Steve McCabe MP tells government ‘social care is a time bomb that desperately needs tackling’

Read Steve's speech in the Queen's Speech debate on Health and Social Care

Speaking in the Queen’s Speech debate on Health and Social Care Steve pressed the government on the detail of its proposals to reform the social care system pointing out not all is what it seems. Here's what he said:


Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab):

It is a pleasure to follow the thoughtful speech of the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham).

I congratulate the Government on their fine display of unity on the Queen’s Speech. In all my years in the Whips Office, I cannot recall seeing anything quite like it. In the early days of the Government, the ambition was simple: wipe out the deficit in a single Parliament, set debt on a downward path and restore health to the economy. Hon. Members were to judge success by how the credit ratings agencies maintained the triple A rating. Simple! The Government now claim that their ambition is to cut the deficit by a third, but almost everyone else believes it is more likely to be cut by only a quarter. That is our lot for the rest of the Parliament. Debt is rising, not falling, and triple A credit ratings are but a distant memory.

After the costs in administrative chaos caused by the top-down reorganisation of the health service, which the Prime Minister promised would not happen, the Government are turning their hand to social care. They are right to do so, at least in the sense that social care is a time bomb that desperately needs tackling. My most recent survey of constituents in Selly Oak shows that 73% of them consider care to be an issue of extreme importance, and only 42% think that the quality of care received by someone close to them is satisfactory.

People are struggling—people such as Mrs Hanslow, who cares for her 96-year-old father. She asks only for the odd break, and in the past she has arranged that by phoning a social worker. When she tried that this February, she discovered that the social worker had left. The office said that somebody would phone her back, but nobody did. She phoned again and was told that she needed to make a fresh application; apparently, files and arrangements leave with the social workers these days.

After several abortive attempts, Mrs Hanslow spoke to a nice lady called Wendy, who said that she would sort the situation out. Then a Mrs Collins rang saying that she was arranging for a social worker to come. But guess what? Mrs Hanslow waited in all day and no one came. Frustrated, she rang again and spoke to a Jackie, who could find no record of her application or complaint but said that someone would ring her back. No one rang, so Mrs Hanslow phoned again. This time, people at the office were not so nice. Mrs Hanslow was told that nothing had been reported because the social worker was out of the office.

Pauline Latham:What the hon. Gentleman is describing is the fault of the local authority, not the Government. The local authority is responsible for social workers, not the Government.

Steve McCabe:Bad practice is a problem everywhere, and everyone has to take responsibility for it—that is my point.

When Mrs Hanslow got upset and said she would have to cancel her break and lose her deposit, she was told, “That’s up to you.” She did not get her respite care. She is now under the care of the GP, and if she cannot carry on, we will need to find a bed for her dad. Perhaps he will become another bed blocker; there are so many in Birmingham that the brand new Queen Elizabeth hospital cannot cope and emergency wards in the old hospital, scheduled for closure, are reopening.

What about my constituent Margaret McGarry? She has cared for her elderly mother, who now has 9% kidney function and a dementia score of six, for about 10 years; if it was not for Ms McGarry’s love and care, her mum would probably be dead. In 2004, her mum received direct payments from Birmingham, which enabled Ms McGarry to hold down her job as well as look after her.

The family then moved to Redbridge, but Redbridge decided that Ms McGarry’s mum was Birmingham’s responsibility. Ms McGarry pointed out that she was the carer and that her mum lived with her, but that was not the case as far as Redbridge was concerned. Eventually, the council offered the equivalent of six hours of support, as opposed to the 34 that Birmingham had provided.

Last year, after a hospital experience that almost killed her mum, the family moved back to Birmingham. Ms McGarry’s mum now needs almost constant care. That means another assessment, which takes weeks and weeks. As soon as they moved, Redbridge council terminated the payments. Birmingham’s assessment commenced in August. In November, it recommended fewer care hours than Redbridge and by December still had not paid a penny. As the old lady’s health deteriorates, so does the level of support.

I have had a letter from the man in charge assuring me that the case is complex. One of the complexities seems to be that Ms McGarry has exercised her rights and engaged a solicitor. Apparently, that is a very naughty thing to do if a person is caring for an elderly relative because Ms McGarry has now been advised that all direct payments are being stopped. That is the reality of social care in this country today, and it is against such nonsense that we are asked to have faith that the Government are going to give people more rights. We are asked to accept that £150 million and promises from the Secretary of State will fix the problem. It may have escaped the Government’s notice, but the most recent round of cuts took a further £800 million out of services for the elderly and disabled, on top of last year’s cuts. When will it dawn on the public relations boys in No. 10 that it is pointless pretending they are giving people more rights when they are cutting services to the bone?

Let us examine what the Government are actually doing. They say they are setting a cap at £75,000—£72,000 in the first instance—raising the savings limit to £123,000 and giving a guarantee that no one will have to sell their home. Of course, £75,000 only covers the costs of care, not what is called hotel costs, such as food and accommodation. The cap is not, as my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) pointed out, the amount the individual spends, but the amount a local authority can buy for £75,000. When we add the real costs of residential care, rather than the local authority rate, to the hotel charges, it is much more likely that an individual will spend at least double that amount before the cap kicks in.

The £123,000 savings threshold means that anyone who has capital, including an empty home, will have to pay all their care costs until the cap is reached. That only leaves the guarantee that no one will be forced to sell their home—except that since October 2001 no one has been forced to sell their home. The previous Government introduced the deferred payments scheme and, in 2009, advised local authorities that if they failed to recognise the scheme, the courts would almost certainly rule their actions illegal. No interest is charged on deferred payment arrangements while a person is in receipt of care, or for 56 days after their death. The Government intend to make the existing arrangements compulsory, but also apply interest charges from the moment the scheme is activated. While questions remain about who will qualify, it is estimated that most of the additional subsidy will go to the richest 40% of people in the care system. That is what is wrong with the Government. The Government are built on falsehoods: falsehoods about the unity and purpose of the coalition; denial about the real state of the economy; and policies that are more about UKIP than the UK. We need genuine reform. That is what a decent Government would put in the Queen’s Speech.

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