MPs have been criticised for failing to question the social care minister about the “national scandal” of tens of thousands of disabled people across England who have been left in debt because they cannot pay their care charges.
Helen Whately was giving evidence (pictured) to the Commons health and social care committee in a one-off session on Tuesday.
But despite being questioned for nearly 90 minutes by committee members, she was not asked any questions about the impact of care charges on working-age disabled people.
Disability News Service reported last year 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.
Asked why the MPs had failed to question the minister about this issue, a spokesperson for the committee said yesterday (Wednesday): “The committee doesn’t comment on question areas covered by an evidence session.”
But Helen Rowlands, an executive council member of Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP), said: “Disabled people – across Greater Manchester and nationally – are falling behind with their social care invoice payments because they simply can’t afford the charges, and local authorities then seek to recover those debts.
“Yet the minister decided to exclude care charge debt from her evidence to parliament, and the committee appears to have failed to hold her to account.
“The disabled electorate and their families enduring the social care crisis deserve better representation.
“We ask: how is it that the government has never conducted an assessment of care charge debt recovery on the mental – and physical – health of disabled people?
“In November, over three-quarters of directors of adult social care indicated to their professional body ADASS that ‘there has been an increase in the number of people in their local areas that are unable to pay their care charges or fees due to the impact of the cost-of-living crisis’.
“As the Scrap Care Charges campaign coordinated by Inclusion London makes clear: care charging is a #TaxOnDisability, and GMCDP will continue playing our part in the collective effort to bring the injustice to an end.”
It is not the first time that cross-party parliamentarians have failed to quiz ministers about the impact of care charges.
Last July, the then social care minister Gillian Keegan spent nearly two hours being questioned by the Lords adult social care committee without being asked any questions about care charges, the social care funding crisis, or the unmet support needs of working-age disabled people.
The Lords committee’s report later focused heavily on the needs of unpaid carers and said little about the funding of social care, other than calling for “realistic, long-term and protected funding for the sector”.
That failure was repeated on Tuesday in the Commons, when the health and social care committee’s focus was on issues around the social care workforce.
The committee’s Conservative chair Steve Brine did ask Whately about the government’s decision to delay its plans to impose an £86,000 lifetime cap on care costs until October 2025.
But the government’s own impact assessment admits that only 10 per cent of working-age disabled care-users will benefit from the cap if it is ever introduced.
There were no questions this week from the committee’s Conservative and Labour members about the crisis facing working-age disabled people who use council-funded care, who the disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell has warned face being “crushed by their rising debts” and remaining “trapped in poverty”.
Labour’s Paulette Hamilton did ask about delays in adaptation work to disabled people’s homes being carried out through the disabled facilities grant scheme, while Conservative Dr Caroline Johnson asked the minister why so many care homes were being rated as “requires improvement” or “inadequate” by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
When asked for the most commons reasons for care homes failing CQC inspections, Whately said: “I don’t have the specific answer for that question.”
Johnson told her: “It’s quite difficult to solve the problem if you don’t know what the problem is.”
Whately eventually said there was “a range of reasons” for failing care homes, including “the workforce” and “the skills of your registered manager”.
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