Prevention strategy

Philip HuntPhil Hunt on Labour’s determination to stop Ministers washing their hands of the adult social care system

After a hiatus waiting for the outcome of the Spending Review, which disappointingly failed to do anything to address the current care crisis, the Coalition’s Care Bill recommences its passage through the Lords today.

In part a consolidation of social care legislation following a review established by the previous Labour government, the Bill rightly places the principle of individual well-being at its heart. Defining the purpose of adult social care as promoting or contributing to such well-being is helping to shape policy in this important area. But I will move an amendment to persuade Peers across the House, including Ministers, that this importance should be reflected in the form of a ‘duty’ to be placed on the Health Secretary to have regard to this.

Clause 1 symbolically places a general duty to promote individual well-being on local authorities. A welcome move, given that the legislation will make councils the prime players in delivering and running social care. But there is no reason why a comparable duty shouldn’t be placed on Jeremy Hunt and all who follow in his wake.

We know from our long, hard battles on the Health and Social Care Bill that the Coalition is keen to divest itself of responsibility for the health service wherever Ministers think it possible, or indeed preferable. They also went to the length of instigating a pause in the Bill’s passage to thrash out an insistence on why no duty of responsibility for the NHS should be put on the Health Secretary. A Labour-led charge eventually saw the introduction of a duty to promote a comprehensive health service, but I fear Ministers are set on approaching the Care Bill in the same way.

We believe there should be a backstop with adult social care in case things go wrong, and that the buck should rightly stop with the Health Secretary – as the Secretary of State accountable to Parliament. The Coalition’s view is that it doesn’t want to risk blurring lines of accountability by placing duties to have regard to well-being on both local and central government. But under the terms of the Bill, the Health Secretary has powers to make regulations that may well ultimately impact on well-being. All we’re after is for Mr Hunt and those who succeed him to be made to bear in mind actions to promote well-being.

The Joint Parliamentary Committee of Lords and MPs who spent a year scrutinising the draft Bill agree with us, recommending that change were made before the government formally brought forward the legislation. With Ministers having failed to do this, and with no acceptable explanation as to why, we are even more determined to stop them washing their hands of the social care system.

Lord Phil Hunt of Kings Heath is a Shadow Health Minister and Labour’s Deputy Leader in the Lords

Published 3rd July 2013

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