Debate: The Holtham Report on Paying for Social Care (8/01/19)

Contribution by Janet:

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. It is surely common knowledge that adult social care services in Wales are facing unprecedented levels of pressure and are struggling to meet the growing financial and social demands of an ageing population. As our former Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, Sarah Rochira, noted to the Finance Committee, social care support is a critical lifeline, helping vulnerable citizens to maintain their own independence. However, this lifeline is straining at the seams to keep up with current demand. For example, data from the ONS shows that over 800,000 of our 3.1 million people living in Wales are now aged 60 or over, with around a third of these aged over 75—this being only set to increase in coming years. Also, Wales currently has the highest rate of long-term illness in the UK, which is the most expensive aspect of NHS care, having previously increased from 105,000 to 142,000 between 2001 and 2010. As a result, pressures on adult social care services are fully expected to rise by about 4.1 per cent every year. Fully funding these pressures would require an extra £1 billion by 2030, according to the Health Foundation. At the current levels in investment and support, this is simply unachievable. As the Finance Committee Chair acknowledged, these pressures have led to a funding shortfall. The Welsh Government continues to underfund vital services. The promise of an extra £60 million, given in the 2019 budget, is nothing more than a drop in the ocean of need. As Welsh Conservatives, we believe too that a better spending use could be made by looking at some of the reductions of wasteful spend by this Welsh Labour Government. One only has to look at the special measures implemented now against the Betsi health board, where £10 million have been spent, and yet, in three and a half years, we've seen no improvement. How much better that spend would have been had it been put into a social care budget and given to our local authorities? Not only do local authorities already spend over £550 million on social care for the elderly, the WLGA now predicts that there will be an extra £344 million-worth of added pressure on social care services by 2021-22. These are eye-watering and very worrying figures.

Besides the lack of direct funding, the Government have repeatedly mismanaged funds that could have been used to improve the quality of social care services. What benefits can be drawn for those people requiring these vulnerable services from the £221 million spent on uncompetitive enterprise zones? Also, has it not been 18 months since the £100 automotive park at Ebbw Vale was announced? Yet we still do not see any foundations laid or a single job brought about by this so-called investment. Indeed, this is becoming quite routine from this Labour Government.

The funding gap has extended to the point that adult social care investment needs to rise by 4 per cent every year, increasing the spend to £2.3 billion. And this is according to the Health Foundation.

Now, in contrast, the UK Government is due to publish a Green Paper covering a wide range of issues, reflecting their broader vision for a sustainable system of social care. This would be implemented through areas such as workforce planning, backing the sector with £2 billion of investment between 2018 and 2021 to get the right people into the right roles, or considering a more holistic and person-centred care service.

In his most recent report, Professor Holtham puts forward the case for a social care levy. However, as the Finance Committee has advised, and this will be debated again tomorrow, the Welsh Government will need to be able to justify how any funds raised will be used and to demonstrate their impact. Other areas of caution include his admission that further research is almost certainly needed to prevent a reliance on highly provisional figures as well as managing the impact of issues of complex and costly administration, or let's look at the concerns raised by Age Cymru about hypothecation of financing, worrying that money would be diverted by the whim of Ministers like the national insurance fund.

Despite these worries, the fundamental message remains the same—the adult social care service in Wales is creaking. Those working in our care sector are under immense strain and our services are facing a growing demand and increased financial pressures.

I believe, and I understand and agree with you, Minister, that we need to look at this really holistically, really maturely, and I think that it is prudent for us now to work forward, collectively, across the political barriers and we really do need to start having some serious and some tough talking as regards taking our social care funding requirements going forward. Thank you.