Norman Lamb MP, Baroness Liz Barker and Paul Burstow write…Care Bill builds better, stronger, more liberal care system

Care in the home Some rights reserved by British Red CrossLast week, historic legislation on social care was debated for the final time in the Commons. It has been an exhaustive – and at times exhausting – process, and one of the most inclusive and consultative pieces of legislation ever. We worked with people across the political spectrum to get this right – as ever, a true Lib Dem hallmark.

Starting back in 2010 when Paul Burstow in the Department of Health published a new vision for social care, we have at every stage worked to engage, reach out, and listen to as many stakeholders as possible. As result, what started out as a good Bill will become an even better Act – and we can all be truly proud of that.

The Bill overhauls decades of complex, arcane and out of date legislation to set out a social care system fit for the twenty first century. For the first time, it explicitly puts individual wellbeing of both those in need of care and support and their carers on the statute as the organising principle of social care, it delivers new rights for carers, new rights and protections for individuals and places a statutory duty on local authorities to move from crisis to prevention. It introduces the Dilnot cap on care costs and mandates national eligibility criteria for the first time. All huge steps forward from where we currently are, and the truth – as we all know – is that none of this would have happened without the Lib Dems in government.

Before the Bill started its parliamentary passage it was subject to scrutiny by Joint committee of MPs and Peers chaired by Paul.  The report proved influential with the vast majority of its recommendations now included in the Bill.

In the Lords, Baroness Tyler secured an amendment to ensure that dignity and respect will always be at the heart of care. Our Peers worked with cross benchers to ensure that the fundamental importance of housing is always recognised when dealing with care, and Lord Sharkey secured amendments to ensure that local authorities will have to take a more proactive role in identifying those who might benefit from financial advice, and signposting them to it. 

We also secured commitments from Government to launch a public awareness campaign about the new cap on care costs, Baroness Tyler and Paul worked hard to ensure that support for young, adult andparent carers will join up across the Care Bill and the Children and Families Bill, and Baroness Barker secured a major safeguard for vulnerable people to guarantee that local authorities will be required to provide an independent advocate to support their interactions with the system. These changes, though they may sound technical, will mean the world to those going through the social care system – in fact, they have the potential to be genuinely transformative.  Together the best outcome from the legislative process you need both campaigning MPs and peers, and a minister willing to listen, engage and change things.

During the Commons stage, Norman Lamb amended the Bill to provide for the first ever statutory appeal process, with an independent element, so that people can challenge local authority decisions. This will be crucial to ensure public confidence in the new system for capped care costs. And of potentially enormous significance, Norman tabled amendments to provide for the legislative underpinning of the new £3.8 billion Better Care Fund.

To secure their share of this fund, local authorities and clinical commissioning groups will have to agree to pool the money so as to join up health and social care. It’s the biggest ever financial incentive to achieve integrated care and it has been welcomed with enthusiasm. Norman also confirmed that there will be statutory guidance to ensure that the NHS take a more active role in identifying carers. Alongside this, Norman agreed at the Dispatch Box to convene a roundtable to discuss the idea of an Older Persons’ Commissioner – a long held Liberal Democrat Manifesto commitment which Baroness Barker and Paul Burstow used the Bill to champion. And, last but by no means least, Norman and Paul were able to help negotiate important changes to the controversial clause 119 regarding hospital closures and the trust special administration process. Thanks to concerted lobbying Liberal Democrats, we have secured much greater democratic engagement – including for the local authority, HealthWatch and local people – and a much better process all round. 

The work is almost over, and this now a good moment to pause and reflect on all that we have achieved. Congratulations are due all round for our successes – and for the development of the much better, much stronger, and more Liberal social care system that we have all fought so long and hard for. 

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