A cross-party committee of peers has defended its decision to ignore the crucial issue of care charges in a major “spotlight” report on adult social care in England.
The report by the Lords adult social care committee focuses heavily on the needs of unpaid carers and says little about the funding of social care, other than calling for “realistic, long-term and protected funding for the sector”.
Of the 30 recommendations in the report, A Gloriously Ordinary Life, more than 10 explicitly call for action to improve support or funding for carers, while there is not one recommendation on care charging.
In July, the committee failed to ask the minister for social care a single question about care charges, the social care funding crisis, or the unmet support needs of working-age disabled people, in a two-hour evidence session.
This is reflected in today’s (Thursday) 150-page report, in which there are just 13 mentions of charging for care, with nine of those appearing in an appendix to the main report that describes the committee’s visit to the disabled people’s organisation (DPO) Real.
One disabled person who took part in the Real evidence session told the committee that “almost all” councils charge disabled people for social care, describing this as “not ethical” and a “tax on being disabled”.
She asked: “Authorities don’t charge householders for collecting their rubbish, they don’t charge parents for sending their children to school, they don’t charge for NHS treatment so why is it considered acceptable for them to charge disabled people for their care?”
Despite the concerns raised on charging during the visit to Real, the issue was ignored in the main report, and in its recommendations.
Earlier this year, Disability News Service reported how tens of thousands of disabled people across the country were having debt collection action taken against them every year by their local authorities over unpaid care charges.
But the report’s only mention of “debt” is when the report speaks of “the debt which we owe unpaid carers”.
In all, there are 766 mentions of the word “carer” in the report, compared with 196 mentions of the word “disabled”.
The committee’s investigation took more than 10 months, and it heard oral evidence from nearly 50 witnesses.
The committee claims that its report focuses “on the voices of lived experience”, despite ignoring the concerns raised about care charging in the Real visit.
There are fleeting mentions of evidence provided by disabled people and DPOs during the committee’s inquiry.
Ian Loynes, chief executive of Spectrum Centre for Independent Living, told the committee earlier this year: “There is a notion that, once you become disabled, you are automatically dependent and you need somebody else; you are just looked after and you are wasting your life until you die.
“That is not the reality for any age or for any disabled people.”
Wiltshire Centre for Independent Living told the committee in its written evidence: “When being assessed for care services people are told what they need to live a basic existence in terms of personal care.”
And Inclusion London said in its written evidence that social care support was “largely regarded as support to meet basic personal care needs of older people as opposed to support to ensure people can live a normal life with equal choices and rights”.
Among its recommendations, the report suggests: the appointment of a new commissioner for care and support; that the government should work with local authorities to ensure the Care Act 2014 is “fully implemented”; work should be carried out to embed the principles of co-production in social care; and there should be an independent review of the pay and working conditions of personal assistants.
It also calls for funding for peer-led organisations to provide advice and information on care and support; government funding to develop “innovative models” to make direct payments and personal assistance easier to access and manage and to simplify the recruitment of personal assistants; and increased funding for supported housing.
Baroness [Kay] Andrews, the committee’s Labour chair, defended the report and its recommendations.
She stressed that the report made “the urgent case for realistic and sustainable funding, which… is what we heard disabled people need above everything else from adult social care”.
She said the report also “made the case for greater choice and control for people with disabilities, and took a huge amount of evidence, reflected in our recommendations, as to what would make the difference to them”.
She said the committee had wanted to focus on the “invisibility” of the adult social care sector “because it was important to expand the debate and shine a light on those issues and on people who are often left on the margins – disabled adults and older people of course, but also many unpaid carers.
“We always looked at the lives of unpaid carers in relationship to the people that they support. The two are interdependent.
“The relationship between unpaid carers and people who draw on care is, however, rarely the focus of any interest or inquiry, despite the huge role it plays in enabling choice and control for everyone involved.
“Putting that right was part – but not entirely the whole by any means – of what we aimed to do.
“In our report we cover many aspects and aspirations which have not been brought together before.”
She claimed the committee had not examined charging because it has “been covered in many other ways and our task was to add value where it has not been given”.
She also said the committee had written to the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, after his autumn statement “because we were outraged at the failure once again to keep the promise of the cap on care costs, while diverting that funding across a vague set of alternatives which we have challenged in detail”.
Meanwhile, a new report (PDF) has highlighted the impact that social care has on the wellbeing of disabled people and family carers.
The Impact of Social Care project brought together the disabled people’s organisation Being the Boss and Bringing Us Together – which brings together disabled children and young people and their families – with funding from The Scurrah Wainwright Charity.
They ran six online workshops, with most of those taking part disabled people, family members and carers.
One of those who took part in a workshop said afterwards: “I am appalled at how badly so many people are treated.”
Another said: “I recognise how out of our depth we often are, when we are up against professionals who are prepared to flout the law or misinterpret it.”
More than 200 people were involved in the project, which – the report concludes – demonstrated the “increasing and significant impact of social care charging and cost of living pressures” and the need to develop an understanding of the support people need to exercise “real choice and control” over their own support “in order to live good lives and participate in their communities as active citizens”.
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