Barbara Keeley – 2020 Speech on Social Care

Below is the text of the speech made by Barbara Keeley, the Labour MP for Worsley and Eccles South, in the House of Commons on 25 February 2020.

I beg to move,

That this House notes that almost ten years of Government cuts to council budgets have resulted in a social care funding crisis which means 1.5 million older people have unmet social care needs; further notes the increasing funding gap for adult social care; believes proposals from the Government for access to additional funding for both adult and children’s social care will do nothing to ease the crisis or address the funding gap; and calls on the Government to bring forward as a matter of urgency plans to reform social care including plans for free personal care.

It is right that we have a chance to debate social care today: it is two weeks ahead of the Budget and there is the ever present hope that the Government will announce much-needed social care reform. This reform is long overdue. After nearly a decade of cuts, our social care system is on its knees. For the people who rely on social care and for their families, the reality is that things have got much worse under successive Conservative Governments. Every day last year, 2,000 older people who had approached their local authority for help with social care were turned down. The result is that there are currently 1.5 million older people who are not getting the support they need—each one struggling to cope with basic everyday tasks. This can mean people left trapped in bed all day or going unwashed all week, because family carers can visit them only on the weekends, and those are the people who are fortunate enough to have help from unpaid carers. Around half the 1.5 million get no help at all—not even from family and friends. They cope as best they can until they end up in hospital, and then they cannot get out of hospital because they can only be discharged safely once a social care package is set up, with the local authorities struggling to find the funding for it.

Another failure in our social care system is where people are held in entirely inappropriate institutions because the local authority cannot fund the care they need to keep them safe in the community. There are 2,200 autistic people and people with learning disabilities who continue to be detained on in-patient wards. This is one of the most egregious failures of our social care system. They should be able to live in their own homes with a support package, but the funding is not there. For eight years the Government have been promising to end this scandal, but they have failed to do so.

Thangam Debbonaire (Bristol West) (Lab)

My hon. Friend is making a great start to a very important speech. Does she agree that it is quite astonishing that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has been forced into a position where it is having to threaten to take action over the Government because of their failure to accommodate people with autism and learning disabilities, and it is people who are suffering as a result?

Barbara Keeley

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The only way that we will see real change is if the Government put in funding to provide the housing ​and support needed for those people currently trapped in inappropriate institutions. I first raised this issue with the Secretary of State in October 2018, citing the case of a young autistic woman called Bethany. It took 14 months before Bethany was moved out of a seclusion cell and into a more supported environment. Now we have, as my hon. Friend has said, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission launching a legal challenge against the Department for its failure to move those 2,200 autistic people and people with learning disabilities out of those inappropriate units.

We must see action on this issue, because it is a national scandal. We need to see reform so that more people can get the care they need, rather than being left to struggle on alone. Even when people are able to access publicly funded care, there is no guarantee that it will be of acceptable quality. Last year, one in six social care services was rated by the Care Quality Commission as “inadequate” or “requires improvement”. That can mean care homes that are so unclean that residents are at risk of picking up infections. It can mean home care agencies that have not even carried out basic checks on their staff, or home care staff being so rushed that they do not have the time to take off their coats during a visit.

Twenty per cent of councils in England and Wales still commission 15-minute care visits. That is clearly not long enough to provide care. It is not long enough to get to know someone and support them to do the things that they want to do.

Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) (Con)

A German style system of social insurance would allow somebody who is defined as needing social care to draw down a certain amount of money which they could then use to pay to a relative, a loved one, or a neighbour who understands that person best and who can care for them best. Is that not a sensible basis for a cross-party discussion, between the Opposition and the Government, about whether a German style social insurance system could solve this problem?

Barbara Keeley

I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that point; he does make it on every occasion that we debate this subject, so I congratulate him on doing so again. However, the person he needs to be directing his comments about cross-party talks to is sitting on the Government Front Bench. I am hopeful that the Secretary of State is going to tell us what he is going to do about cross-party talks, because those 15-minute visits are really not good enough.

Mr Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab)

I agree entirely about the need for cross-party consensus on this issue, but there can be no consensus until there is an acknowledgement of what has caused the care crisis—the underfunding of the health service and cuts to local government budgets, which have had an impact on A&Es, GPs and other services. Until there is an acknowledgement of what caused the situation, there can be no consensus towards a solution.

Barbara Keeley

My hon. Friend is right. I will come to the causes, because it is important to mention them.

The 15-minute care visit reduces the giving of care by care staff to a series of physical tasks, rather than the staff being able to see a person with their own interests, ​desires and opinions. It really strips them of the time to do the job they want to do. I pay tribute to all care staff, who go above and beyond in their jobs to improve the lives of the people they support. Without them, our social care system would not work, but they do not get the pay and recognition that they deserve.

Care staff, who provide essential practical and emotional support to some of the most vulnerable people in society, are among the most poorly paid workers. The average hourly pay for care staff is below the rate paid in most UK supermarkets. On average, care staff are paid less than cleaners and healthcare assistants in the NHS, and this has led to a vacancy rate of 122,000 care jobs and a turnover rate of 33%. Now the Government are planning to make the situation worse by turning away people who want to come to this country to work in social care. One in seven care workers is from outside the UK, but the average care worker earns £10,000 a year less than the Government’s immigration salary threshold, so will the Secretary of State tell us just how he thinks he is going to be able to fill the large number of vacancies in the social care workforce?

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab)

My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Does she share my concern that poor pay and conditions mean not only that these workers are exploited, but that there is a high degree of turnover and a lack of investment in training and development, which in themselves have a significant impact on the quality of care that is delivered to some of our most vulnerable residents?

Barbara Keeley

Once again, I absolutely agree. My hon. Friend is right to emphasise that point.

Last week I met home care support workers in my constituency who are campaigning to be paid a real living wage, and they told me about their struggles to manage financially. One staff member talked of working 90 hours for four consecutive weeks at an effective rate of £6.10 an hour. Others talked about being bitten or punched, yet still they continue to do the support job that they love. I pay tribute to their commitment; in the case of social care, doing a rewarding job does not pay the bills.

Mike Amesbury (Weaver Vale) (Lab)

Does my hon. Friend agree that far too many essential careworkers are employed on zero-hours contracts, which we really need to see kicked into history?

Barbara Keeley

I very much agree. We need to pay care staff the real living wage, provide them with training and end the use of zero-hours contracts.

I think it is clear enough that the Labour party believes that the current system is not working, and I am sure that the Secretary of State knows it too. Councils just do not have the funding required to deliver the care that people need, and they are faced with a stark choice—either they cut back on the quality of care, or even fewer people receive any help at all. Only a third of directors of adult social services think that their budget will be enough to meet their statutory duties this year, which means that thousands of people who approach their local authority for help with their care are turned down for support. Without investment and a plan, social care services will be pushed deeper and deeper ​into crisis. Expert report after expert report has pointed to social care being on the verge of collapse, and those reports make it clear that councils cannot deliver adequate adult social care provision without a sustainable, long-term funding strategy. Yet what we have seen from the Government, year after year, is short-term and piecemeal funding.

The Secretary of State may repeat, as his colleagues did yesterday, that the Government are allowing councils to raise council tax this year to fund social care services, but the Opposition know that council tax is a deeply unfair way to fund this vital public service. A 2% rise in council tax rates in Wokingham will raise twice as much money as it would in Knowsley. Even if we raised council tax by 2% every year, the Institute for Fiscal Studies says that by the end of the decade social care will make up over half of all local government spending. This means that other vital services will continue to be cut back. That is certainly the situation I see in my own local authority area.

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)

The shortage of resource and people in the system means that more responsibility falls on families. I know that my hon. Friend recognises the unsung heroes who are young carers—children who miss out on education, a social life and so much more to care for a parent or sibling. Does she agree that the Government need to do more to help to support organisations like the Eastern Ravens Trust in Stockton, which does so much to help these young carers to have a life of their own?

Barbara Keeley

Indeed I do. I am looking forward to the establishment of the new all-party group on young carers, but it is tragic, in a way, that we have to meet in new all-party groups to try to find some way of taking the burden from those young carers.

As local authorities struggle to fund social care, an increasing number of people are forced to take on the financial burden themselves. Some 143,000 people are currently faced with catastrophic costs of over £100,000 for their own care. Over the past three years, 9,000 people have asked their local authority for help after completely depleting their own savings to pay for their care. This means that people are having to sell their homes that they may have lived in for their entire lives to fund the care that they need. The Prime Minister has promised to stop this situation, but with no plan and no proposals for how he achieves that, it is likely that many more people will be put in this position going forward. The Government could drastically reduce the number of people faced with catastrophic costs for their care if they set a lifetime cap on care costs. The Government proposed a cap in 2013. They legislated for it, but dropped it in 2016. That cap would have gone some way towards reducing the number of people now faced with catastrophic social care costs. The Government’s own impact assessment showed that by this year 37,000 people would have benefited from the cap if it had been introduced in 2016.

But reform is not just about protecting housing wealth. It is important to do that, but reform also has to offer a solution to the people who are currently stuck in bed all day unable to get themselves dressed, or needlessly stuck in hospital. The solution that Labour favours is to ​offer free personal care to ensure that everyone is supported with the basic tasks regardless of their ability to pay. Free personal care was introduced by a Labour-led Government in Scotland in 2002, and it is ensuring that more people there receive publicly funded social care. Free personal care has been backed by the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee and by charities and think-tanks.

We believe that it is vital that we push forward with this reform because progress to date has been far too slow. In October 2018, the Secretary of State talked about:

“The adult social care Green Paper, which will be published later this year”.—[Official Report, 17 October 2018; Vol. 647, c. 736.]

In 2019, we were told that there would be a Green Paper “that summer” that would set out the future of social care, but it never arrived. It was delayed twice before being dropped completely. Seven months ago, the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing Street and said that he had a plan to fix the social care crisis. There is still no sign of it. Perhaps this plan is in the same state as the promised Green Paper. The Government said that they would instigate cross-party talks on social care within the first 100 days of the election. We are now 75 days on and we have yet to hear from the Government on their proposals.

Labour is the only party, as it stands today, with clear plans for the future of social care. Labour’s plan for social care would close the funding gap, cap care costs, and introduce free personal care and improved pay and working conditions for care staff. In contrast, we have no action from the Government on social care. Councils are reliant on piecemeal funding announcements and raising ever higher levels of council tax, yet these measures leave them struggling to meet demand. So Labour’s message to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State is clear: they need to put in the extra investment needed to stabilise the care system, introduce free personal care, bring back a cap on care costs, and develop a plan to improve the pay and working conditions of the care workforce. I want to make it clear that Labour will be happy to sit down with Ministers and talk them through our proposals, as the Prime Minister does not appear—at this point in time, at least—to have any plans of his own. I urge hon. Members to vote for our motion tonight to ensure that the Government have to finally meet their pledge to fix social care.