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MS-03 - Social Care
I rise today to finally bring this House’s attention to the growing social care issue in this country that – if we do not act soon – could develop into a crisis that will crush the most vulnerable in our communities and their families.
Throughout the budget debate, I have tried to make sure that this growing crisis received attention within the media so we can communicate the scale of the challenge and the solution to the British public. Following years of political silence, it seems I, the NAO and the Chief Executive of the NHS have managed to make the message clear: the time to act is now.
How has this happened, Mr. Speaker? Simply put, our birth rates are declining as our life expectancy is rising. Take this ageing population with the reduction of funding to social care services and we’re watching the brewing of a perfect storm. In this budget, we invested £400 million into social care services. I need to be honest about the scale of the problem – this is enough for now. But we need to discuss how we keep social care sustainably funded next year. And the year after. And then the decade after. And the decade after that.
We all know how vital social care is to our communities, and eventually one day the buck will be passed on to us all. Because the inevitable truth is none of us are getting any younger, Mr. Speaker, so this is an issue that affects eighteen-year olds such as myself [smirks] just as much as it affects the elderly.
Those who provide social care are the unsung heroes of our communities and lives. While our social care crisis looms with its consequences just down the room, we’re seeing cracks in the system growing day by day: reports of staff being underpaid to cut costs and of only those in the most desperate need being granted care is frankly unacceptable. This government will seek to put an end to it.
So what now Mr. Speaker? We’ve established that there’s a crisis and the simple solution: to ensure more funding is provided. But this is a nuanced argument with so many difficult questions: how do we pay for it? Who pays for it? How can we make this fair for each generation? How do we make this model sustainable?
No single one of us has a simple answer to these frankly existential questions Mr. Speaker. I have invited members of Opposition parties to discuss this crisis with me: the scale, the solution and other factors. But while this cross-party spirit is productive and beneficial, we need to take this issue to the country.
So I’ve thought of ways in which we can bring public and some public spirit into this debate. Another inquiry or pitching forward simplistic demands and campaign slogans in a referendum will not do it. We don’t need answers, Mr. Speaker. We need solutions – and solutions we as a country, across political and demographic divides, can unite behind. It’s the very least our care workers and elderly deserve. That is why I have instructed a citizen’s assembly be conducted to look into this crucial issue, with the government aiming to implement the findings of the assembly.
Our perception of democracy and how it can be an engaging and deliberative process has for too long been a simplistic one that has weakened democracy, not strengthened it. I hope Mr. Speaker that in acting in this way I don’t just strengthen our social care system, but I can do my part to strengthen our democracy. To make it more broad, inclusive and deliberative and to consider the wide variety of democratic tools at our disposal: citizen’s juries are another tool the government can utilise.
These assemblies aren’t untried and untested Mr. Speaker – in fact, we know that they’re effective: we’ve seen them be used in the Netherlands, Ireland and Canada to provide consultation and advice, drawing from the experiences and skills not of politicians but the length and breadth of communities. That is democracy at its most fundamental and strongest.
Mr. Speaker, the assembly we ensure that members are randomly selected so that is can truly represent the makeup of the country: by age, gender, ethnicity, region, social grade and of course by their political perspective.
Mr. Speaker, I have ensured that the process of the assembly will be conducted fairly: there will be a variety of exercises, all moderated by independent and neutral experts, to ensure that participants can deal with the objective facts of the scenario before us and have time to reflect and develop their own opinions. There will be a constant feedback process, ensuring that participants feel able to express their views, feel listened to and feel as though they are adequately and appropriately informed.
Following this process over multiple weekend there will be a decision-making phase, where the assembly members will participate in a number of votes so that we can gage what they feel is the most appropriate course of action to take following the learning phase. This will be assembled into a report, with the government fully intent on implementing the conclusions and creating a social care system that is sustainable, fair and effective.
But Mr. Speaker I will be clear that the time to act is now. As well as investing £400 million into social care spending, I can announce to the House that after discussions with the Right Honourable Gentleman for Sutton and Cheam, I have managed to earmark roughly a billion pounds from capital spending to invest in social care. I intend to make sure this fund is roughly centred around jobs, creating a ‘new deal’ for social care.
Mr. Speaker, the way we think about capital spending and investment has for too long been too twisted. The investment is only worth it if it’s on things – bridges, trains, and other essential infrastructure – but we need to start thinking about how we can invest in people. This government isn’t just taking radical steps in how we organise our democracy, but it will make it clear that ‘social’ capital spending is vital too. This is a government that will change the name of the game to strengthen our democracy, our economy and our communities.
But this is, essentially, an investment with which we will see returns, Mr. Speaker. We know that every pound invested in social care creates almost double the number of high paying jobs compared to that money being invested in construction – more crucially, the jobs created are more gender balanced, bringing women into that equation. This social capital investment is good for our elderly, it’s good for gender equality, it’s good for jobs and as a consequence we know it’s good for our economy.
The scale of the challenge ahead is great, Mr. Speaker. It requires difficult choices. Sometimes, perhaps, painful choices. It will require a lot of willpower and a lot of courage. But, Mr. Speaker, I will make it as clear as day to this House that this government is prepared to meet that challenge.
"[we] would rather die than leave the Labour Party." - Emily Thornberry.
I would like to thank the Secretary of State for an advanced copy of her statement and for her belated appearance after she had finished her press engagements for the day.
Mr Speaker this statement is an interesting read, the Government which maintains repeatedly that the public should not be consulted on anything is now determined to punt an issue as complicated as social care to them now. When electoral reform came before this House one could be forgiven for thinking that the Labour Party manifesto would be adhered to and the public would be given a say on all provisions except the provision for Lords reform, as the manifesto said. No Mr Speaker, we were wrong, only after the threat of defeat from backbench rebellion did the Government try to compromise at all and even then it was a single offer of a referendum on one provision.
On the issue of our membership of the European Union again the Government have been determined to ignore the input and the will of the British people, indeed they scoff at those who want a referendum. Mr Speaker if the British people are not worth the effort of a consultation on these pressing constitutional questions then why are they being consulted on something as complicated and technocratic as social care policy? I'll tell you why Mr Speaker, because this Government has no plan for social care, they have a headline and they will do whatever it takes to get that headline and the requisite column inches in the papers. This is a Government who will do or say anything to get their moment in the sunshine, even waste £2.3bn in debt interest to finance £400mn of annual social care increases and other deficit inflating policies.
Mr Speaker the future of social care in our country is a delicate balance that requires the utmost care to be taken and the highest degree of respect to be shown. A commission made up of laymen may be politically popular because it lets the Government kick the can down the road and feign activity, but what we need is the testimony of experts and of practitioners.
The Conservative Party have an actual plan for the social care of our country. We will continue our plan to balance the budget ensuring that we stop wasting money paying debt interest. This statement alluded to the increase in funding for social care but I notice that it didn't mention the fact that our nation's creditors will be getting a funding increase of nearly six times more than our social care budget. The only way to have a strong public sector and strong social care is to have healthy public finances, healthy public finances being one of the broken promises propagated by this Government.
Beyond strong public finances Mr Speaker what this country's social care budget truly needs is cohesion and efficiency. That is why the Conservative Party policy on social care is twofold, integrate health and social care, and bring it into the control of central government. It is with joined up thinking throughout the healthcare process that we will achieve proper cohesion and efficiency, these are policies that the Conservative Party fought the last election on and they shall remain party policy as we head into these cross-party talks as proposed by the Right Honourable Member. I look forward to these talks and hope that they can be more constructive than the Government's "talks" with their backbenchers on the issue of constitutional reform.
Conservative MP for North East Bedfordshire
Leader of the Opposition
Prime Minister (2014)
Parliamentary Experience: Unknown (14)
Media Experience: Capable (45)
Policy Experience: Unknown (13)
When the budget debate went on social care wasn't mentioned once. I take no shame in rallying the press to bring awareness to this crucial issue, ensuring that this debate would be had and that the public would be engaged. I think had that not been the case we wouldn't have heard Conservative voices contributing to the debate. I don't agree with the Right Honourable Gentleman for Bracknell often, but I too have noticed that where the press goes the Leader of the Opposition follows.
But, Mr. Speaker, beggars cannot be choosers. Not when it comes to the huge social care crisis engulfs our country. And I do wish the Leader of the Opposition would come up with more concrete solutions, Mr. Speaker, and not use this vital debate to talk about the Tories' obsession with Europe or austerity. But I'll bite.
As I said Mr. Speaker this is a debate on social care... you think we would discuss social care. Where we can find funding. Where we can find efficiency. About the real human stories and problems this debate brings to us. Of course, there's no issue where the Tories cannot bring their true obsession - Europe. Our social care system is crumbling. Wages have fallen as prices have risen under the Tories. Public trust is at record lows. And to every single one of those the Tory melodrama, the obsession with Europe to appease a few backbenchers, comes in.
The Leader of the Opposition would know full well about giving into backbench pressure and delivering a referendum, Mr. Speaker. Because he crumbles under backbench pressure and betrayed his principles for political power. It's time to give the game up.
Even if his position were one sincerely from conviction in his heart, Mr. Speaker, I'll remind the Leader of the Opposition that 'deliberative' and 'direct' democracy are two completely different concepts. One works in blacks and whites, in slogans and campaigns, in rights and wrongs. On occasion, they may be effective ways to settle binary disputes.
Social care is not a binary dispute Mr. Speaker. It could be strongly argued the European Union isn't, for that matter. But there's no two answers to the crisis. And there's multiple questions the Leader of the Opposition hasn't even seemed to grapple with: how do we fund social care? How far do we have to go? How do we make sure this is sustainable? How do we make sure it's generationally fair?
Unlike referendums which have politicians debate and pitch to the country, we want the country and public to be involved in the debate in every level. In a way that is representative. The display we have seen in the House has made me more convinced that it is they who are better suited to ponder these difficult decisions in the public interest, Mr. Speaker.
In this citizen's assembly we won't be using other pet political projects to generate headlines. We'll be considering the question at hand. We won't use vague slogans of 'integration.' We'll think of common solutions. Together. The Tory Party think that the Labour Party being honest with the British public that a project to leave the European Union is not on our agenda is elitist - and yet they criticise the British public as 'laymen'. The Leader of the Opposition believes he by virtue of being himself is more entitled than his milkman to debate the issues of the day.
The British public matter, Mr. Speaker. As the Leader of the Opposition have said, we are their servants. While we aren't delegates who robotically deliver on binary choices as the Leader of the Opposition says he believes to appease his backbenchers, we need to give them that space to talk well as to vote. That is what this government promises.
But what's crucial Mr. Speaker is that the Leader of the Opposition says we need experts to voice in on this debate. He criticises the public that voted for him and for I as laymen, whilst appearing to not do his own homework. Because citizens assemblies put experts and expertise to the very heart of the democratic decision making process - with experts guiding and advising the public, generating discussion that is factual, not political.
And, Mr. Speaker, if the Leader of the Opposition is going to talk about listening to experts he should actually listen to them! The Chief Executive of the NHS and the NAO is not enough for him. They've made it startlingly clear: these services need more money. Now.
The government has ensures we have provided that funding in the short term with our £400 million investment plus £1 billion funding for a New Deal for Social Care while we listen to the public's voices on how we act in the long term. This government has a plan, for now and we will consult on how we act for tomorrow. The Tories didn't have a plan at all when they were in government!
Integration is all well and good Mr. Speaker. And unlike the Leader of the Opposition I will use that opportunity to discuss the intricacies of the social care debate, and to find common ground. All too often we're finding those needing care finding it on NHS beds and trolleys - while we fail to integrate there will be waste and inefficiency.
Unlike the Conservatives, this government does not see it as a one way street. In fact, to see integration through effectively we need to invest in it. This supports the central tenet of the government's strategy: we need to invest today to save tomorrow. The Conservatives' anti-growth strategy and timidity is why we have not integrated these systems yet, Mr. Speaker. Where the Tories talk, Labour will do. Because we will have the courage and the ability to put our money where our mouth is.
But Mr. Speaker the Leader of the Opposition fails to acknowledge one of the benefits of integration is it improves accessibility. Which this government encourages. But we need to be honest: this increases the pressures on our NHS. It does not preclude the central point - that our cracking social care system needs money, and we need to discuss how we get that money.
But, Mr. Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition wants to talk economics with me. Again, I'll bite. This government makes no qualm of the fact we want to take advantage of historically low interest rates. The Leader of the Opposition wants to cite the price of interest.
But he fails to factor in growth. Yes, interest will cost two billion. But with projected growth from this budget estimated to be an extra percent or two - we know that is irrelevant. It doesn't sound like much, a percentage, I know Mr. Speaker. But I can promise that reaps in billions and billions in funds. Enough to pay that interest, to invest in public services and yes, to ensure we have more money to ultimately slim our deficit down in the long term.
Spending today to generate more wealth tomorrow works, Mr. Speaker. The Conservatives' strategy of near double dip recession does not. Ask the businessman who takes out a loan to build a successful business he can make a living out of. Ask the commuter who has to spend a couple of pounds today to make the wage they live on - of course, if they refuse to commute to work Mr. Speaker they do save a few pounds. But they miss an income.
The Opposition's strategy is to deprive Britain of it's income.
And yet still we know austerity is a political choice because the Conservatives have proven they're happy to spend money to help billionaires and bankers. A billion in social care to them is a 'waste' - how can we afford it, they ask? And yet they don't ask that when they cut taxes for the very richest in inheritance tax and corporation tax cuts. It's just assumed they're entitled to that money. And as they did that, our social care system creaked.
Invest in billionaires and you get growth in the Cayman islands, maybe. But this government's new deal for social care will ensure more money goes back into Britain's local communities: it is good for the growth, good for jobs and good for gender equality!
I don't believe I'm saying this, Mr. Speaker. Not because it's economic common sense, but because here we are talking about growth and interest rates in a debate about social care - the Leader of the Opposition has stood in a speech on social care and has barely mentioned the crisis. He's mentioned the European Union more.
So I implore the Opposition: for the good of the country, spend less time tweeting, spend more time doing your homework and discussing the issue at hand!
"[we] would rather die than leave the Labour Party." - Emily Thornberry.