From the Disability News Service, 6 October 2016. Story by John Pring.
The Conservative party has refused to explain why ministers appear to have dodged any mention or discussion of the social care crisis at this week’s annual conference.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who has responsibility for both health and social care, delivered a speech of 2,850 words, while mentioning social care just once, and even then in a fleeting reference to “joining up the health and social care systems”.
Sajid Javid, the communities and local government secretary, who also has responsibility for social care as part of his role, delivered his own set-piece speech to the conference – this time of 1,700 words – without mentioning social care.
Theresa May gave her first speech to her party’s annual conference as prime minister – 7,200 words – but also without any reference to social care.
And David Mowat, the minister for social care, turned down an invitation to attend the main social care fringe event at the conference, organised by the Care and Support Alliance (CSA).
It is unclear whether Mowat attended any fringe events focused on social care, because the party’s press office has refused to discuss the issue.
The refusal to face questions from party members, disabled people, journalists and voluntary organisations came as Channel 4 News reported that 80 per cent of councils in England had cut the care packages of some former users of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) in the wake of its closure last summer.
They also found that two-thirds (67 per cent) of the councils had not ring-fenced money given to them by central government in the wake of the ILF closure.
The figures emerged in responses to freedom of information requests sent by the programme to English councils with responsibility for social care.
Meanwhile, information from NHS Digital – published on the final day of the conference – showed that 873,000 people receiving long-term support from their local authority in 2015-16, a drop of 17,000 on the previous year.
The publication does not show how many of those 873,000 saw cuts to their support packages.
If Mowat had attended the CSA fringe event, he would have heard Cllr Izzi Seccombe, Tory leader of Warwickshire County Council and chair of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, tell the audience that local authorities were “cut to the bone” and facing “a growing gap of unfunded pressures” as a result of real terms cuts in their budgets.
She said: “What we will see is services being taken away and they will not come back any time soon.”
Mowat would also have heard disabled campaigner Shana Pezaro (pictured) describe how her package of social care support allows her to enjoy a life that is “fun and fulfilling”.
Her care package has meant she has been able to lose over four stone in weight through exercise, can eat healthily and carry out voluntary work as a trustee of a disability organisation, and can campaign on health, social security and employment issues across the UK and Europe, including for the MS Society.
She has not been hospitalised in the six years since she was awarded her current care package.
She told the meeting: “My life is fun and fulfilling and I am positively contributing to society.”
But she added: “Most people who need care and support cannot advocate for themselves the way I can.
“Social care budgets are being slashed. If my money is reduced it is going to have a devastating impact on my life, and I am really frightened about that.”
She said she had three friends, all of whom also have multiple sclerosis, and as they can walk unaided, dress themselves and prepare food, they have been assessed with low and moderate care needs.
As their local authorities only fund critical care needs, her three friends receive no care and support from their local authorities, and so survive on cheap microwave meals, are unable to keep their homes clean, and as a result are often hospitalised.
She said: “It just pushes people into hospital. It is not saving money, it’s just a false economy.
“I am proof the system really can work, so let’s find a way to make it work for everybody.”
Pezaro also pointed to the “massive cuts to disability benefits”, which mean that many people already surviving without social care packages might also lose personal independence payment funding, which could pay for a cleaner or more expensive and nutritious meals.
She said these cuts would “put more pressure on the NHS”, and she called for “a comprehensive, over-arching impact review on what all the cuts mean” for the NHS.
Former Tory health secretary Stephen Dorrell, who now chairs the NHS Confederation, said: “Why does Shana’s story stand out, and why isn’t it normal?
“Why do we regard your story as something exceptional and to be celebrated rather than the definition of what good public services should look like?”
Gary Bourlet, a leading self-advocate and co-founder of Learning Disability England, told the fringe event that he received “no support at all” from his local authority.
He said: “I have to rely on my friends and colleagues. I just need a small amount of support, but my council will not fund it.”
Pezaro said after the event that it was “a real shame” that there were no ministers at the fringe, because she had “a good and positive story about how things are working well”, although she said she was glad that a number of Tory local councillors had attended the meeting.
When Disability News Service (DNS) asked the Conservative party why Mowat had not attended the fringe meeting and appeared to have dodged events where the social care crisis might have been discussed, a press officer provided a contact number for a member of Mowat’s team.
When DNS tried to contact her, she said that she was on maternity leave.
The party then refused to provide the name of the press officer who was supposed to be dealing with the questions about Mowat.
No-one from the party had responded to requests for a comment by noon today (Thursday).