Read Steve’s contribution to the Carers Debate in the House of Commons, 20 June 2013

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab):I congratulate the Members who helped to secure today’s debate.

During the debate on the Queen’s Speech, I referred to the experiences of two carers in my constituency. One was Lynne Hanslow, who cares for her 96-year-old father, keeping him out of residential care. All that she asks for is a fortnight’s respite break each year, but this year, despite having given the council four months’ notice, she was denied that break and was abused by a local authority employee when she complained about her treatment. Not surprisingly, Ms Hanslow ended up having to go to her GP. A carer had been made ill by neglect and worry.

I have spoken to the council’s director of adult services, but so far Ms Hanslow has not received the full apology that she deserves, along with a promise that that will not happen again. I believe that the council’s chief executive should make the apology, thus sending the signal that he means to take the needs of carers seriously and will not stand for his staff treating them with contempt. Ms Hanslow’s experience is one of the reasons for my conclusion that statutory respite care should become a legal, enforceable right for carers. We have tried the other approaches for too long.

I also mentioned the case of Margaret McGarry. She cares for her frail elderly mother, who suffers from dementia. Her direct payments have been suspended, apparently in retaliation for her having had the temerity to go to a solicitor because she felt that the local authority was being unreasonable in terms of the flawed level of support that it was prepared to provide. There should be a much simpler independent review process for carers like Margaret McGarry who are treated in such an appalling way. The current system seems almost to be weighted in favour of officials and bureaucrats, at the expense of carers. I wonder whether the time has come for local authorities to create carers champions to look out for carers’ interests. I have come to the conclusion that local authority complaints procedures in much of the NHS these days are not about problem solving at all. They are about process. They are almost a game to create an illusion of accountability. I think we need a champion who will listen to carers’ concerns.

 

Paul Burstow:I think it is worse than that. The balance of power is entirely wrong. It is too much on the side of the local authority to which the individual is complaining. That is why we need advocacy, but it is also why we need to look at the case made in the Joint Committee report on the draft Care and Support Bill for the need for a tribunal service, to start to address these matters in a more impartial way, detached from the local authority. How can a local authority investigate itself?

 

Steve McCabe:I certainly agree with that, although I would be reluctant for us to have a complex system that the carer has more difficulty accessing. I take on board the right hon. Gentleman’s point, however.

In arguing for a champion, I am looking for someone like a councillor, with sufficient clout to intervene and right wrongs and cut through the madness and bureaucracy that all too often ends up punishing, rather than protecting, the carer. That does not mean we should not also have further review and appeal processes, but I want us to have something simple that people can make use of and that will make a difference.

A champion might also do more to make sure the voices of ordinary carers are heard. I am thinking about the hidden carers that so many Members have mentioned—the people who are too busy caring to have time to attend the consultation sessions, which are organised to suit the convenience and working hours of the NHS and local authority officials, so these people are never heard.

 

Norman Lamb:I totally agree with what the hon. Gentleman says about giving a voice to carers, who sometimes are treated appallingly, not only by providers of care, but by some of the statutory services and local authorities. With providers, we have introduced, through the NHS Choices website, the ability for people, in TripAdvisor style, to speak out and have their say about poor standards of care, and we may need to do something similar for local authorities, because there should be no hiding place when people are let down in that way.

 

Steve McCabe:I welcome what the Minister says. I am able to identify these people in my constituency, and I do not understand why it is so hard for the caring organisations to identify them.

I wonder why we do not say that at the point when an individual qualifies for attendance allowance the local authority should be notified and instructed to commence consultations with the person and their carer, with a view to establishing a long-term care plan and review strategy. That could reduce the occurrence of crisis care episodes, and the authority could simultaneously start to develop a support plan for the carer, so the needs of the carer are at the centre of the care plan.

 

Paul Burstow:The hon. Gentleman’s point about attendance allowance is interesting and important. He may know that this week the Strategic Society Centre think-tank published an interesting report setting out how this area might be reformed in a way that provides just what he has described: a front door into the social care system. Does he share my surprise that we have a system that does not talk to social care at least in part because it is entirely paper-based? It is not electronic, and perhaps the Department for Work and Pensions needs to consider putting it on that basis, so the information can be shared more freely.

 

Steve McCabe:I think I probably would agree with that, although the right hon. Gentleman must recognise that the Government are moving increasingly towards systems that do not allow for face-to-face exchange. I understand that that is one of the major disputes about what is happening in the DWP. I think it would make classic sense, however. All of us hear enough about joined-up government, and this is one area where a bit of joined-up government could save money and provide a much better service.

 

Barbara Keeley:I was at an event the other day—as was the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall)—at which somebody from the DWP was talking about this issue. They said they had tried a project to get their data to talk to the local authority’s data, but had given up because the local authorities all used different forms. That seemed to me to be appalling. The Minister might like to think about whether there could be guidance for local authorities. If local authority forms are all that is stopping this vital sharing of data, it is about time we dealt with that.

 

Steve McCabe:One of the penalties of having been a Member of this House for quite a long time is that we get fed up with hearing such excuses. We know fine well they are nonsense; if we want it to happen, we can make it happen. That is the approach we should take.

My hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Andy Sawford) talked about older carers and carers who have been caring for older relatives, and I want to touch on one particular aspect of that. What will happen under the Government’s deferred payment equity release plans to surviving spouses who are carers, or elderly children caring for even older parents—it is not uncommon these days for a 70-year-old to be the carer for somebody who is 95 or 96, for instance? What rights will they have? In such situations, when the person who is being cared for enters residential care, what will happen to a carer whose name is not on the deeds of the house, although it may be their family home and they may well have lived there since marriage, or even childhood?

We must ensure that these carers do not end up homeless, destitute individuals with no pot of money to support them when they end up needing care themselves. I am not sure that the deferred payment scheme as currently structured takes account of the risk for those carers, and it would be the cruellest of rewards if, after a lifetime of care, we left them in this predicament.

 

Norman Lamb:At present, when someone goes into a care home and they have to sell the home to pay for care, the position of the carer could be very precarious, but the arrangements for the right to defer payment potentially provide greater stability for the carer. The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, however, and I will be happy to write to him directly about it.

 

Steve McCabe:I am grateful to hear that the Minister will look at the issue. I acknowledge that the current system is far from perfect, but interest-related deferred payments could mean more of the pot being consumed, and therefore less for the remaining carer.

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