That includes programmes such as our UK Caribbean infrastructure and reconstruction fund, which is helping to build around 15 major climate-resilient economic infrastructure projects, and the Africa clean energy programme, which is also supporting the rollout of clean, affordable energy.
A number of noble Lords mentioned access to finance. We really are doing what we can to champion better access to finance. We know there is a problem; we know that small countries find the multilateral system almost impenetrable and impossible to navigate—that is clearly true. We are a major contributor to the multilateral system, and I have personally spoken to my counterparts among the other big contributors to ask them to join the UK in adopting a much more muscular approach. I do not think that our contributions to that system should just be unconditional; they should be conditional on it doing the stuff that the private sector cannot or will not do.
We are also pioneering innovative financial tools such as climate-resilient debt clauses; I do not have time to go into details here, but there are a number of really wonderful projects around that in the world. I am happy to talk to anyone who is interested.
We are working with forest countries, with a particular focus on the Amazon, the Congo Basin, and Indonesia, to catalyse a step change. We committed £1.5 billion as part of the pledge we secured from COP 26. In fact, at COP 27, we created a structure to ensure that every COP will now have a leader-level moment where forest countries and donor countries report back on the progress that is being made.
The UK will continue to support countries to adapt to climate change, and to avert and address the loss and damage it causes—a point that has been made by most speakers today. I would just add one thing; I am not going to repeat the moral case, which I think the noble Lord, Lord Collins, made very well. There is a gigantic gap financially between where we are and where we need to be, but that gap will not be filled by ODA; that is just not going to happen. Total global aid is $163 billion, and the cost of loss and damage, as well as repairing our relationship with the natural world, is five to seven times more than that, so it will have to come from other sources as well.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, identified the central role of climate as the fourth pillar in the UN. He will know—and I am going to have to be so brief—that Vanuatu, one of the smallest countries in the world, achieved a global sensation when it secured its resolution at the UN General Assembly whereby climate irresponsibility now becomes a potential avenue for litigation, which is a huge achievement. I really do pay tribute to Vanuatu.
I know I have basically run out of time. I am so sorry; there is so much to say on this issue. I will just finish with one point. As we recognised that commodity production is responsible for almost all deforestation, some time ago we created a dialogue, the FACT dialogue—the forest, agriculture and commodity trade dialogue—between all the key consumer and producer countries. We had our first face-to-face meeting today. We are all committed to breaking the link between commodity production and deforestation. Today’s was the most positive meeting I have ever had on that subject, and I would love someone to ask a Question at some point about this so that I can go on a bit longer. I am going to have to conclude because I am out of time. I thank noble Lords.
Before the Minister sits down, could he possibly answer my question about the private sector and the role that fossil fuel companies could play in helping to narrow this enormous gap between what is currently available in financial terms and what is needed?
I am so sorry; I know there are other questions that I also did not answer, but I spoke as fast as I physically can. We need vast amounts of money, as I said—trillions. That will largely come from the private sector—not just fossil fuel companies but the private sector across the board. Fundamentally, the challenge is not just to raise money for climate and nature. Our challenge as a species is to ensure that every decision, every investment and every political decision that is made takes into account the value of nature and the cost of destroying it. That is how we move from where we are today to where we need to be. That includes things such as subsidies. Some $700 billion a year subsidises the bad use of land and destructive land use. Imagine if that was shifted towards renewal and regeneration. That would close the nature gap immediately. There are those kinds of opportunities that we need to look for. I apologise.
Junior Doctors’ Strikes
Commons Urgent Question
My Lords, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement an Answer to an Urgent Question given in another place. The Statement is as follows:
“I am grateful to the honourable Member for his Question. I know that colleagues and constituents are concerned about the planned 96-hour walkout organised by unions representing junior doctors.
The honourable Gentleman asks about its impact. We know that during the previous walkout by junior doctors earlier this month, 181,049 appointments had to be rescheduled. With this four-day walkout, the disruption and the risks will be far greater not only because it lasts longer but because it coincides with extended public holidays and Ramadan, with knock-on effects before and after the strike action itself and because a significant proportion of junior doctors will already be on planned absence due to the holiday period.
NHS England has stated that it will prioritise a number of areas, including emergency treatment, critical care, maternity care, neonatal care and trauma, but has been clear that it cannot fully mitigate the risk of patient harm at this time. That is concerning and disappointing. Patients should not have to face such disruption, and I have invited the BMA and the HCSA to enter formal talks on pay, with the condition that they cancel strike action.
The BMA’s junior doctors committee’s refusal to engage in conversations unless we commit to delivering a 35% pay increase is unacceptable at a time of considerable economic pressure and suggests the leadership adopting a militant position, rather than working constructively with the Government in the interests of patients. None the less, we remain determined to find a settlement that not only prevents further strikes but, equally, recognises the important work of junior doctors within the NHS, just as we have done with the Agenda for Change trade unions in their disputes. We will continue to work in good faith, in the interest of everyone who uses the NHS.”
My Lords, junior doctors are being asked to do the work of many. The NHS is short of more than 150,000 staff, yet the long-promised NHS work plan remains just that—long promised. We are still waiting for the general practice plan, the review of integrated care services and the social care update. Do the Government intend to get those plans out over the Recess when Parliament is unable to scrutinise them? With a quarter of a million appointments and operations potentially facing postponement because of the forthcoming strikes, when will the Health Secretary get back around the table with the BMA, this time to take talks seriously to stop the damage to patient care?
We have taken the talks incredibly seriously. We have proven in other areas with the Agenda for Change unions that, with good will on all sides, we have managed to reach an agreement. I think most people would agree it is not a reasonable position to go in saying that, unless they get a 35% pay increase, they are not willing to have any further talks. That is not something that I believe many of us could support. We are always open to reasonable negotiation, as we have proved in the other cases, and we remain open to having that reasonable negotiation now.
My Lords, many hospital trusts are having to bring in more senior doctors in this period to cover the strikes, at what must be considerable expense. Given that quite a few trusts are already going into deficit due to inflationary pressures, will the Government be making provision to cover these additional and unexpected costs? We know that working as a junior doctor is physically intensive, but it is also a mentally exhausting line of work. The decision to strike will have put serious mental stress on junior doctors; they did not train for years to go on strike and cause this. So who is looking after the mental health and well-being of our junior doctors?
I think we all agree that the mental health and well-being of everyone in society is paramount. At the same time, I would hope that junior doctors did not feel the need to take this action. As I say, in other areas relating to Agenda for Change we have reached a good outcome. We sat down with the BMA junior doctors committee hoping to have the same constructive conversations around settlements that we had already reached, but unfortunately that was not forthcoming. So my main response to concerns in that space is this: please do not strike. Please sit down with us again and engage constructively.
My Lords, we know that a major cause of the strikes that we have recently seen in the health service relates to staff who are overstretched. That is the result of chronic shortages, which suggests a lack of adequate workforce planning. We have just heard that there are currently over 124,000 reported vacancies, according to the NHS Confederation. I repeat a question that was asked earlier, or shall at least reinforce it: when will the workforce plan be published? Without it, healthcare staff will continue to struggle to provide the level of care that they would like.
As I have mentioned many a time and am happy to mention again, the workforce plan will be announced shortly—soon. I wish I could give an exact date, but it is there. However, I am sorry to say that I do not believe that can be used as an excuse for the strike action that we are talking about now, which puts patients at risk. I know that, in other areas, the Agenda for Change unions have worked constructively with NHS trusts on derogations to protect patients, but I regret to inform the House that that is not the case now. There is lots that we need to do in the workforce space, and there is lots that we want to do around recruitment, motivation and making it a good place to work, but I would like to think that none of that means that the delay of a report is a reason to take this sort of action and put patients’ lives in danger. I do not think any of us would agree that that is a suitable reason.
My Lords, perhaps I could invite the Minister to respond to my first question, building on the points made by the right reverend Prelate. In addition to the NHS workforce plan, which we await, I remind the Minister that we are also waiting for the general practice plan, the review of integrated care services and the social care update. Could the Minister take this repeated opportunity to say whether the Government will be publishing these over the Recess? If this is so, it is obviously of concern that Parliament will not have the chance to scrutinise the plans.
Like all noble Lords, I absolutely agree that Parliament has to have every opportunity to fully assess, discuss, debate and scrutinise the plans. As noble Lords know, I cannot say when the report will be released, so I cannot say with all honesty whether it will be over the Recess or afterwards. I can only repeat the words “soon” and “shortly”, and say that there is not a definite plan to announce it over the Recess. What we fundamentally agree on is that these plans are being produced with stakeholders and a lot of consultation, and they will absolutely be subject to a lot of scrutiny, as we would expect. I expect to answer on the plans in this House, as I expect my ministerial colleagues in the other place to have to do as well.
My Lords, I rather cheekily snuck two questions in, and the Minister did not give me an answer to the first one, which in many ways is very important. Will the Government look at and support those trusts that risk going into deficit because of inflationary pressures?
I thank the noble Baroness for reminding me of that. I will need to confirm it but my guess is that, although trust are having to pay more for consultants to cover positions, unfortunately a lot of junior doctors will not turn up and so there will not be the same level of pay because there are far fewer consultants than there are positions to cover. I wish there was not that problem, candidly. I think we all wish there were enough consultants to cover the exact number of junior doctors. My hunch is that, because of that, the wage will end up being a bit less. I will check if I am wrong, though, and correct it.
Higher Education: Financial Pressures
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, it is a pleasure to open this debate. The Minister is taking her seat, and she knows that I am a bit of a schools policy obsessive, so I come to this area of education somewhat afresh—and I am pretty alarmed by what I have found.
I must start by underscoring that higher education is critical to Britain. For individual learners hoping to prosper in the future labour market, we know that, as technology and the greening of the economy deskills and demands new skills, future prospects will require higher levels of learning for more people. Employers are desperate for talent with strong cognitive and collaborative ability, and are relying on a thriving higher education sector to deliver that. For university towns and cities, the sector creates and sustains-high quality jobs. Many are anchor institutions for the local economy. They bring large numbers of students to pay rent and spend money in that economy. Universities are major property owners and developers, and their research translates into spin-outs, start-ups and consultancies. Nationally, we have a persistent problem in the economy of low productivity that needs more of these highly educated individuals who can work well with both technology and each other. Britain also needs to continue to be at the forefront of applying academic research to maintain any competitive advantage we have left post Brexit. In export terms, international students alone generated £19.5 billion in export earnings in 2020.
According to Universities UK, the sector contributes £95 billion to the economy and supports 815,000 jobs. We are the third most popular destination for international students globally and we have the highest degree completion rates in the OECD. Then last week, I woke up to the news that Cambridge University, my alma mater, alone contributes £30 billion a year to the UK economy. I have also just been reading about the impact of the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre in Manchester and the potential of the venture science doctorate being developed by Deep Science Ventures.
A healthy, vibrant higher education sector is essential as this country seeks to grow and thrive. That is why I was so alarmed to see news from places such as Norwich and Wolverhampton, and then to read last year’s National Audit Office report and the response from the Public Accounts Committee. This paints a picture of serious financial stress in the sector. The report found that the number of higher education providers with in-year deficits has risen from 1% to 15% in the last five years and that 20 have been in deficit for at least three years. In 2020-21, 43 out of 254 higher education institutions were reporting deficits and the net operating cashflow of the sector had halved. These problems cover the full range of types of higher education institution, suggesting a set of systemic issues that cannot be written off as a hangover from Covid. So what is going on?
Put simply, it appears that the university business model is teetering. Universities rely on four sources of income: government funding, tuition fees, research grants and other income such as property investments, IP exploitation, conferences and endowments. These are just the kinds of things that allow the rich, such as Oxford and Cambridge, to get richer while the rest struggle. The balance between tuition fee income from UK students and UK government funding has shifted significantly in the last decade, and this is the core of the problem. In 2010, funding from government was close to three times the level of tuition fee income. Ten years later, following the raising of tuition fees to over £9,000 and cuts in government funding, fee income was almost 2.7 times the level of government funding—an almost straight swap. This reliance on fees for half of income is so important in understanding the problems.
For good reason, the Government have capped fees since 2017 and they are now fixed until at least 2024. But galloping inflation means that, in real terms, the fee of £9,250 is now worth just £6,585 and government funding has not then filled the gap. Ours is the lowest level of government funding for universities in the OECD, hence the financial pressures. Teaching domestic students is now done at a loss, so recruiting more UK students to fill the gap does not necessarily help. That has led some to rely on international students; income from this source has been growing rapidly, by around 12% per year—but I do not believe that this can continue for ever. Students pay the highest fees in the OECD and are starting to get less in return. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that spending on students fell by 18% in real terms in the last 10 years, as universities try to make savings.
I take over as chair of the Council of British International Schools in May. Four hundred schools around the world are members, educating over 165,000 students, and their recent survey was revealing. It found that 96% of their pupils go on to university: 44% of them in the UK, 19% in their host country and the remainder shopping around globally. What is striking is that the UK is becoming less attractive, with 29% of schools reporting it as a decreasing choice of destination for their students. Why is that?
When asked, the students give a variety of reasons. For 65%, it is the cost; 35% mention Brexit; and 26% mention the cost of the visas and the post-study work entitlement. What a massive lost opportunity. Public First recently did some work for Universities UK and found that 64% of the public believed that the UK should host the same number of—or more—international students. Given that the continued growth of overseas students is crucial to relieving the financial pressures on universities that I have set out, can the Minister update us, in her response, on whether the Government plan further restrictions on international students? Can she confirm the Government’s commitment to the graduate visa route and whether they remain committed to their international education strategy? The Turing scheme is a relative success and nurtures an important global mindset by facilitating international student exchange. Therefore, it makes no sense for us not to do our utmost to reciprocate by hosting more students in this country.
Alongside the increasing income from students, it is reasonable to ask whether there is more that universities should and could do in terms of savings. There are problems here with the impact on staff leading to further industrial action, but there are also questions of what that means for students themselves. Students are already struggling with the cost of living crisis and a student maintenance package that is the lowest in seven years. They are borrowing money, half of which will never be repaid. Teaching has been cut and accommodation is hard to find for too many. Post Covid, many students are struggling with mental health problems and have lost out on teaching contact time due to strikes, so dropout rates have increased, further hitting university finances. This is especially important for our public services. Of the MillionPlus members, 66% of university graduates work in the public sector, and they tell us that applications for nursing are down by over 18%, when we need an increase of 20% to meet our targets. As the Minister knows, there is a similar story for teachers, where applications from those wanting to enter teacher training are down by over 15% and are much worse in priority secondary school subjects. I do not believe that further savings that impact on the student experience are sustainable.
The other pressure on our university system comes in the critical area of research. The research function of British universities punches well above its weight. We have one of the lowest levels of investment in the OECD, yet the academic impact of our work is ranked the highest in the G7. Funding is based both on overall university performance and on grant funding for specific projects. However, it is not designed to recover the full cost of undertaking the research. In 2020, only 71% of research costs were recovered, which means using income from teaching funding and elsewhere to fill the gap. I have already discussed the problems in that area. Clearly, the lack of access to the €84 billion Horizon scheme has added to these problems as one of the self-inflicted harms of the Brexit deal with the EU. I am delighted that the Windsor agreement allows that to be reopened. Can the Minister update the House on the progress of those negotiations?
All of that said, the state of university finances looks a bit of a mess. Government policy deliberately shifted universities to a reliance on fee income. The reality of that creating unsustainable levels of debt has meant capping that source, so this vital sector is now in some trouble. We need innovation and change; there is no easy solution. Having seen the economic reality of gambling with our money, thanks to Liz Truss, we also know that there is no magic money tree. While we are waiting for change across our education ecosystem to create something fit for purpose for people and the economy, we also need an answer to give confidence to the sector. We have seen, through councils such as Croydon and Thurrock, that, when push comes to shove, the Treasury will intervene to stop our local authorities from going belly-up. I hope that I have made the case that our universities are too important for us to allow them to be vulnerable.
The Government did the right thing in protecting customers in the wake of the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank earlier this month. Can the Minister assure us that, somewhere between the Office for Students, the Department for Education and the Treasury, someone is working on a plan B so that students and staff at our universities will be assured that they will not be left high and dry, as the business model for our universities looks like it might be running out of road? I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, on introducing this very timely debate. I will briefly mention three aspects: international co-operation between universities; the extent to which reciprocal university programmes can also be supported by their cities, regions, industries and communities; and the relevance of public/private partnerships in funding, both here and abroad, studies and learning, including in higher education.
International co-operation between higher education institutions is able to reduce financial costs by sharing human resources, while achieving improved education and research results, thus preparing students better for their future professional challenges in a globalised world. There are two immediate facilitators. First, EU Horizon grant funding for research is still available, for a short while, for United Kingdom institutions in their own right. Secondly, Horizon funding of partnerships will continue to apply to an institution in the United Kingdom, provided its partner is within the EU. One example is the proposed partnership between the Scottish University of the Highlands and Islands and the University of Zadar in Croatia. In helping to put this together, I declare an interest as recent chairman of the Council of Europe’s Education and Culture Committee and as current chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Croatia.
The second point relates to the ways in which corresponding cities and regions also gain from reciprocal university programmes. Of course, the more advantages accrue not just to the universities but to their regions and communities as well, the more university costs themselves can decrease as a result. UHI and Zadar University each happen to be researching new technologies for greener energy in any case, on the Cromarty Firth and the Adriatic coast respectively. Equally, they are each researching into improved conditions and opportunities for people living in their similar locations of remote areas and islands. However, joint efforts will assist those universities and their localities to a greater extent, while also expediting, earlier than otherwise, constructive outcomes from research. Here, then, are obvious examples of how, at reduced costs, universities and communities alike stand to benefit considerably from international partnerships and their focused designs.
In this context, together with the Department for Education, what plans does the Minister have to encourage partnerships between United Kingdom universities and others within the EU, thereby ensuring that the United Kingdom has access to EU funding for higher education and research as a third country and non-EU member state—purposes which, in its present form, the Turing scheme cannot facilitate? Does she also agree that revised entitlement to funding, such as for the Horizon scheme, should apply uniformly, without differentiating across the United Kingdom?
Then, as an active member of its intergovernmental committee, there is the United Kingdom’s position as a key operator within the human rights affiliation of 46 states of the Council of Europe, which in Strasbourg has prepared the European outline convention for cross border co-operation at local level. Higher education institutions in the United Kingdom will wish to take up this opportunity. How will the Department for Education assist them to do so?
Online learning proved its worth during the Covid pandemic. It is still essential for thousands of displaced Ukrainian students and for a great many others elsewhere. Yet apart from in emergencies, online learning remains extremely relevant, owing to its enabling of reduced costs for education, research and students. Does the Minister therefore consider that online learning has a major part to play in reducing financial pressures on higher education?
During its fairly recent G7 presidency, the United Kingdom committed to help promote education in the third world and elsewhere in countries where education systems do not fully operate. What actions have the Government taken since then? Which combined initiatives are in progress? And at all teaching levels, further to promote and provide education overseas, where it is required, does my noble friend agree that, in terms of both quality and cost control, by far the most effective deployments are distance learning online programmes?
Such delivery connects to the need for public/private partnerships in various fields, yet certainly including higher education. In the city of Dundee, for instance, the online games industry works with universities. Increasingly, and in any event in the interest of their own employment recruitment, most sectors of industry have a reason to support good education. Does my noble friend concur that education deliveries through public/private partnerships are cost effective, timely and of sustained quality? If so, what steps are the Department for Education taking to advance and increase these partnerships?
In summary, the best approach to reduce financial pressures upon universities is a proactive one. That applies to all manifestations of the problem and how to tackle them. Yet, not least do the three aspects just outlined reveal why an innovative approach is essential. They illustrate the need for stronger government encouragement to international partnerships between universities, the associated advantages to their localities, and the separate case for supporting public/private partnerships to assist education both at home and abroad. These are some of the necessary prescriptions for raising standards, lowering costs and benefiting communities.
My Lords, as a former teacher, I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this issue. As noted in the register, I am the chair of trustees of the Council for Dance, Drama and Musical Theatre.
I do not need to tell noble Lords taking part in this debate about the strengths of the UK’s higher education sector. Whether it is our fantastic HE colleges or our world-famous universities, the teaching and research they give us should be a source of immense pride. That is why it is so important that the Government are alive to the risks the sector faces, and that they take a proactive approach to supporting providers and their students to weather them. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Knight for bringing these matters to the attention of the House through this debate. Indeed, universities and higher education institutions face a perfect storm of rising costs, with EU structural funds ending and an increasingly combative Government raising fears about capping international students.
In June last year, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee published a concerning report into the financial sustainability of England’s HE sector. The number of institutions with an in-year deficit has risen more than sixfold, from 5% in 2015-16 to 32% in 2019-20. It would not be fair to draw attention to any particular provider, but we know that when organisations look to balance their books, they often have to cut staff and subjects. This can be devastating for students and regional economies alike.
I am sure that noble Lords across the House will speak in more detail than I intend to on the second and third aspects of the debate, and I am certain they will do a sterling job. I wish to focus on the threats to local communities, and particularly the key role the Office for Students must play in supporting providers, considering the central contribution they often make within their surrounding economies. There is value in probing the regulatory role of the OfS, particularly how well it monitors the financial sustainability of the sector, and its role in protecting students from fallout when things go wrong. As my noble friend highlighted in the blog he published last week prior to this debate, the university sector brings much-needed skills to local communities: 73% of UK university students study locally, or go back to the region they grew up in to work. However, when the sector struggles, the impact on the local community is widely felt.
I will mention an institution that I relied heavily upon when teaching at Hawthorn High School, in Pontypridd. The University of Glamorgan, now the University of South Wales, generously gave of its time and facilities to my A-level students in preparation for their radio coursework submissions. It allowed us access to a fully equipped radio studio, when all I had in school was a double cassette recorder. This engagement not only allowed students to produce the best technical examples of their work but took youngsters from backgrounds where university was not part of their experience into the campus itself, where they saw that they too could look to engage with a university education in their future lives. It was an important aspect of the university within the community, and I could share many more examples, if time allowed.
The National Audit Office report noted that it collects a great deal of data on institutions to check the validity of the economic model, but smaller institutions question why they have to give the same amount of information as large ones. Perhaps the Minister could address this concern in her remarks and say whether the Government agree with the remarks of smaller institutions regarding information overload. When they speak to the Office for Students, perhaps they could ask how this could be reviewed and refined. I believe that the OfS is trying valiantly to refresh its comms approach. I hope it will improve the situation, and I trust it will set robust metrics to measure its success on this. What is the Government’s view on whether the OfS is communicating effectively.
As well as having clearer comms, the National Audit Office review recommended that the OfS should
“improve where necessary and then reauthorise student protection plans for all providers to ensure they remain adequate and can respond to new risks.”
The Office for Students must get this right. The “responding to new risks” part of the recommendation is absolutely crucial. Threats to the sector are evolving all the time, so the OfS must see its role as proactive: to foresee these risks and see them off before a university fails. Although the OfS sees the risk of multiple provider failures remaining low, the consequences for an area of its local college going under are simply too catastrophic for the regulator not to do everything in its power to set the conditions for success.
On this basis, I have several questions for the Minister. Are the Government satisfied that the OfS has the appropriate clout—I mean the regulatory tools and powers—to monitor the financial health of institutions effectively? Does the Minister believe the OfS is sufficiently alive to the financial instability of many institutions, and does it see its role as preventive or simply reactive? Should a provider fail, is the regulator confident it could mitigate the damage to the undergraduates and staff, and to the surrounding local economy? What is the Government’s overall assessment of the financial stability of the sector, and what are they doing to support it?
Over the next five years, it is predicted that universities alone will help set up more than 20,000 new businesses and provide more than £11.5 billion of support and services to industries and not-for-profit companies. Instead of the worrying trend of treating the sector as a convenient political arena for a culture war, it is imperative that the UK Government do everything they can to protect the jewel in the UK’s crown.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Knight, for this debate. I am very pleased to speak on this very important subject which is close to my heart.
The UK’s universities and colleges are world-regarded, as the noble Lord has already set out. However, like much of the country at the moment, they are under extreme financial pressure to do all that they need and would like to do, but are deprived of the resources to do it. I thank all those who have sent us briefings—Universities UK, MillionPlus, Horizon, London Higher and others I shall mention later. I will concentrate my remarks on a couple of issues: the Turing Scheme and part-time education, which of course impacts local communities.
First, I turn to the Turing Scheme. It is a poor replacement for the wonderful Erasmus, which the Conservative Government assured us would be kept after Brexit—another broken promise. We have heard from the British Council and the University Council of Modern Languages of their concerns. Modern languages are more important than ever since Brexit. Our European neighbours no longer need to speak English as we are no longer in the club, but British ability to speak French, German, Spanish, Italian and other languages has been seriously depleted since a GCSE in a modern language is no longer regarded as important. It was good to hear the King speaking in German on his visit to Germany, and I gather that, had he been allowed into France, he would have spoken French too—a great example. But what about Mandarin and Arabic, arguably the languages of the future? How can we communicate, trade and understand each other without other languages, and how will this impact on international relations?
As we know, unlike Erasmus+, inward mobility is not supported by the Turing Scheme, nor does it provide funding for staff placements. Significantly, the scheme does not cover tuition fees, and these are expected to be waived by host universities—how is that working, I wonder? Erasmus+ helped to enhance language skills and ensured that UK-based students and staff could work across different cultures and within a diverse workforce, as well as establish critical international partnerships. Following the loss of this Erasmus+ opportunity for UK study, and the introduction of a student route points-based immigration system, students from the EU, EEA and EFTA face increased costs due to the change in the home fee status and eligibility for tuition fee loans. Before the transition period ended these students were able to study in the UK without a visa, which will now cost them money that they may well not have.
Additionally, the financial settlement for the Turing Scheme is to be renewed on a yearly basis, so HEIs can no longer assure students applying for their degree that funding will be available for a year abroad. This creates considerable uncertainty for students, particularly for those whose degrees would historically have been expected to include a year abroad component—for example, language degrees. Can the Minister say what plans the Government have to ensure a long-term commitment to funding the scheme and make sure more certain levels of funding are available, so that students can plan and universities can commit to students of modern languages and others who would like to study abroad?
By the time funding is confirmed with institutions and then with individuals, students need to have planned their period of residence abroad. This makes planning difficult for universities and causes significant anxiety for students, who plan their year abroad with no guarantee of financial support. However, we know that the value of modern languages for trade and general economic competitiveness is widely acknowledged. Furthermore, the uncertainty of funding disproportionately affects the widening participation of students.
I should also like to raise part-time higher education in England, which has long been the Cinderella of the HE sector, where financial pressures are very acute. Wonderful organisations such as the Open University and Birkbeck have long opened opportunities for adult learners, or indeed younger people who choose to study at their own pace. I need to declare an interest as a fellow of Birkbeck and a long-time supporter of the Open University. Enrolment has dropped. We know that all students are struggling with the cost of living, but pressures will be particularly felt by part-time students. They tend to be older—seven out of 10 are aged 25 and over—and, as a result, are more likely to have significant financial and caring responsibilities. Part-time students in England are also unlikely to be eligible for government support with their living costs. The vast majority—90%—are excluded from maintenance support, and part-time students are unable to access support offered to students who are parents via the parents’ learning allowance and the childcare grant. Financial burdens are also likely to have an impact on student well-being and mental health, again feeding through to a heightened risk of non-continuation.
Part-time higher education is a critical enabler for flexible lifelong learning. It is desperately needed to spread opportunity to all and boost productivity, but it needs support and incentivising, with government policies and funding. Why is it, for instance, that part-time distance learners are still locked out of maintenance support in England, apart from a very small minority who have a serious enough disability to be able to claim it? That is clear in the Government’s response to the lifelong loan entitlement consultation, but there is no reason why. However, this support can be accessed by part-time students in Wales. At this morning’s meeting of the Education for 11-16 Year Olds Committee, we heard that Wales is leading the way in a number of educational initiatives—I am sure that is music to the ears of the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox. If it is good enough for Wales, why is not good enough for England?
The LLE feels optimistic. We Liberal Democrats proposed a skills wallet that would provide grants, not loans, which are more acceptable for adults with many calls on their purses. We are very pleased to see an end to the ELQ rule, and trust that the new per credit fee limit will be applied as the rule and not the exception.
In her reply, can the Minister offer any assurances on the future of modern languages in the UK and the future of part-time learning? Both are significant for our economic prosperity, our well-being and our place in the world.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Knight for initiating this debate and for his comprehensive introduction. I worked as a university administrator for 33 years, and I have a pension from the USS. There were not the commercial incentives in universities when I worked there, although there would have been limits to the possibilities anyway. The Institute of Education, where I worked, was entirely postgraduate, and although heavily involved in research, there is not much money in teacher training and education. As the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, has already said, institutions with a significant proportion of part-time students—such as the institute or Birkbeck or the Open University—were always Cinderella services when it came to funding.
Universities have always had a hierarchy in funding and research grants, so I am not going to claim that some golden period of access, standards, student support systems or value for money ever existed. However, what we have now is the worst of all worlds, with tuition fees falling in value by 15%, student loans reduced by at least £1,000 since 2020-21, overreliance on overseas student fees, commercialisation threatening standards, and damaging limits on the number of training places for doctors, nurses and teachers.
Until last month, I was a member of the Industry and Regulators Committee, which has launched an inquiry into the role of the Office for Students. So, as a mark of respect to that excellent committee, I will refrain from making rude remarks about the Office for Students, tempting though it is.
My first question for the Minister is: what plans do the Government have for funding more university places for doctors, nurses and teachers? It is not a great money-spinner for universities, but it would help. It would also meet a desperate need for more homegrown doctors, nurses and teachers and reduce the need for overseas talent.
Although we know that 44% of student loans are subsidised by government and some say the system is broken, I will leave it to others to elaborate on that. However, do the Government have any plans to unfreeze tuition fees before the next general election, as this represents a substantial cut in university income, or will it have to wait until after? Do the Government propose to place a cap on the number of overseas students and compensate universities for any lost income?
I have heard noble Lords on the Government Benches deploring the fact that the student experience at university has deteriorated, but they do not seem to accept that increased commercialisation might have something to do with it. I have real concerns that there is a growing backlog of repairs and maintenance in universities and much-needed capital expenditure, which will not only impact on the student experience but will have health and safety implications for the future.
In his introduction, my noble friend Lord Knight referred to the value to local and regional areas of having a university, and I support that statement strongly. I am thinking of a town which is crying out for a higher education institution. It would provide much-needed jobs and income and transform the community. When the Government are talking about their levelling-up agenda, they might consider the transformative impact of setting up a university in such a town.
Some have said that the financial pressures might lead to the closure of some university institutions. I hope that we never have to face these dilemmas, but a worse fate would be the inexorable decline in standards throughout the whole system. We have such a lot to lose in the UK, with our deserved reputation for centres of excellence, but the uncertainties around Erasmus and Horizon funding and the inadequacy of Turing funding are already showing a downward trend in the international league tables. It was the height of irony for the Government to name the scheme after Alan Turing, a genius who was tortured by the state and whose name will now be linked to a poor-relation funding scheme.
Returning to the fall in value of student loans, I point out that the recent Education (Student Fees, Awards and Support) (Amendment) Regulations 2023 were considered by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. It referred to a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies stating that
“the value of loans has been reduced by more than £1,000 in real terms compared to 2020–21”.
The DfE has accepted that these proposed changes will, overall, have a negative impact for students. Although there was some mitigation via hardship funds and the Office for Students, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee concluded that
“the mitigating actions outlined by Department will not compensate for the loss in the real value of maintenance loans”.
The equality impact assessment stated that the 2023-24 uprating
“will likely lead to a further erosion of students’ purchasing power”
and that women, mature students, those on low incomes and ethnic minority students would be particularly
“adversely affected by the real term decrease in the value of the loan”.
This result will achieve the exact opposite of widening access and levelling up. Reeling off a series of one-off government funding announcements does not disguise the Government’s failure to recognise the importance of higher education.
I have run out of time, so all I can say is that I agree wholeheartedly with the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, on the importance of international co-operation between universities.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Knight of Weymouth for securing this important debate and in paying tribute to his powerful introduction to it. I strongly endorse his analysis of the intense financial challenges faced by the higher education sector and add my voice to the questions he asked the Minister. I declare my interest as vice-chair and trustee of the drama school LAMDA and as a co-opted member of the investment committee of Worcester College, University of Oxford—a rich university with a poor college within it.
I am also privileged to have taken the place of my noble friend Lady Donaghy as a member of the Industry and Regulators Committee of your Lordships’ House. I am therefore currently involved in the inquiry into the Office for Students. I would be as unpopular pre-empting the conclusions of the committee as I would be giving a plot spoiler to the current series of “Succession”—which stars, in Brian Cox, a distinguished alumnus of LAMDA—but some of the points that I will make this afternoon have been formed by the evidence about the HE sector that has already been heard by the committee.
Academic politics is
“the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low”,
wrote Professor Wallace Sayre in the 1950s. He may have been reflecting the views of President Woodrow Wilson, and subsequently Henry Kissinger has characteristically claimed the analysis for his own. Senior common-room debate can be impassioned on a wide range of subjects, and the intellectual self-confidence of members of the academic community undoubtedly makes the governance of universities and HE institutions challenging.
Professor Sayre’s dictum may accurately represent one aspect of academic life, but it would be completely wrong to interpret it more broadly as implying that the stakes in higher education generally are low. They could not, in fact, be more important. That importance is based on the education and training provided to UK citizens of every age, but particularly as young adults; the research and innovation undertaken of national and global scope; the economic benefits of a vibrant HE sector nationally; and, as my noble friend Lord Knight and others have highlighted, the benefits for local communities. It also includes the contribution to the UK’s international standing and relationships through the foreign students who are drawn to the excellence of our institutions. Where these are all interconnected, students benefit from being taught by academics at the forefront of research and from their interaction with overseas students, for instance.
I believe that there should be greater clarity in defining the priorities and objectives for HE policy. I would argue that it should be first and foremost about providing that education and training to UK students in order to create a productive workforce and a civilised society. The economic benefits arising directly from the sector, such as £20 billion of export earnings, £100 billion of GDP and the driving economic force in many local communities, are hugely important, but they are a welcome by-product of the central objective of providing the best possible education for current and future generations. Research is of course vital but, whereas teaching is universal to all HE institutions, research is more concentrated—not, I should emphasise, in Russell Group universities alone but wherever specialised expertise resides.
I believe that thinking about HE policy in this way is essential for any fair and successful reform of funding. Not only is it necessary to increase the overall funding for the sector in real terms, it needs to be implemented in a way that ensures, as far as possible, that the costs fall fairly and proportionately on the different stakeholders. For instance, there is disagreement about the extent of cross-subsidies between teaching and research most of all, but this issue must be resolved as part of any sustainable changes to the funding of the sector. With the cap on tuition fees for domestic undergraduate courses frozen in nominal terms, and therefore falling in real terms at an accelerating rate, there is increasing divergence between the fees for domestic undergraduates and what the market for foreign students may be able to bear. There must be an increasing risk that, however much vice-chancellors and their governing bodies are committed to the mission of teaching UK students—as I have heard them say—an unreformed system will inexorably increase the pressure to further emphasise the recruitment of foreign students for narrow financial reasons.
In my remaining time, I will touch briefly on the importance of smaller, specialist institutions. LAMDA, of which I am the vice-chair, is one, along with other world-leading drama schools, music conservatoires and the Royal College of Art, which has been rated the number one art and design college in the world for eight consecutive years. Through the OfS, the Department for Education provides additional funding for some specialist institutions in recognition of the higher costs involved in teaching these specialist courses, as well as the proportionately higher costs that come from being a small, stand-alone institution. Sir Michael Barber, the first chair of the OfS, has recorded the importance that he attached during his term of office to protecting and enhancing the position of such institutions. That support is very welcome and, I believe—I would, wouldn’t I?—fully justified. The world-leading reputation of these institutions and the quality of the education and training provided are fundamentally based on their small size and independence; I say that without denigrating the excellent courses in these areas provided by larger, multi-faculty universities. Can the Minister confirm that the Government remain committed to supporting smaller, specialist institutions at historic levels or higher?
My Lords, central to this debate is the failure to invest enough in our higher education system. Consequently, we have to restrict the number of domestic students relative to the number of those from abroad, because universities lose money on domestic students. In other words, UK universities are supporting the nation’s science and further education ambitions through the income that they receive from international fees. This is inherently an unpredictable and risky platform on which to provide a higher education system.
There are more particular problems. The noble Baroness, Lady Garden, referred to the uncertainties surrounding the Turing scheme. This particularly affects students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who are particularly vulnerable to this uncertainty. Universities face myriad funding pressures in pursuing their mission and sustaining academic excellence, but having fees frozen at £9,250—which, as my noble friend has already explained, in real terms is now equivalent to only £6,500—means that they simply do not have the money to cover the cost of courses, in particular the cost of STEM subjects. The fact that student fees have been stuck at this level for some years, for the reasons that we understand, coupled with inflation, mission creep—additional responsibilities being placed on institutions—the pressure from industrial action, and so on, means that universities are experiencing a damaging squeeze on their finances. Coupled with the cost of living crisis, the lack of resources means that that there is inevitable damage to the important objectives of increasing social mobility and local community engagement. This is despite universities’ regulatory requirements to spend part of their tuition fee income on widening participation.
There is a growing risk to social mobility if, for pragmatic reasons, universities have to make hard decisions to recruit fewer domestic students relative to international students or have to spread their limited bursary and hardship funds over a thinner entry. The ability of universities to collaborate with local government and third-sector partners is also being strained, in large part by the budgetary pressures on would-be partners, particularly in deprived communities with lower social resilience capacity, during this cost of living crisis.
Turning to research and innovation, there are intense funding challenges on universities in sustaining their infrastructure and talent pools. The challenge that we face is that virtually all forms of research run as a loss-making activity that must be supported by teaching and, in turn, as has been explained by myself and other speakers, that is dependent on overseas students. Having an internationalised learning community brings immense cultural and academic benefits to campuses, but there are systematic risks of universities becoming overly dependent on particular countries’ markets at a time of rising geopolitical tension and geostrategic competition. The risks are clear. For example, if relations with China were to deteriorate, we would be in a very challenging position. Does the department have a plan to cope with this situation if we hit such problems?
Sir Paul Nurse’s recent review recommended increases in the full economic cost recovery provided by competitively allocated research grants and an uplift in the block grant QR funding. He also highlighted underlying issues with the precarity of early career research pathways that are in large part a corollary of short-termism in the way public funding works, leading to pressure and stress on those involved.
As the Financial Times has reported, universities are having difficulties in the initial phase of the Turing scheme, with shortfalls in expected annual allocations and delayed payments, in some cases leading to places not being taken up. The inability of universities to provide certainty about funding to students only compounds the problems for those from more disadvantaged backgrounds, undermining their willingness and ability to pursue opportunities.
Finally, it is vital to a world-class UK research and innovation endeavour that the UK enjoys broad access to Horizon Europe. The real prize here is not access to the funding pool, but the huge, collaborative multiplier benefits of working with leading scientists and researchers across Europe and leading on multi-country researcher consortium bids. As the House will be aware, British universities have already experienced challenges in recruiting world-class researchers because of the enduring climate of uncertainty over participation. It is not just Horizon that has given problems; the sudden withdrawal from collaborative research funded by the Official Development Assistance programme two years ago also hit the UK’s reputation. As has been pointed out recently in the Times Higher Education supplement, much of the damage, coupled with the broader effects of Brexit, has already been done and will be hard to recover from. Nevertheless, a return to Horizon in a timely and efficient manner is vital to the UK’s ability to attract and retain leading British and global research talent and investment.
My Lords, I intend to talk about the internal consequences for universities of their financial crises. The number of universities running financial deficits has increased in recent years. The proportion of providers with a yearly deficit has increased from 5% in 2015-16 to 32% in 2019-20; the figures for the subsequent academic years will undoubtedly be far worse. The deficits can be attributed to the declining values in real terms of the fee income received from students and of the grants from central government. The finances of universities have been sustained by the fees paid by overseas students, as we have heard. It had been feared that in consequence of the Covid pandemic there would be a major loss of the income from this source but, remarkably, it has been maintained.
However, it is by no means assured that the numbers of overseas students will be maintained. The recent increases have been attributable mainly to students from China and India, but our relations with the Governments of these countries are deteriorating and their students might be encouraged to go elsewhere. The number of students from the European Union has plummeted: there was a decline of 40% in applications for undergraduate study in the UK from EU countries in 2021-22, and the decline has continued.
A natural advantage of British universities, their use of the English language, is being eroded rapidly. It should be recognised that the majority of postgraduate courses in European universities are now taught in English. The fees demanded by those universities are much lower than British fees. Therefore, European universities are liable to be more attractive at the postgraduate level, at least to overseas students, than British universities, which also face competition from universities in other English-speaking countries.
The financial outlook is extremely worrying. A further factor in the financial difficulties of our universities has been a consequence of the Government’s decision, or desire, to make them compete among themselves in the recruitment of students. Instead of competing via the level of fees, universities have chosen to complete via the amenities they offer students. This has led them to capital expenditures that few can afford.
University administrations have reacted to the financial stringencies that have prevailed over many years by endeavouring to reduce their salary bills. University lecturers have, on average, lost 25% of their real incomes since 2009. I believe that that figure is way out of date as a consequence of current inflation. Meanwhile, the disparities in their incomes have increased, with the top earners moving rapidly ahead.
The collapsing value of the USS pension fund has led to the expectation that the retirement income of academics will be reduced by 35% relative to previous expectation. Whereas security of employment was a traditional compensation for the relatively modest earnings of academics, their employment has become increasingly insecure, with a large proportion of staff on short-term contracts. Academics who previously would have benefited from tenure are now subject to dismissal when the administrators judge that they have become surplus to requirements in consequence of restructuring plans.
The commercialisation of higher education has led universities to become increasingly responsive to consumer demand, and they have adapted their teaching accordingly by alleviating or abolishing difficult or demanding courses which are often at the core of the disciplines. The managements have aimed to expand the more profitable activities at the expense of the less profitable ones. Thus, at the University of Leicester, at which I am an emeritus professor, business studies, which represent a profitable cost centre, have been expanded while the mathematics department has been affected by numerous redundancies. This surely flies in the face of a widely recognised national priority to foster STEM subjects.
The academics have reacted to their loss of income and pension rights, and to their excessive workloads, by striking. In some cases, the reaction of the management to the strikes has been grotesque. Queen Mary University, my erstwhile university, has enjoined its students to report striking staff, while threatening to dock full pay for 39 days if those named fail to reschedule their missed teaching. Last July, it deducted 21 days’ full pay from more than 100 staff who had refused to mark students’ work in June as part of a national boycott. Their intention had been only to delay the marking. Staff have been resigning in protest.
Universities in the UK are chronically understaffed on the academic side, albeit the number of administrators has grown to outnumber the academics. The lack of academic manpower has been met by employing postgraduate students to teach classes, which is not always done adequately.
The governance of universities by professional administrators is in marked contrast to the circumstances that prevailed when I joined the academic ranks in the 1970s. Then, the administration of universities was in the hands of senior academics and academics who had opted to serve their universities in an administrative capacity instead of pursuing a research career. Such people are no longer available for this role; the likelihood is that they have been weeded out in consequence of their poor research performance. The hypertrophy of the administration has largely been a consequence of the audits demanded by governments in pursuit of transparency and accountability. There is a research excellence framework, a teaching excellence framework and, latterly, a knowledge exchange framework, each of which has engendered its own bureaucracy.
Academics no longer have any ownership of the processes they mediate, and their loyalty to their institutions has largely been destroyed. Nowadays, the academics and the administrators constitute mutually hostile factions. What has transpired is an old-fashioned and atavistic struggle of the management against the workers. We are witnessing the rapid decline of British universities.
My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests and, in particular, my work with Dudley College and the Warwick Manufacturing Group. I also thank my noble friend Lord Knight not just for calling this debate but for the huge contribution he makes, and has made for years, to improving education in the UK.
I want to make the case I have been making for years, which is that we have to make education and skills, at all levels, the UK’s number one priority. Improving education is the answer to our country’s biggest challenges, as it brings new investment, new industries and good, well-paid jobs to areas that have lost traditional industries. It tackles poverty and improves social mobility, builds a stronger economy and boosts productivity. It not only enables young people to lead more fulfilled and prosperous lives but reduces the costs of inequality and poverty on the NHS, on housing and on benefits.
Young people today will work with technologies that have not yet been invented and have jobs not yet imagined. The old days when you learned skills to equip you for a job for life have gone for good. Instead, the pace of change will get quicker and quicker, so young people must learn how to adapt, how to learn and how to acquire new skills. This is why investing in education and skills is the most important investment any of us can make as individuals, communities, the Government or the country as a whole.
At the outset, I want to lay to rest the idea that we send too many young people to university. If I may so, it is total nonsense. For the people who say this, if I may say this as well, it is never their children or young people from their community who they think should not be going to university. When they say it they are talking about young people in places like the Black Country.
There are communities that have routinely sent more than half their young people to university for years. There are schools, families and communities where going to university is, and has been for decades, the normal, expected thing to do. Then there are towns across the country that have no university campus, where school standards have not been good enough and which have sent a small minority of young people to university. Yet these are the places that most need higher skills, and the new industries and jobs that those skills can attract. The truth is that we need to ensure standards at school improve, that more young people stay on and go to college and sixth form, to apprenticeships or to university. We need to do all these things to equip our country for the challenges of the modern economy.
The point I want to focus on is the contribution that universities make to their local communities. You only have to get off the train at Cambridge to be stunned at the level of investment that its link to science, education and research has made in that city. If you go to Coventry and Warwickshire, you will see industries, companies and jobs that have resulted from the world-beating partnerships between academia and industry at the Warwick Manufacturing Group. Then you travel 30 miles up to the road to the Black Country, which has struggled to replace jobs lost in traditional industries over the last 40 or 50 years.
This is the approach we have adopted in Dudley, with a brand new £100 million town centre campus, which includes a new institute of technology and plans for a university centre focused on healthcare technologies. We are making education the borough’s number one priority, to strengthen the local economy. But one of the challenges that towns in the Midlands and the north that have lost traditional industries face is that they often have no university to boost skills and drive growth.
For example, the Black Country is an area of four boroughs and 1.1 million people, but just one local university, the University of Wolverhampton. As I will explain, like other modern new universities, the University of Wolverhampton does a brilliant job of serving local people, but the boroughs in the area are some of the largest places in the country with no university campuses. The region as a whole has less higher education provision than other areas, which is one of the reasons why we have higher levels of unemployment.
This is why, where we once built communities around factories, we must now build them around universities and colleges. That is why universities like the University of Wolverhampton need more support from the Government and must be able to attract and teach more students. Look at the facts: research in 2019 showed that the university, its students and their visitors—as the noble Lord, Lord Knight, said earlier—supported nearly 4,000 jobs locally, while MillionPlus’s report last year, Staying Local to Go Far, showed it contributes almost £200 million to the local economy and that modern universities generate £1.17 billion in the wider West Midlands.
More than eight out of 10 of Wolverhampton’s 21,000 students come from within 25 miles. One in every three undergraduates is on subjects allied to medicine, training to become nurses and health professionals. Almost nine out of 10 of the graduates from the most recent cohort were in work or further study, according to the latest Graduate Outcomes report, and six out of 10 UK students went on to highly skilled rates. Compared with other universities, more of Wolverhampton’s students not only are recruited locally, as I said, but remain in the local area, contributing to the local economy and driving its improvement after graduation too.
Wolverhampton is not unique in this regard. Lots of the modern universities are like this and have a high proportion of students from poorer backgrounds, who have been in care or on free school meals, who are from families that have not sent other people to university or are from neighbourhoods with fewer students and graduates. Universities such as Wolverhampton—all of these modern universities—are critical to the Government’s levelling-up ambitions, to tackling poverty and to building a stronger economy. They are critical for the important role they still play in working collaboratively with local stakeholders, such as the NHS, businesses and local government, to drive regional development and strengthen the social fabric of the cities and towns in which they are located. It is vital that the Government ensure that universities and communities such as these, in the towns of the Midlands and the north that have lost their traditional industries and which desperately need to attract new investment and new jobs, receive more support. This is not just important for them but vital for the country as a whole.
My Lords, I declare my interests in education and training and as chair of the Council for Education in the Commonwealth as set out in the register. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Knight of Weymouth, whom I hold in the highest regard in this field, on securing this debate. This subject not only is very close to my heart but draws attention to serious concerns in the HE sector, many of which have been raised by Members in the Chamber this afternoon. I have so much to say that there was a danger that this speech would become like a sprawling undergraduate essay: full of enthusiasm for the subject, but ultimately unfocused and ineffective. So I will address one very specific topic, which, if it were an essay question, would be: “Compare and contrast the merits of Erasmus+ and the Turing scheme and identify what steps you would recommend to deliver the best outcomes for the students and institutions involved.”
Here are the facts. Erasmus was formed in 1987 and evolved into Erasmus+ in 2014 through the consolidation of various other mobility programmes for people who were not at university. The UK was one of the 11 founding members. One common misconception, even among many of its supporters, is that Erasmus+ is exclusively a scheme for EU members and students. This is not the case. It is a global success story, yet the UK is no longer part of it because this Government decided to end participation from 31 December 2020—Brexit day. Non-EU countries, both within Europe and elsewhere, are eligible to join. Norway, Iceland and Turkey are full members of the programme. Others, from Morocco to Armenia to Ukraine, are eligible as programme partners. More than 80 countries around the world participate in one or more Erasmus+ scheme.
Secondly, since the programme operates over a seven-year funding cycle, students and institutions can promote and plan their participation in a relatively stable environment. In the period 2014 to 2020, the UK received nearly €1.1 billion for 6,892 projects involving 331,765 participants. This represents 7.8% of the total Erasmus+ budget and 6% of all participants out of 80-odd countries. Our involvement was considerable.
Some might argue that it is unfair to contrast Erasmus+ with the Turing scheme, which was announced in 2020 and commenced in September 2021, as it is not yet quite two years old and was launched into an educational environment still reeling from the impact of the pandemic. However, even allowing for these mitigating circumstances, initial comparisons do not reflect well. Although institutions are glad that at least something is on offer, the Turing application process is considerably more bureaucratic, evaluation is less transparent and, as it runs on an annual basis, it is inherently less secure for planning and promotion.
Moreover, as the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, has already mentioned, Turing is structured as a one-way scheme, supporting UK students who wish to study abroad but with no reciprocal offer to students from the EU or anywhere else in the world to come to the UK. For several reasons, including the world-leading reputations of many UK universities, and the fact that most other countries learn English as their second language, the UK hosted many more visiting students under Erasmus+. This enriched courses in the UK with cultural vitality—students from more disadvantaged economic backgrounds could apply—as well as the obvious benefits from money spent in the UK economy while students were living here. There is no such opportunity under the Turing Scheme.
Lastly, I come to the issue of unnecessary divergence. UK qualifications are already moving away from European qualifications framework standards, which means that eventually UK qualifications will not be equally recognised by the EQF and our young people will be further disadvantaged and disfranchised from studying on the continent. Given all that, why the Government decided to leave Erasmus+ and replace it with the evidently inferior Turing Scheme remains, if noble Lords will forgive me, a complete enigma—one that even its namesake would struggle to resolve.
Labour has been clear that, when we are in government, our education mission will be to:
“Break down the barriers to opportunity … preparing young people for work and for life.”
We recognise that, in an increasingly interconnected world, the greater the educational opportunities that we provide for our students and young people, the brighter our nation’s future will be.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, on securing this debate and introducing it with considerable erudition and eloquence. This debate has become important in a post-Brexit age. It is because we have gone through the baptism of post-Brexit, and because of what is to follow, that we are concerned about the issues that it raises. I therefore want to ask myself what new issues it has raised, what the context is in which we are debating them and how old problems appear in new forms.
I shall concentrate on three issues that are important but, for obvious reasons, have not been discussed. The first has to do with the whole idea of student loans. Let us remember that a student comes out of university with a debt of, on average, £45,000. Even before he comes out with that debt and is still at university, he has to provide for his maintenance costs, which he does by relying on personal savings, with part-time work and in various other ways. There are many reports telling us how many students do not have food to eat, suffer hardships and undergo an enormous amount of pain in order to be able to graduate with some degree of decency.
Student loans do not serve the function of redistribution, which is what they are supposed to do. Levelling up must begin with, if anything, student loans, but that is not being done. Every penny that is given in loans has to be paid back, unless one is unable to do so after so many years and having earned below a certain amount of money. This does not happen in many of our competitive economies. For example, in France, tuition fees are pretty low; in Germany, they are non-existent in some Länder and very low in others. What is no less important is that the differential between the overseas student and the home student is much less than it is in our country. My feeling is that, rather than think of overseas students as a cow to milk and asking how they can help us bridge the gap in our own resources, we should be asking ourselves how the levelling-up scheme can be applied to them as well. In other words, the idea of the student loan needs to be rethought.
The second important subject I want to concentrate on is how the idea of the student loan has built in to it an element of structural bias in favour of overseas students having to pay more. If there is a teaching budget deficit, the expectation is that we will turn to overseas students, charge them £10,000 more than we charge domestic students and hope that they will bail us out. Our students cannot afford that kind of money, and they go to low-tariff universities. So there is a division between low-tariff universities, where our students go, and high-tariff universities, where overseas students go—a class division is almost built in to the student community. I do not think we fully appreciate how much resentment and hatred it causes among many of our students. I can say this with some confidence, having been a university professor for about 40 years.
The third element we need to think about is the Turing Scheme. There has been a lot of vacillation about Erasmus—should we join it or not? The Prime Minister said we should not and we finally decided—I think in December 2020—to go with the Turing Scheme. Why did we decide not to join Erasmus and to go for the Turing Scheme? We wanted to go global. What does that mean? It means that we should not be tied to any particular group. What does that mean? It means that we should be free to choose a country with which we associate. What does that mean? How are you going to take the mighty leap and launch out into the world at large, rather than connect with various groups with which you are already affiliated? I should have thought that, rather than take this mighty jump and pick and choose partners, we should be thinking about collaborating with those with whom we have already been connected and then gradually spread out into the rest of the world.
More importantly, there remain difficulties with the Turing Scheme. For example, the amount involved is much less than what we would have got if we had been part of Erasmus—I am told about £83 million. The scheme is subject to the spending review, and therefore there is no continuity, because the amount of money can change year to year. There is no funding for staff exchange or for pupils coming to the UK. We are not clear about language learning facilities. There is also unease about the time it could take to process visa applications for overseas students, and the question of not sharing best practices or learning resources.
I therefore want to end by putting three questions to the Minister. First, is there any attempt to look at the student loan in the context of an opportunity to level up? Has any thought been given to that? Secondly, should we not be thinking of overseas students just as much as we think of our own? Should we be thinking of all of them as Arabs and rich Nigerians and Indians, or should we not also think of those whom I encounter regularly—those who are poor and want to benefit from our education? Thirdly, is any attempt being made to reconsider the Turing scheme?
My Lords, like others I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Knight for securing this timely debate. It is quite clear from it that a great deal is expected of our higher education institutions: excellence above all, in teaching and research, and certainly in providing students with a life-changing experience. Successive Governments have also wanted them to be engines for economic growth, to provide the skills needed for the economy, to be leaders and stimulators of innovation and a means of social mobility by widening access to opportunities for graduate jobs, to be anchors in their communities, and to be flexible in their response to changing needs while embracing new technologies, among lots of other things.
Not all can respond to all these demands and one of the hallmarks of the UK system is its variety. However, to provide all of these things and more, financial security is essential. To maintain what everyone agrees is our worldwide reputation for excellence, stability in policy-making, as well as resourcing, is fundamental. Universities UK has listed some of the sector’s achievements, as noble Lords have in this debate. They are certainly impressive: its £95 billion contribution to the economy; its outstanding international reputation for teaching, as we are the third most popular destination for international students globally; its excellent teaching and world-leading research. This debate has forced us to ask: are we in danger of throwing away this hard-won international reputation for excellence?
In a 2022 report on the financial sustainability of the HE sector, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee expressed concern that the proportion of providers with an in-year deficit has increased in each of the last four years—from 5% to 32% in 2019-20, and that number is expected to increase. Fees are a key factor. They have been stagnant, with the £9,250 headline fee for English universities now worth £6,585 to them. The fee income available in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is even lower. Yet England and Wales also have the highest domestic undergraduate fees in the OECD, including the semi-privatised US system. Looking at our international competitors, the UK has the lowest share of public funding in tertiary education among OECD member countries.
English universities have, so far, managed shrinking income
“through sensible and prudent financial management”,
according to the Office for Students. Part of this has come from generating income from other streams—particularly, although not exclusively, recruiting international students. It is clear, however, that under increased funding pressure and rising costs, as UUK has said, universities will be faced with
“compromises in teaching or research, damaging our hard-won international reputation and putting pressure on students and staff.”
This of course compounds other pressures on students. Just as the cost of living crisis is hitting students, their maintenance package in England is at its lowest value in seven years. Students are now also eligible for much lower maintenance loans than when the system was first designed. Under recent changes, more students will repay their full loan than under the 2012 system, with the highest earners paying less than before and low and middle earners paying more. On research, the HE sector provides the skills, talents and facilities that drive the UK’s capabilities in science and technology, yet without long-term and stable investment the UK is bound to fall behind.
Universities are having to use teaching funding to shore up a lack of investment in research, or to reduce or stop research activity altogether. Our universities generate growth and opportunity across the UK. They bring jobs, investment and facilities to our local communities, as we have heard right across this House, and they will be at the heart of addressing economic and social disparities. Yet increasing financial pressures are affecting universities’ capacity to engage.
I sit on the board of Nottingham Trent University, which has made superb efforts to maintain its financial stability. While the finances of some universities are stable in the short term, that cannot last. As this debate has made clear, many are now facing huge financial pressures, which will not be addressed without impacting significantly on the student experience and the capacity to undertake research and innovation. Many are located in the very communities where students need the most support to acquire the skills they need, and where companies most need research and innovation to grow. Given the long-standing freeze of fees for home undergraduate students, most universities are relying on increased international student numbers to deal with inflationary pressures, and any moves to restrict these would have a further major impact on the viability of the sector. Can the Minister confirm the Government’s commitment to both the graduate visa route—a real attraction to international students—and the international education strategy?
All these factors need to be addressed if universities are to be able to respond to the positive steps the Government are taking—for example, the lifelong loan entitlement, which could transform the adult education landscape in England. I hope the Minister can give the sector some reassurance that its excellence is valued, and that they recognise the vital importance of long-term investment.
My Lords, none of us has felt the need to declare our interests, but I will declare a family interest as both of my children are currently working in research-intensive universities in this country, and both have been offered salaries considerably greater than they are currently earning. My son, who leads a systems biology laboratory at a Russell group university, is working in one of this country’s strategically important STEM areas. He came back from the United States after 10 years there on a Marie Curie scholarship—a European Union scheme that encourages researchers in North America to come back to Europe, and which, of course, no longer exists in Britain. He has had a series of temporary contracts and has just, at the age of 41, been offered a long-term contract. But he is still earning slightly less than what I understand most train drivers are earning. A hedge fund with quite close associations with a major donor to the Conservative Party offered him several times this salary some months ago—which was, naturally, a little tempting.
We should not assume that the situation in British universities can be maintained for very long. Some Members may have seen the article in the latest Times Higher Education supplement which suggests that Britain’s reputation as a science superpower is very shaky. It quotes Douglas Kell, the former executive chair of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council:
“Funding has dropped in real terms”
for research in STEM subjects
“by 60 per cent since 2009”.
It adds that, if you look at the data on who is producing the best scientific papers, the argument that UK science is so much better than European science, so we can look to partner with Asian and American institutions instead, is rather shaky too. Therefore, we should not take our current situation for granted.
I was shaken some months ago after talking to one of the younger colleagues with whom I used to work. He had moved from Oxford to Berlin because, he said, the institutions he now works with in Berlin are more intellectually rigorous and more pleasant to work in. That is worrying.
There are two narratives about UK universities that one hears from the Government and the Conservative Party. The first is that our universities are a major national asset, a crucial element of soft power and the basis of our claim to be a scientific superpower, as Boris Johnson was very proud of saying. They are also crucial for innovation, national economic growth and regional regeneration, and thus, as several Peers have said, for levelling up. Universities are also hubs for city regions and sources of skilled workers and cultural leadership for their regions.
The second, alternative narrative is that universities are nests of left-wing intellectuals, hostile to common sense and the instincts of ordinary voters, intent, to quote the Sunday Telegraph on “indoctrinating” their students with leftist or even Marxist ideas. It is the Policy Exchange perspective, if you like. University staff are alleged to be structurally biased. Even worse, they are “experts”, whom we all know are not to be listened to. They are “people of nowhere”, in the David Goodhart-Theresa May definition, dismissed as people who prefer foreign food and foreign friends to being proud of all things English. Particular fury has been directed at the humanities and the social sciences as offering irrelevant and frivolous courses. I find that a very dangerous narrative. I note that it comes from the anti-intellectual arguments produced by Republicans in the United States, and I hope that the Minister, who I know cares passionately about education, does not share it. Sadly, some of her colleagues do. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, remarked that it is a convenient arena for a culture war, if one wants one. We do not want one; it is the last thing we need in this country.
The Government have wobbled between these two narratives over the past eight years. They have squeezed university funding as severely as funding for schools and preschool education. They have frozen tuition fees, and they have left the EU, and thus Horizon and Erasmus, and also the structural funds, some of which flowed to universities in the poorer parts of Britain.
The incoherence of policy has been really quite remarkable. That is partly because of the high turnover of Ministers. In the five years since January 2018, we have had successive reorganisations of ministerial responsibility and witnessed seven Secretaries of State for Education come and go; six Secretaries of State for Business and Industrial Strategy, and now a seventh for Business and Trade; seven Ministers for Higher Education; and, thankfully, only five Secretaries of State for Science and Innovation. None has stayed in post long enough to master their brief; policies have drifted, with the overall assumption that the UK should distance itself as far as possible from the European continent and that, as far as possible, public spending on education and research should be held down. This is not the way we need to go, and we very much need to reverse course.
I add that the role of the Office for Students, which has been mentioned by several people in the debate, is itself in question. It is unclear whether the Office for Students is there to help support the university sector or to police and regulate what are seen as the dangers of the university sector. That is another area at which we need to look.
Several Members have talked about the freezing of tuition fees. Their value has dropped by well over 20% and the current inflation makes it worse. If we were now to have a collapse in the intake of students from east and south Asia, there would be a financial crisis in many of our universities. We have not talked much about maintenance grants and social mobility, but the squeezing of funds for foundation courses is a real squeeze on social mobility. Some universities, Oxford and Cambridge included, are now working very hard to find bright but undereducated young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
I suggest that, now that we are returning to rather a calmer sort of government—we hope—the Government might like to think about setting out another independent review of what we need to do about university funding when the current arrangements end in 2024-25, after the next election. The Minister will remember that, in 2008, the Labour Government kicked the issue of tuition fees past the election by setting up the Browne review. I recommend that the Government consider doing the same now, so that at least when the next Government come in there is some sort of consensus about where we need to go from here.
We have talked a little about international research networks. All research is essentially international and cross-border. We benefit enormously from links with European countries, North America and beyond, and we all recognise that leaving the European Union has damaged those links very considerably. Incoherence is there again across Whitehall. I have heard British academics working in the United States say that that they do not wish to come back to Britain because they know their American wives will be in the queue at the Home Office and that they will have to pay a lot of money to get them into this country. My son brought his American wife back and did pay the money he needed to pay to do it.
Some 20% or more of most universities’ staff come from abroad, and the tightening of Home Office policy on visas means that, when they accept a post, it is harder and harder for them to get their families into this country. That damages the culture of our universities as well. Getting the Home Office, the Department for Education, the Treasury and the Department for Business to have, together, a sense of understanding about what is needed for our universities to flourish is something the Government might usefully spend time on.
Others have spoken on Erasmus and Turing, so I need to say little, except that moving back towards a more sensible and rational relationship with our neighbours must include rejoining not only Horizon but Erasmus. Rejoining Horizon will not be easy and there are those who say, “Good heavens, we are going to have to pay for this”. Of course we are going to have to pay. We gained more from Horizon when we were members of the European Union than we paid in for the scheme, but that was because this was part of an overall balance between contributions and obligations to the European Union. Now that we are outside—and saving our £350 million, or whatever it is, per week—if we wish to rejoin these schemes, we will have to pay. There are advantages for us.
We are, I hope, an international country. We are escaping, I hope, from English nationalism, from which we have suffered so badly in the last few years. That means we need to maintain a university network which benefits enormously from its international ties but which contributes fundamentally to the prosperity of this country. I think the Minister shares all these objectives; I only wish the rest of the Government did.
My Lords, like others, I thank my noble friend Lord Knight for calling this important debate today. I am pleased to be able to take part in what has been an informed and informative debate. I apologise to the House for being slightly late at the start of the debate; a rookie mistake but one which, in the context of a debate about learning, I promise I will learn from.
British higher education has historically rightly been held in high esteem. The UK has welcomed, and benefitted from, the large number of overseas students wanting to study here, and from overseas academics contributing to research and teaching. British universities are known and respected round the world. We have some fantastic higher education colleges, delivering top-rate courses. Many of us in this House, including me, have benefitted in our lives and careers from superb education from these world-class institutions. However, as this debate has shown, we cannot take this for granted.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and others highlighted the sometimes insecure and comparatively low-paid nature of academic life, and the risks this creates. As so many of the contributions have noted, the financial sustainability of our higher education is one we should not take for granted. It is clear, and this point was raised by so many noble Lords today, that it cannot be right that the higher education system has a current financial model that finds so many institutions in deficit.
I repeat the concerns raised by my noble friend Lady Wilcox, which surely must concern this whole House, that in just four years under this Government the number of institutions with an in-year deficit has risen more than sixfold, from 5% in 2015-16 to 32% in 2019-20. That is about a third of all higher education institutions. In any other sector, this would be regarded as a crisis.
Do the Government agree with the Office for Students that there is no major risk of one or more higher education institutions failing due to financial issues? If so, why are they not concerned? Is it complacency or is it just that the Government are hoping the problem goes away, or do they have a plan for resolving the issue? I would be interested to know whether any higher education institutions have raised specific concerns with the Government, or the Office for Students, about their financial sustainability? What assurances have the Government sought in relation to the sustainability of the sector?
I was particularly struck by the contributions of my noble friends Lord Knight, Lord Hanworth, Lord Davies, and others, on the fact that universities make a loss on UK students. My noble friend Lady Warwick gave a welcome focus on the student experience, and I particularly note the point made by my noble friend Lady Donaghy that there is a significant and almost greater risk than the failure of an institution of a decline in the quality of courses provided to students. With respect to the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, I fear that this might be increased were online courses, as he proposed, not confined to where they are appropriate but extended more widely simply to save cost.
Our British higher education institutions have a proud history of innovation. Over the past few years, at the exact same point at which the financial stress on universities has been starting to show, we have seen British research contribute to the fight against Covid, not least in relation to the development of some of the first vaccines. Can the Minister tell the House how the Government intend to make sure that the UK can continue to be at the forefront of innovation through the higher education system? Will they look, as my noble friend Lord Davies and others suggested, to rejoin Horizon, and will they take up the suggestion of my noble friend Lady Donaghy to provide financial support to universities for courses in much-needed expertise, such as medicine, nursing and teaching, to ensure we can get home-grown UK graduates into key roles?
As has been noted in this debate and by Universities UK, the economic contribution of the HE sector in England is considerable, contributing £52 billion to GDP and supporting more than 815,000 jobs. As someone who grew up in a university city, I know that a university town or city depends on these jobs—quite simply, the service industry or tech industries that grow up around a university would be unlikely to thrive without the university being there. As the noble Lord, Lord Austin, said, a university or higher education institution can also renew areas where traditional industries have declined or vanished by introducing valuable new jobs and skills.
My noble friend Lady Wilcox described the potential consequences for a community of their local college going under as simply too catastrophic for the regulator not to do everything in its power to set the conditions for success. In relation to the sector’s dependence on overseas students, the Government simply cannot have it both ways. We gain in so many ways from having the rich exchange of ideas and cultures that overseas students and academics provide—a rich exchange that, as my noble friend Lord Leong made clear in his passionate speech focusing on Erasmus and Turing, ideally works both ways, with UK students and academics having the opportunity to go overseas, as well as people coming here.
Many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, and my noble friend Lord Davies noted concerns about Turing. Overseas students studying in UK higher education here, as this debate has demonstrated, provide financial benefits to our universities and colleges—arguably to a much greater extent than is appropriate. As the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, pointed out, this carries significant risks.
What is unarguable, however, is that the Government cannot assume in one department that overseas students will shore up the finances of our higher education sector, when in another they try to make it considerably harder or less attractive—even through rhetoric—for overseas students or academics to come to the UK. As my noble friends Lord Davies and Lord Hanworth said, this income from overseas students is also at risk from wider geopolitical issues and concerns. Can the Minister reassure us that government departments are talking to each other and agreeing a strategy in this regard?
The final point I would like to make—although my notes go on for a bit, so it is not necessarily my final point—is in relation to the role of higher education in social mobility, or “levelling up”, as a number of noble Lords have referred to it. Last year, as highlighted in the Financial Times this week, the number of people applying to university through UCAS was 767,000 and UCAS is predicting that by 2030 this will rise to 1 million, cue to the mini-boom in the birth rate that will lead to an increased demand by the end of the decade. It is understandable and right that students and their families aspire for children to achieve their potential, to do well at school and to go on to university; we value education not just for its own sake but for the opportunities it provides.
Does the Minister agree with the Minister for Higher Education that the new places to ensure that the increased number of applicants can access higher education may not be for undergraduate degrees but could well be within further education or apprenticeships? I could not have agreed more with the noble Lord, Lord Austin, on the points he raised about the rhetoric on limiting the number of children going on to university, and the fact that the children who do not go on to university, in the minds of the people who are saying this, are not their own.
What are the Government intending to do to make sure that the higher-status courses—those that often lead to higher-paid opportunities—are open to all, irrespective of who prospective students are and where they come from? I would be concerned if these students did not have access to a supply of high-quality opportunities. As the chief executive of UCAS has made clear, the interests of disadvantaged students must not lose out or be forgotten during the period of increasing competition. She rightly pointed out:
“This is an economic challenge as much as an educational one”—
and it is a challenge for opportunities.
I would ask the Minister to do whatever she can to respond to this point, and to other points raised in this debate. The future of our higher education institutions, and the towns and cities they are part of and support through their presence, is at stake. Critically, the life chances of their current and prospective students depend on this Government taking the issues raised today seriously and not simply hoping that the problem of higher education financial sustainability will go away. The price is simply too high.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Knight, for bringing to your Lordships’ attention the important matter of financial sustainability in the higher education sector, and for securing this important debate. As we have heard this afternoon, higher education is of vital importance to this country’s prosperity. Many of our institutions are world leading and provide a top-class education which equips students with the skills they need to get great jobs and to make sure that we have an internationally competitive workforce. For these reasons, higher education providers will continue to play an integral role in supporting this Government’s aim of levelling up productivity and employment.
We know that the finances of HE providers are sound when we look at this at a sector level. The income in the sector has increased from just under £35 billion in 2018-19 to just over £37 billion in 2020-21. But the sector is not uniform, and it might be helpful to step back slightly and look at some of the longer-term structural changes in the sector. We have seen a very significant growth in the number of students over the last five years to 2.34 million in the last year, but we have also seen a very significant increase in the number of institutions, from 153 five years ago to 248 in 2020-21. That includes roughly a doubling in specialist postgraduate providers and almost a quadrupling in smaller specialist providers. So I do not want to suggest that funding is not an issue in all of this, but there are some structural changes in the sector, including the size of some institutions, which are also relevant to your Lordships’ debate.
As your Lordships have mentioned, the number and profile of providers in deficit is not uniform. It is unchanged for high-tariff providers, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency data. It is down slightly for medium-tariff universities, whereas the number in deficit among specialist providers was up from two to 21 between 2017 and 2021, and for low-tariff providers it was up from 47 to 70, so we have seen a very significant shift. I say this because higher education providers are autonomous and independent. They are responsible for the decisions they make about their operating model and for their day-to-day management and sustainability. My understanding is that your Lordships believe that that is very important.
The Office for Students is the independent regulator of higher education in England and monitors the financial viability and sustainability of providers registered with it. Next month, the OfS is expected to publish its next report on the financial health of the HE sector, based on the analysis of providers’ financial forecasts and annual financial returns for 2022. Officials in the department meet regularly with the OfS, as do Ministers, to oversee the climate of higher education provider financial sustainability and to identify emerging risks and issues for the sector.
At this point, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Austin of Dudley, for highlighting the need for more educational opportunities in areas that traditionally have not had them. That important point was also raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Twycross. I am delighted to hear the noble Lord’s enthusiasm about the local institute of technology in his area. As he will know, we have increased the number of institutes of technology—which are partnerships between colleges, universities and employers—from the original 12 to 21 institutes, and we are investing close to £300 million in them.
On the final point the noble Baroness, Lady Twycross, made—which was not long at all and was very important—about making sure that higher status courses are available to disadvantaged students, I think we all feel that status has traditionally sat with the most academic courses. However, there is a real need to recognise the importance and value of technical courses as well as some academic ones. I think a shift in the narrative is happening about what represents status, and that should be accessible to all. She will be aware that the proportion of disadvantaged students accessing higher education has been on a welcome upward trajectory, but her challenge about making sure that it is always in relation to the highest-quality courses is very welcome.
The noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Wilcox and Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, all raised a number of wider issues in the sector and different aspects of financial pressure that I will try to address. The noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, raised a specific point about specialist institutions. As I am sure he knows, the OfS concluded its review of small and specialist providers in December last year, and those providers that were judged to be world-leading will retain that status for five years. The OfS intends to keep its funding allocations fixed during that period, subject to affordability.
A number of noble Lords raised the issue of tuition fees, including the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton. The Government’s principal priority for students is to ensure that their best interests are protected, and we have taken a number of measures relating to student finance to try to ensure this. To deliver better value to students and to keep the cost of higher education under control, we have frozen the maximum tuition fees for the 2023-24 and 2024-25 academic years. By 2024-25, maximum fees will have been frozen for seven years. We believe that continued fee freeze achieves the best balance between ensuring that the system remains financially stable, offering good value for the taxpayer and reducing debt levels for students in real terms, but we also understand that, of course, this puts pressure on some providers and requires their business model to evolve. I will touch on that more in a moment.
The noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, touched particularly on maintenance loans and the pressures that students face. In addition to the tuition fees freeze, we have continued to increase maximum loans and grants for living and other costs for undergraduates and postgraduate students each year. This academic year saw a 2.3% increase, while a further 2.8% increase has been announced for the academic year 2023-24. The Government recognise the additional cost of living pressures that have arisen this year and have impacted students. However, decisions on student finance will have to be taken alongside other spending priorities. This will ensure that the system remains financially sustainable and that the costs of education are shared fairly between students and taxpayers, not all of whom have benefited from going to university.
The noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, asked whether the Government planned to unfreeze tuition fees before the next election. The maximum tuition fees will be frozen until 2024-25, and Ministers will review those fees for 2025-26. The noble Baronesses, Lady Donaghy and Lady Twycross, asked about funding more university places for doctors, nurses and teachers. Teaching and nursing places are not capped by the Government. Medical student number targets are set by the Department of Health and Social Care, based on the workforce needs of the NHS and the availability of clinical training placements. Along with the postgraduate teaching apprenticeships, the Department for Education and IfATE are currently co-designing a degree-awarding apprenticeship that will confer an undergraduate degree alongside qualified teacher status, with a view to launching this as soon as possible.
A number of your Lordships asked what the Government would do in response to a university failure. If a provider were at risk of an unplanned closure, our priority would be to act with the Office for Students, the institution and other government departments to make sure that students’ best interests are protected.
The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, referred to some of the changes in the student finance and loan repayment system, and asked whether the Government were looking at levelling up in relation to the student loan system. We would argue that the system is already shaped in such a way as to protect those people who do not end up on higher incomes. Today, only 20% of student borrowers who entered full-time education in the 2021-22 academic year are forecast to repay their loans in full, with the remainder paid for by the taxpayer. The Government believe that this has to change, which is why we have reformed the system so that 55% of borrowers entering full-time higher education in the 2023-24 academic year will repay their loans in full.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, asked whether we saw the Office for Students as preventive or reactive. The Office for Students’ approach is very much about identifying in advance where there might exist material risk in a provider, and we have introduced new registration conditions that facilitate that.
The noble Baroness also asked about the proportionality of regulations. The Office for Students has a duty to be proportionate in its approach to regulation under the Regulators’ Code, and it takes that duty seriously. If the noble Baroness has specific examples of concerns that she would like to share, I will happily take them back.
The noble Baroness, Lady Twycross, asked how we can stay in front as an R&D nation. The Government are committed to increasing R&D funding. The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology is responsible for most of the Government’s spending on R&D. This includes an allocation of £25.1 billion for UK Research and Innovation over this spending review period to invest in innovation, foundational research, infrastructure and talent. I hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, accepts that some of that spending will also help the environment for staff within universities, which he described so clearly.
UKRI’s allocation includes £6.2 billion for Research England, which will directly support research and knowledge exchange in UK universities and other higher education institutions, as well as £2 billion for a new pooled approach to talent programmes. This funding will help to maintain the world-class reputation of UK research. We have four of the top 10 research universities in the world and our research councils are the envy of the world. With less than 1% of the world’s population, the UK’s share of highly cited publications is 13.4%, placing us third in the world. I thank the son of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, for his contribution to those numbers—every individual counts.
Earlier this month, the Prime Minister launched the Government’s plan to cement the UK’s place as a science and technology superpower by 2030. The Department for Business and Trade is delivering this vision by harnessing the combined power of our export of and investment in our science and technology sectors. Our science exports are already strong. Life sciences, for example, is one of the UK’s top exporting sectors, with pharmaceutical exports valued at £24 billion in 2022 and medical technologies exports valued at £4.1 billion.
The noble Lord, Lord Knight, my noble friend Lord Dundee and a number of other noble Lords asked about our work in relation to the Horizon programme. Obviously, the Government welcome the EU’s recent openness to discussing this issue after two years of delay. Both the UK and the EU have been clear that they are open to taking forward discussions on UK association, as was set out at the Partnership Council on 24 March.
Along with our life sciences exports, higher education is obviously an important export. The latest figures show that it generated £19.5 billion for the UK economy in 2020, growing even through the pandemic. The Government recognise the cultural and economic importance of international students to the UK and to our universities, where they enrich the experience for all students. International students are also an important part of international partnerships and research, which put the UK at the forefront of tackling global challenges. My noble friend Lord Dundee asked whether the Government support those partnerships; I am happy to say that we absolutely do.
This is about much more, perhaps, than the narrow financial reasons the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, suggested. In recognition of the importance of education exports, the Government published the International Education Strategy in 2019, and I am happy to confirm to the House that we retain our absolute commitment to it. Regarding how our international strategy links with immigration issues, I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Twycross, that we work very closely, particularly with the Home Office, obviously, on those issues.
As ever, I am running out of time. A number of noble Lords spoke about the Turing scheme, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, and the noble Lord, Lord Leong. I am not sure that I have been in a debate with the noble Lord before, but it was a pleasure to listen to his speech, which was a lot better than any of my rambling undergraduate essays—when I even wrote them. As your Lordships know, the Turing scheme is the Government’s global programme to study and work abroad. It has allocated nearly £130 million in grant funds for over 52,000 student placements from higher education providers since 2021. We have confirmed funding for continuation in 2024-25, but obviously we then enter a new spending review period.
The noble Baroness, Lady Garden, asked about the Turing scheme in relation to modern foreign languages. Every country in the world is eligible as a destination for UK students, but of the top 10 most popular destinations in the 2022-23 academic year, only four are English-speaking. I hope that gives the noble Baroness some reassurance. I would like to reject the slightly dismissive description of the scheme from the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy. I will have to write regarding the contribution of universities to their local economies. We are seeing some exciting partnerships, including one that I am familiar with from the University of Bristol, which is bringing a great deal of economic progress to the city, but there are many others.
The noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, in his opening remarks, incredibly eloquently, as ever, set out the real value of our universities, and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, rightly questioned and probed the Government’s commitment to the wider vision we have heard from a number of your Lordships this afternoon. I hope I have in some way reassured the House that we believe strongly and passionately in the value of our universities. We see our role as being to encourage, to focus, to set out our priorities, but we absolutely respect their autonomy in delivering them.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate; I have thoroughly enjoyed it. I have learned a lot—it is not my natural home as a policy area—particularly about the ups and downs of the Turing scheme. I make special mention of my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Austin, and his comments about the importance of universities for community generation. Also, this was the first time I have heard my noble friend Lady Twycross speak from the Front Bench. Clearly, it is her natural home, so I look forward to more of the same from her.
It is good to hear that across the House we are proud of our higher education sector. We want to allow it to continue to pursue excellence, as well as community renewal, and that requires a solid financial foundation. I noticed that in her fine speech, the Minister talked about the seven-year freeze in tuition fees allowing the sector to remain financially stable. I gently put it to her that, having shifted to half the income for the sector being reliant on tuition fees, to then have a seven-year freeze at a time of double-digit inflation is not the best recipe for financial stability.
However, with that note of caution—I do not want to depress anyone—it is still a vibrant sector and is still hugely important, and we are all committed to helping it.
With the permission of the House, I quoted one figure incorrectly and would just like to set the record straight. I said that, according to the HESA data, the increase in the number of low or unknown tariff higher education institutions that were in deficit in 2016-17 was 11 and in 2020-21 it was 21. I quoted earlier the number of institutions, which rose from 47 in 2016-17 to 70 in 2021. I would just like to get that right and not have to put it in yet another letter.
Afghan Resettlement Update
The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Tuesday 28 March.
“It has now been over 18 months since the conclusion of Operation Pitting in Afghanistan, the biggest UK military evacuation in more than 70 years. That unprecedented mission enabled around 15,000 people to leave Afghanistan and reach safety here in the UK. Since then, we have continued to welcome thousands more of those who loyally served alongside the UK Armed Forces, as well as those who stood up for British values such as democracy, women’s rights and freedom of speech and vulnerable groups at risk in the region. To date, nearly 24,500 vulnerable people have been safely relocated to the UK from Afghanistan.
Members of this House will know that this is a matter very close to my heart. This Government are determined to fulfil our strategic commitments to Afghanistan. We owe a debt of gratitude to those people and in return our offer to them has been generous. We have ensured that all those relocated as a result of Op Pitting have fee-free indefinite leave to remain, giving them certainty about their status, entitlement to benefits and the right to work. Operation Warm Welcome has ensured all those relocated to the UK through safe and legal routes have been able to access the vital health, education and employment support they need to integrate into our society, including English language training for those who need it, the right to work and access to the benefits system.
Given the unprecedented speed and scale of the evacuation, we warmly welcomed our Afghan friends and eligible British nationals into hotel accommodation as a temporary solution until settled accommodation could be found. That ensured that all Afghans have been housed in safe and secure accommodation from the moment they arrived; it gave our Afghan friends peace of mind and allowed us to move quickly during an emergency.
However, bridging hotels are not, and were never designed to be, a permanent solution. While dedicated teams across central and local government, as well as partners in the voluntary and community sector, have ensured that more than 9,000 Afghans have been supported into settled homes, around 8,000 remain in hotel accommodation. Around half of that cohort are children and around half have been living in a hotel for more than one year.
My colleagues have indicated that that is an unacceptable and unsustainable situation. The Government share that view—I personally share that view—and the situation needs to change. Long-term residency in hotels has prevented some Afghans from properly putting down roots, committing to employment and integrating into communities, which creates uncertainty as they look to rebuild their lives in the United Kingdom long term.
Beyond the human cost, the financial cost to the UK taxpayer of hotel accommodation for the Afghan cohort now stands at £1 million per day. As I have said, that needs to change. To help people to rebuild their lives here, we have a duty to end the practice of Afghan families living in hotels in the UK. That is in the best interest of families and individuals and will enable them to benefit from the security of housing and long-term consistency of public services, including schooling and the freedoms of independent living that only suitable non-hotel accommodation can provide.
That is why, with the support of my right honourable friends the Members for Newark (Robert Jenrick) and for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), I am today announcing the Government