"The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it"
Aneurin Bevan

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Enough is Enough - Burnham's Speech on Social Care

This is worth reading, as well as Dan Poulter's useful intervention and Jeremy Hunts disgraceful attempt at political point scoring where he fell flat. Burnham spoke during the Opposition debate on Social Care on the 16 Nov and its likely this will be the most important speech he will do in the House, with the Mayoral vote in Manchester next year. He really should have been the Secretary of State for Health longer.

Andy Burnham (Leigh) (Lab) 

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley)—my good friend—on an excellent speech. She ​has no equal in this House as a champion for older people and their carers. Her speech, unlike the speech by the Secretary of State, was firmly rooted in the real world.

This is the century of the ageing society. Caring for people as they live longer lives is the greatest public policy challenge of our times, but for years Parliament has shown itself to be unequal to that challenge. I want to speak today to tell the story of the efforts to reform social care over the last decade, because I want the facts to be on the record, so that people can understand what happened and vow to do better. The story explains the mess we are in today. To be honest, it is quite a shocking story of partisan point-scoring and, worse, political cowardice, which have seriously failed millions of older and disabled people.

The story started nine years ago at the spending review in 2007. I was Chief Secretary to the Treasury at the time, and at the insistence of the Treasury I gave the Department of Health the condition on its spending review settlement that it would conduct a root and branch review of the funding of social care. There was a recognition, even in the Treasury, that if we allowed the situation to continue, it could, in the end, damage the national health service. Quite clearly, the funding was not sustainable, and if social care was left to collapse, it would drag down the NHS with it.

The urgency of such action had been recognised almost a decade earlier, in 1999, when a report by a royal commission on the matter recommended free personal care, paid for by general taxation. It did so for the reason that if we pay for free preventive care in people’s homes, those people do not end up in hospital and costing us all more. Nothing was done, and by 2007 the need for reform was urgent. So between 2007 and 2009, a huge amount of detailed modelling work was done and options were looked at.

When I arrived in the post of Health Secretary in 2009, the work had come to a head. The analysis supported a clear conclusion that radical reform, rather than patching up, was needed. Department of Health officials supported the Treasury analysis that there would be risks to the NHS if social care was allowed to decline. A Green Paper was published in July 2009, and the idea of a national care service was first put forward. The thinking was that only by bringing the systems together, with a system of clear national entitlement, would we be able properly to move towards integration. The maintenance of two entirely differently funded systems—one free at the point of use and the other means-tested and charged for—would mean that they would never be able to speak the same language and there would always be barriers to integration.

I was ready to grasp the nettle, because it was clear to me that the NHS was facing a decade of lower funding from 2010 and 2020, and that one of the ways it could cope with that was with the efficiencies we could unlock through properly and fully integrating health and social care and by moving from a hospital-based medical model to a person-centred social model of care starting in the home.

This is where things went wrong. Picking up that I was ready to up the momentum for reform, the then shadow Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, approached me in Portcullis House just before Christmas 2009 and asked me for cross-party talks. I thought about it, but I agreed. I thought, as my hon. Friend the Member for ​Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) has suggested, that we should take the issue out of party politics, which would be better for everybody. We had a couple of meetings, in which we went round the issues. I favoured the more ambitious, comprehensive reform of paying for social care on the NHS principle—that everybody contributes, but everybody is covered for their care needs and has peace of mind in later life. Andrew Lansley wanted a more voluntary system, in which the insurance market would come up with solutions. That was where we left it.

Then a bombshell was dropped in February 2010: the poster saying, “Now Gordon wants £20,000 when you die.” I very vividly remember the day when it landed. I was told that Andy Coulson had put pressure on Andrew Lansley to do it, and that he did not really want to, but felt he could not say no. I do not know whether that is true, but I know that the Conservatives, who asked me for cross-party talks, betrayed the confidence that I gave, and they have never seen fit to apologise for that. The point is not about the personal political damage that that did, but about the chilling effect the poster had on the social care debate. It instantly killed any talk of radical reform, and it actually had a deadening effect for the rest of the following Parliament—the last Parliament—during which no real progress was made.

That brings me to what happened after the election, when, as shadow Health Secretary, I challenged the Government from the Opposition Front Bench about the poster that they had put out during the election saying that they would cut the deficit, not the NHS. I made the point that if they did so, they would in effect cut social care: if they prioritised NHS spending within the reduced envelope, that would have devastating consequences for social care and would in the end come back to affect the NHS.

From the Dispatch Box at every Prime Minister’s Question Time, the then Prime Minister used to quote me as claiming that it would be irresponsible to give the NHS real-terms increases, but he never commented on the second part of what I had said, which was that it was irresponsible to do so if we were cutting social care. I did say that, and it was irresponsible to social care in the way they did to pay for their commitment to the NHS. Social care was cut by 9% during the last Parliament, with 400,000 vulnerable people losing support in their homes. Those people ended up in A&E or trapped in hospital beds, piling pressure on the hospital system.

Dr Daniel Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich) (Con)

I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman—this may be my last chance to do so—for the work he has done as a Member and wish him well in his future career if he is successful in his election. Does he agree that the chilling effect of the outcome of those conversations before the election and perhaps the betrayal of his confidence, as he puts it, is that there could no longer be a rational conversation about properly funding the health and care system through any form of taxation? That is the problem that has emerged, and perhaps the best way to fix it is through general taxation.

Andy Burnham

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and the spirit in which he made it. He is absolutely right: that set everything back and ​meant that there was no possibility of a cross-party approach. There will have to be such an approach if we are to fix social care and, indeed, to give the NHS what it needs, because they will both need more funding during this Parliament. That is the real shame. I did not make my point about Andrew Lansley for political reasons; I just want people to understand what happened, so that the current generations of politicians might do something different.

The answers we have since had from the Government are wholly inadequate. We have heard today that the precept does not raise enough money, particularly for poorer councils. It is no answer; in fact, it just cynically devolves the responsibility for the whole issue to local government, even though councils did not create the problem. I still favour an all-in system. I will say it: I favour a system in which we ask older people to pay a set contribution, so that they have peace of mind in later life, with all their care costs covered.

Mr Jeremy Hunt

I am listening very carefully to the right hon. Gentleman. In the spirit of wanting to rise above party politics, will he agree that it was totally wrong of him to suggest at any stage in the last Parliament that the Government wanted to privatise the NHS, when we have never had the intention to do so? It was wholly irresponsible to scare the public about that.

Andy Burnham

In a week when Virgin Care is taking on a huge community care contract, I do not think the Secretary of State should be making that point—particularly the Secretary of State who privatised ambulance services in Greater Manchester. I honestly do not think we need to go there.

The point that I am making is about funding social care. The Conservatives claimed that we were introducing a new inheritance tax. Do people not understand that just 3.4% of estates in this country attract inheritance tax? Why is that? Because the vast majority of estates are whittled down by the costs of care—tens of thousands of pounds, or hundreds of thousands of pounds for some people. That is not fair and it is not sustainable. We must be able to do better.

I feel so strongly about this because I saw my grandmother go through the care system in England 20 years ago and, frankly, it was nowhere near good enough. I arrived here saying that I would do something about it. I tried to do something about it, but we have not got anywhere near a solution to the scale of the challenge. People will need to put party politics aside and find common ground. The point scoring and failure to grasp big issues have led to a situation where people have low regard for this place.

We are left with a malnourished, privatised care system in England that is sinking lower as we speak. A culture of slap-dash 15-minute visits is entrenched, in which staff do not get properly treated, trained or respected. Standards in care homes have slipped even further, and stories of neglect and abuse abound—we hear them all the time. Countless vulnerable people and their families still have to pay these cruel dementia taxes, which have risen under this Government, losing everything they have worked for and going into later life with everything on the roulette table: home, pension, savings—the lot. That is not the care system we should ​have in 2016 in this country. At what point are we going to say, “Enough is enough,” and actually do something about it?

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