A cross-party committee of peers has defended its failure to ask the minister for social care a single question about care charges or the social care funding crisis in a two-hour evidence session.
Only last week, disabled social worker Andy McCabe told the Lords adult social care committee that the “huge barrier” created by social care charges was forcing disabled people into poverty, was “causing a lot of mental anguish” and was “morally wrong”.
But social care minister Gillian Keegan spent four minutes short of two hours on Monday being questioned by the committee (pictured) about adult social care in England without being asked any questions about care charges, the social care funding crisis, or the unmet support needs of working-age disabled people.
Instead, there was a heavy emphasis in the committee’s questions on the needs and concerns of carers, with at least 11 questions focused on carers’ issues.
In April, disabled activists called for local authorities to take urgent action, after an ombudsman ruled that a disabled woman took her own life after being wrongly sent a string of invoices demanding payment of care charges she did not owe.
Freedom of information requests submitted by campaigners have shown that tens of thousands of disabled people across the country are having debt collection action taken against them every year by their local authorities over unpaid care charges.
And the crossbench disabled peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell, who has led parliamentary attempts to ease the burden of care charges on working-age disabled people, told Disability News Service (DNS) in April that the government’s new care funding reforms were “criminal” and would “continue to push disabled people of all ages into greater poverty and dependency”.
Baroness Campbell is a member of the committee but was not able to attend Monday’s session because she is recovering from emergency surgery.
During Monday’s session, the committee asked at least 11 questions about carers, as well as asking the minister about perceptions of adult social care, the “reliability” of the social care system, digital accessibility, the Household Support Fund, innovation and co-production, scaling up innovative projects, and co-production in commissioning.
She was also asked about sharing data, local authorities, capacity-building and user-led organisations, the support needs of those who are ageing without children, the accessible housing shortage, and integration of health and social care.
The final question of the session, from the Conservative peer Lord [Stuart] Polak, asked how the government would enforce local authorities’ duties to fulfil people’s legal rights to care and support under the Care Act, but he failed to make any reference to the current care funding crisis, to debt-ridden service-users, or to care charges.
Baroness [Kay] Andrews, the Labour peer who chairs the committee, told DNS today (Thursday): “Throughout its inquiry, the committee has worked on the principle of co-production with disabled people and unpaid carers.
“We have focused on an area of adult social care which is relatively hidden, and we have taken a huge amount of evidence from people with lived experience, both carers and disabled people.
“The session with the minister was intended as an opportunity therefore for the committee to question and test her precisely on the evidence we have received to date on the poverty of disabled people and carers, and the invisibility of unpaid carers and people with care needs, including the difficulty of navigating the system just to access the information, benefits and support to which they are entitled.
“We are looking at the huge challenges of funding and workforce through the lens of those who are most vulnerable, and we challenged the minister, for example, on the failure of government to fulfil many promises and expectations – not least the implementation of the Care Act 2014.
“We raised with her issues such as the failure to make standards for adaptable housing mandatory, to bring in carers’ leave, and how the investment set aside in the social care white paper was actually going to benefit unpaid carers and disabled people as well as how innovation was actually going to be driven and how good practice might be scaled up.
“We were disappointed by many of her responses, and we will continue to engage with ministers and civil servants going forward.
“We hope that our final report will bring some clarity, hope, respect, and challenge.”
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