Thursday 16th March 2023

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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[Sir Robert Syms in the Chair]
Damien Moore Portrait Damien Moore (Southport) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of car parking charges for care workers.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Robert. I thank all hon. Members here in Westminster Hall today and the Backbench Business Committee for granting the application for this debate.

Care workers play an immeasurably important role in our society, looking after our loved ones and being with them through what for many will be the most difficult times of their lives. If it were not for their selflessness, diligence, dedication and good humour, our loved ones would have a far more difficult time and the knock-on effects on the older generation could be huge. Being a care worker is a difficult job, requiring hands-on work to support a diverse range of needs. For the 490,000 domiciliary care staff in England, delivering care and support to people in their own homes can involve dozens of short journeys every day. These workers must be trained and knowledgeable in so many things, including taking blood pressure, administering medicine, assisting patients with eating and even the art of making a good cup of tea.

Care work is undoubtedly a complex role that requires strong interpersonal skills. Given the demands of this tough and skilled job, it is perhaps not surprising that the vacancy rate in March last year stood at almost 11%, representing 165,000 vacancies. That was up from 7% a year earlier, which represented 110,000 vacancies. In domiciliary care, the vacancy rate is 13%—a figure far higher than in residential care, where the vacancy rate stands at almost 9%.

Yet as the number of vacancies grows, demand for social care is rising and that is expected to continue. I have noticed it especially in my constituency of Southport, which has an ageing population; we would greatly benefit from an uptake in the number of people wishing to work in the care sector. The increase in vacancies will place yet further stress on our hardworking care workers, so it is no wonder that Skills for Care estimates that the turnover rate of directly employed staff working in adult social care was 29% between 2020 and 2021, which is equivalent to approximately 400,000 leavers.

I appreciate that I am painting a bleak picture, but the situation is not all doom and gloom. Covid shone a spotlight on what many of us have been arguing for years: that we need to do more to support those who work hard in social care. The Government’s adult social care reform White Paper, published in December 2021, set out a 10-year vision for adult social care, along with funded proposals to be implemented in the following three years. Yet 10 years is simply too long for my hard-pressed constituents to wait, especially when a cheaper and simpler solution lies much closer to hand.

A few years ago, a particularly memorable constituent came to see me at one of my weekly constituency surgeries, held at the Atkinson library every Friday at 11 am. She worked in social care and was clearly excellent at her job; I felt confident that the elderly and vulnerable in Southport would be fine in her safe hands. However, she had a major problem with our local authority, Sefton Council. Every time she parked outside one of her clients’ houses, she would have to pay 90p for a parking ticket, and this was happening up to two dozen times a day. The cost of these tickets adds up, especially for those who are already earning close to the minimum wage.

Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing this debate; it is important that we discuss this issue. I thought it would be helpful to give the example of a constituent of mine who has contacted me—a home care provider who has difficulties in driving from one client to the next and often struggles with parking. Does he agree that we should consider measures to help to ease the pressures on hardworking care workers, particularly because such measures would help to alleviate stress and save them time as they try to help their clients?

Damien Moore Portrait Damien Moore
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The hon. Lady is absolutely right. What we are trying to do is remove from care workers’ lives the stress of paying for parking tickets and finding a parking space. There are times when a carer will pay for a half-hour parking ticket, although when they are in a client’s house they might find that they need to call an ambulance. That could take a few hours to arrive, during which time they will not be able to pop out and top up the parking meter. When they receive a parking penalty charge, which can lead to a lengthy challenge process for which few people have the time or energy, that causes additional stress.

I am sure that all Members here have at some point engaged with the Chancellor to see what he can do to better support our constituent care workers. His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs already offers tax relief on mileage incurred for work purposes, but there is currently no nationwide scheme in place to help with parking charges. Consider instead if care workers were simply allowed to keep their money in their pockets and did not have to go through complex bureaucracy; that will be possible only if we get this right and end needless car parking charges.

After speaking with my constituents, I immediately wrote to Sefton Council to raise the issue, but was quickly told that it was not interested in changing policy. I then wrote to the Government to ask if they could compel the council to change the policy by providing ringfenced funds to support my hardworking constituents. I was delighted when the then Health Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock), announced that the Government would be introducing the covid-19 parking pass, proving that we can do this if we really want to.

The scheme entitled on-duty NHS staff, health and social care workers, and NHS volunteer responders, to free parking in local authority off-street car parks and on-street bays in England. It was a fantastic scheme, and it worked wonders for not only the bank balances but the mental health of my social care worker constituents. No longer were they finding themselves squeezed even tighter by virtue of simply doing their job. With less time spent fumbling around looking for parking spaces, paying, and, sadly, often appealing a parking ticket, those workers could spend more time supporting people who draw on care in their own homes. It was win-win, for everyone.

Then the covid scheme came to an end. With the vacancy rate increasing, I felt all of the work had been undone. A permanent solution is required. Today, with the Minister present, I call on the Government to introduce a nationwide standardised green badge system—similar to the blue badge—for social care workers on duty and making care visits. It should be nationally recognised, with eligibility set at a national level. It should be available for all care workers who travel to provide care in clients’ homes. Care workers should be the permit holders, and, in keeping with the efficiency it would introduce, there should be a simple standardised application and issuing service. Engage Britain’s research shows that such a proposal has 80% support across all major political parties, as reflected by the diversity of Members who often bring up the issue.

Parking is normally an issue for local authorities, but we saw over covid that central Government can take the initiative in this area, and, with one sweep of the pen, put this easy and cheap solution in the hands of our care workers. After all, it is the Department of Health and Social Care’s responsibility to look after social care workers, so this parking protocol is its responsibility, not that of local councils. Similar arguments were made about the blue badge system, yet today’s standardised system is widely held up as being a great success. We need that success for our care workers too.

Some parking exemption schemes have survived the Government’s closure of their own scheme post covid, as hon. Members from Cornwall, Devon and Manchester will know. Those schemes would also benefit from the administrative simplicity of the central standardised system that I propose.

I finish with an impassioned plea. It is so rare that we are presented with such simple solutions. My proposed green badge has already been trialled nationwide throughout covid by the Government’s scheme, and was a resounding success. Both macro research from Engage Britain and micro research, such as anecdotal conservations with my constituents, show the huge benefits that free car parking has had and will continue to have if reimplemented. It is a low-cost, low-admin solution with tangible benefits for everyone who works in care, and for all those who have loved ones in care.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I thank the hon. Member for Southport (Damien Moore) for setting the scene so well. I always try to contribute in debates on health issues, as Members know. Here we are again: the hardy annuals are back. The Minister, the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) and others are here to contribute.

I am an advocate for care in the community. I feel strongly about the problems the hon. Member for Southport outlined.

I know the Minister has responsibility only for the mainland, but I always try to give a Northern Ireland perspective to any debate. It will be not just a Northern Ireland perspective, but a personal one, as it relates to my brother. He had a very severe motorbike accident when he was 39 years of age, some 18 years ago now. They said he would never be independent again and would never be able to do the things he once did. And he cannot, because he has been left with some fairly severe brain injuries.

Although our Keith cannot multitask, he can still have a life—but it is restricted and he is dependent on others. My mother is 91 years of age. I refer to her as a spitfire, because she is a lady who pushes and pushes. She pushed for Keith because she wanted him to return home and have a life, even though it would be with care attendants for a time. She pushed him into rehabilitation. He was determined, but she also made sure that the carers and the health system pushed for him. She pushed the workers in the care homes to keep driving him further. She pushed the trust to provide the care for him. Keith has been living at the bottom of my lane—I live on a farm and the house he lives in is a house that I built—and he gets picked up by the bus drivers outside the house. There is no bus stop. They drop him into Ards and he goes to the centre where he learns further rehabilitation and engages with others who have similar disabilities. It gives him the chance to have as normal a life as possible.

His care workers come in four times a day and help him get up. He has a brilliant life even with all his limitations. It is clear that Keith would have been in a care home under supervision and without care in the community had it not been for the pushing of my mother and others who wanted to give him a good level of care. I have no shame in saying that care workers are not paid enough. We need to right that wrong. We will all say that here, because we all believe it. It is a truth. The debate allows us to go beyond just a clap, which is commendable, and to send the message that we applaud their work and will make changes to support them further.

While Keith has a driveway that the workers park in, many town centre homes do not have parking. To park on the street will mean a ticket from the ever-present, sometimes overzealous, traffic warden. Currently, staff pay the minimum amount for an hour’s parking, even though the call will last only 15 minutes, and they cannot claim for that. It presents a problem, which the hon. Member for Southport has outlined very well. To me it is very clear: all staff should have a parking charge exemption permit issued by local authorities that entitles them to an hour’s free parking either on the street, as long as no obstruction is caused, or in a local car park where feasible. Those are not big things to ask for, but they would change the lives of care workers where we are.

It is right and proper that in Northern Ireland health trusts car parking is set to become free next year. I know that is not the Minister’s responsibility, but I wanted to mention it. I have grave concerns when I read articles such as that on the BBC 12 hours ago that cited the massive overspend of £500 million and the fact that:

“The Department of Health has said there are channels to generate income, such as continued car parking charges…prescription charges…and charging for domiciliary care...It’s thought that each £15m generated would enable about 30,000 assessments, diagnostic tests or procedures for patients with cancer or time-critical conditions.”

That is a matter for another debate, but I wanted to make the point that there are always things we can do financially. It would be a massive slap in the face for our care workers to continue to pay for parking, and we should do our best to help them.

The facts are clear. Care workers, district nurses and all of those in care in the community simply are not remunerated to the level they should be. If a call lasts longer, they do not get overtime. It comes out of their own time. I have a good relationship with a district nurse in Strangford who makes her patient tea and toast even if that means that she cannot take her tea and toast at lunchtime, and that is her contribution to the person she looks after. I do not think that any MP, including yourself, Sir Robert, who would be unable to give an example of that very thing happening with the care workers in their constituencies—those good people. She sacrifices her time for her patients’ comfort and, to add to that, she has to pay for the parking to do so.

The request is clear, and the hon. Member for Southport has outlined it. There is something wrong with the picture, which is why I wholeheartedly support him. More than that, as I always do, I look to the Minister—who, I believe, clearly understands our requests—to make representations to other Cabinet colleagues to ensure that additional discussions take place to enable care workers to get the help they need. If the Minister is of a mind to do so, I ask her to have some discussions with Northern Ireland officials to ensure that we are encouraged to do something similar back home through the Northern Ireland Assembly.

We have drained our health workers of good will, expecting more and more and sometimes, unfortunately, granting less and less. We need to start working on rebuilding trust and good faith, and this is a great step in that journey. I am encouraged by today’s good news that we seem to be moving closer to a wage settlement. Let us welcome that good news, but let us also try to welcome more good news for care workers when it comes to giving them the help with car parking that they need so much.

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure as always to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Robert, and to speak on behalf of the shadow Health and Social Care team. I thank the hon. Member for Southport (Damien Moore) for securing this important debate and for all the work he has done to raise awareness and champion the cause, which I do not think anybody can have any issue with. I very much support it—let us get it over the line.

We have had a small but perfectly formed debate today. As well as thanking the hon. Member for Southport for securing the debate from the Backbench Business Committee, I also thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for always giving the Northern Ireland perspective in these debates. It is really important that we learn from different parts of the United Kingdom, because no one home nation has the right answer to all these things. It is good to learn from one another and have the perspective from other parts of the United Kingdom as we deliberate on what we should be doing here in England to support our care workers.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) for her contribution. She is absolutely right about how we need to come together across party lines and support care workers. Parking is a big issue and a pressure on those who work in our health and care system. I also place on the record my thanks to care workers, because they do an extraordinary job, as has been highlighted throughout the debate. We should never take their efforts for granted, because they are the linchpin in ensuring that the most vulnerable people in society are cared for and looked after in their time of need.

I am not making a party political point, but we know that the care sector is in crisis. It is under enormous stress and strain; the demand far outstrips the ability for us to meet many expectations. Primarily, a recruitment and retention issue in the workforce is at the heart of that. As a consequence of those pressures, many staff feel undervalued, overworked and underpaid, and it is our duty as parliamentarians to try to resolve those issues. We will support the Government on the measures they introduce; we have our own ideas as well, which the next Labour Government can hopefully introduce, but while the current Government are in office we will work with them to try to resolve these issues.

Problems such as parking charges put additional financial pressure on carers already going above and beyond and compound the stress that many of those people are under. That is demonstrated by the difficulty in retaining domiciliary care staff. As Nuffield Health points out, more than one in three domiciliary care workers left their roles last year, and many opted to work in sectors that offer better working conditions and pay.

Two issues are at play here. There is, of course, the specific issue of car parking changes, but that speaks to the question of how we treat our social care staff in general. Some good points have been made, mainly by the hon. Member for Southport in opening the debate, about free parking for domiciliary care workers—what the charity Engage Britain refers to as a green badge scheme for care workers. As the charity points out, several local authorities already operate a similar scheme, but a bit of a postcode lottery in provision seems to be developing. At the heart of the issue are care workers who are just trying to do their job.

I want some clarity from the Minister on a few questions. First, have the Government considered the green badge proposal? There is a huge problem here. It cannot be right that care workers are effectively being priced out of doing an essential job. They are desperately trying to care for vulnerable individuals, rushing between houses and having to worry about whether they will be able to afford the parking. I am not comfortable with that being a calculation that care workers have to make in 21st century Britain, and I sincerely hope and expect that the Minister feels the same. Will the Minister set out whether the Government are in conversation with care leaders and staff on what support can be offered?

Secondly, in the absence of a national free parking scheme, what steps is the Minister taking to engage with care agencies to incentivise companies to pay their staff back for the money that they have to spend on parking? It is not right that staff can accrue personal costs in the day-to-day administration of their employment and not be fairly recompensed by their employer. There needs to be a clear message from the Government that that is not an acceptable business practice.

Engage Britain provided my office with a good quote from a care support worker on a zero-hour contract, who said that with free parking,

“social care workers will be able to make appointments on time, with less stress, less rushing around”

and would be able to

“provide more attention and better support to the vulnerable people we are visiting”.

That quote raises an important point. Has there been any assessment of the impact that parking charges are having on quality of care? If care workers are scrambling around trying to find a parking place, there is a risk that they are unable to do their work to the standard that they want. Indeed, it has been brought up in the debate that, in an emergency in which a care worker has to stay with a very ill person until a blue-light response can arrive, the worker may incur not just additional parking costs but, potentially, fixed penalty notices and fines. That is totally unsustainable. It is little wonder that the care sector is asking for the Government sincerely to look again at this measure and provide more support.

That all speaks to a point that I made at the beginning of my contribution: social care staff feel that they have been neglected for many years and that they have been a bit of a Cinderella in the health and care system. We desperately need staff to feel more love from Government and to be better paid and supported in their careers. Vacancy rates are at a record level—up by 50% in the last year alone—and we now have a record 165,000 vacancies in the sector. That is totally unsustainable and we cannot just sit on our hands and wait for the system to collapse.

Labour has committed to a new deal for care workers, which would focus on recruiting and retaining the staff we need by ensuring fair pay and terms and conditions, and by improving training and career progression. We would change the remit of the Low Pay Commission, so that, alongside median wages and economic conditions, the minimum wage would reflect the cost of living. That would have a transformative effect across all sectors, but particularly on social care, where problems are especially acute. We would also ensure that new contracts for care are given to ethical providers—to providers who will provide fair pay, fair conditions and training for staff. Parking may well be part of that equation, in the terms and conditions, or through the reimbursement of costs incurred by agency staff.

The Chancellor could have used his Budget yesterday to announce a long-term workforce plan for the NHS and to reform pay for social care. He did not, even though we offered him Labour’s plan—we would have been very happy for him to pinch it. Instead, he handed a tax cut to the very wealthiest. That says all we need to know about the priorities of this Government. The next Labour Government will improve and invest in social care. At the very heart of that ambition will be ensuring that our incredible social care staff receive the pay and terms and conditions that they so deserve.

On the issue before us today, I implore the Minister to do the right thing. As the hon. Member for Southport so eloquently set out in his opening speech, this would be a small improvement, but a game changer for so many hard-pressed, social care staff. I urge the Minister to do the right thing.

Helen Whately Portrait The Minister for Social Care (Helen Whately)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Robert. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Damien Moore) on securing this debate on free parking passes for care workers. I know it is an issue close to his heart and I commend him on his speech.

Improving adult social care and supporting care workers is one of my highest priorities, and I am delighted that my hon. Friend shares my enthusiasm, particularly for supporting domiciliary care workers. In his compelling speech, he spoke about the difficult job they do and the skills necessary for their work, as well as some of the practicalities of the job, such as the many short journeys that some care workers will be making and the challenges that result, including parking. He also spoke about the vacancy rate in social care, particularly in domiciliary care.

Recruiting and retaining staff is a particular challenge for many care providers, especially following the reopening of the economy after the pandemic. Many people had come from the hospitality or travel sectors to work in social care during the pandemic, which was hugely helpful in those difficult times, but many then often returned to those sectors. Not all did; some had found their vocation in social care, and that has been wonderful, but others, understandably, returned to their previous sector, making it harder for the social care sector to retain and recruit staff as the economy opened up. I am hearing some positive news about recruitment at the moment, but that does not mean that it is easy. It remains a real challenge, particularly with domiciliary care and in rural areas.

As my hon. Friend also said, we are seeing a growing demand for social care, as people live longer—that is a positive for us all to remember, but it does mean more people living with health conditions, and more frail and elderly people, who need people to come in and care for them. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) talked about the importance of living independently. We want people to be able to live longer in their own homes. There is a time when it is better for people to live in residential care—that can be the right thing for some people—but most of us want to stay living in our own home behind our own front door for as long as possible. Domiciliary care workers, who go to someone’s home, are absolutely crucial.

My hon. Friend for Southport referred to our 10-year vision for social care, which I am truly passionate about. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), talked about the challenges that social care faces. Those challenges have been around for many decades, so we are not going to fix this overnight. I share the impatience of my hon. Friend the Member for Southport. That is one reason why I try to do things in the here and now. However, I am also realistic, and some social care reforms that we want to do will take time, hence that long-term vision.

My hon. Friend spoke very specifically about the cost of parking and rightly about the stress of looking for a parking space when the clock is ticking. He also spoke about unexpected situations, such as when care workers need to stay longer and call an ambulance. The hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) also spoke about that in her intervention.

I heard that my hon. Friend the Member for Southport called on his local council to fix that in his area during the pandemic. He welcomed our free parking scheme during the pandemic, so I am glad that he saw it taking good effect. That was one of many things that we tried to do to help key workers through that difficult time. That ended, and I absolutely hear his argument for a new national scheme, particularly to help care workers with parking while they are on duty.

I thank the hon. Member for Strangford. It is a pleasure to be in Westminster Hall with him at any time in the week, but particularly on a Thursday; we do this not infrequently. He spoke powerfully, if I understood him correctly; sometimes I do not pick up every word he says. He spoke about his brother, Keith. He said that, following a brain injury, Keith might well have lived in a care home, but has in fact been able to live independently with the support of family, including his mother and the hon. Member, but of course with care workers visiting. He brings a very personal perspective on the important role of care workers in our communities.

The hon. Gentleman also spoke about us working across the parts of the United Kingdom. I am always happy to talk to colleagues in other parts of the Union, because I think we can all learn from each other to try to get the best for our constituents.

Taking a step back, I want to say that I am incredibly grateful to all health and care staff. I recognise the extraordinary commitment and hard work, particularly of our care workers and domiciliary care workers, who are less frequently spoken about in Parliament. I want to ensure that care workers gain the recognition they deserve from society. I truly thank them for all the vital work they do every single day, whether in care homes, people’s homes or beyond.

Many people want to work in care because they want to make a difference to the lives of others. In my conversations with care workers, many have told me that they find their work truly rewarding. Just a few weeks ago, I had a wonderful conversation with a home care worker, who told me that she loves her job. That is great to hear, but there is no denying that it can be a very demanding job, both physically and emotionally. Domiciliary care workers play a crucial role in providing care and support to people who need it within their own home, enabling them to continue living independently even when they have substantial care needs. From going on the rounds with care workers and speaking to them, I know how committed and passionate they are about what they do.

Turning specifically to parking, I heard the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Southport on free parking for care workers, and I am sympathetic to them. I have had many conversations with those who provide care in people’s homes about some of the challenges they face, including travel and parking costs. For instance, I share the concerns about underpayment for travel times, which is a live issue within the sector.

All social care workers are entitled to be paid at least the minimum wage—I should say, the national living wage—for the work they do. The Government are clear that time spent caring for clients, travelling between appointments and waiting to start the appointment must be included in pay calculations. I labour that point because I hear accounts, usually anecdotal, of whether travel and waiting time is being paid for. It may not be within the care worker’s control if they turn up for an appointment when, for instance, another health worker is visiting somebody and they have to wait. If they are having to wait as part of their job, of course they should be paid for that working time.

Responsibility for setting the terms and conditions for parking permit schemes and delivering social care is devolved to local authorities. Some local authorities, such as Cornwall and Devon, already run health and care parking permit schemes. I am glad to be talking about this important issue today and it is right that, at the very least, the national Government support the sector by raising awareness of and driving forward innovation and best practice. I therefore encourage local authorities who are not already undertaking similar projects to look and learn from those areas that have implemented their own parking schemes, especially as we know about the recruitment and retention challenges in adult social care. I also commit to working with my colleagues across Government, in particular in the Department for Transport and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, to consider what more can be done to help care workers with the cost of parking.

More broadly on the adult social care workforce, the Government recognise the current workforce challenges in social care.

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne
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I want to take the Minister back to where she rightly said that terms and conditions are matter between the employer and the employee. She was, rightly, very robust on the expectations of the national living wage being paid for waiting to do work. Does she also take a strong view that employers should reimburse their staff for any incurred parking costs?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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The hon. Gentleman will allow me to pause, because I do not want to find that I have unintentionally misled anybody. I am very happy to write to him on that specific question. What I am completely happy to do here and now is reiterate the importance of social care workers being appropriately paid for the work they do. At the very least they should be paid at the legal level to which they are entitled and reimbursed for the expenses of the job they do. I hope the hon. Gentleman is happy with that response.

As I said, we recognise the recruitment and retention challenges in the social care workforce. The Government are supporting local authorities and providers with the recruitment, from both home and abroad, and retention of workers. For instance, we have been running a national recruitment campaign with continuous activity across job boards, video on demand, digital audio, radio and social media to encourage people to come and work in social care. That campaign will run until the end of this month.

In addition, in February last year we made care workers eligible for the health and care visa, and added them to shortage occupation list. The latest data published by the Home Office shows that a total of 56,900 visas were granted for care workers and senior care workers in 2022. I do not suggest for a moment that international recruitment is the whole answer to our recruitment challenges in social care, but given that we have such a substantial need for care workers, it is really important to help boost our care workforce. I have heard from many care providers who really welcome it, as it helps them to recruit and fill vacancies, and bring valuable staff into our workforce.

More broadly, the Government are making available up to £7.5 billion over the next two years to support adult social care and discharge, with up to £2.8 billion available this coming financial year and £4.7 billion the following year. That is an historic funding boost to put the adult social care system on a stronger financial footing and help local authorities to address waiting lists, low fee rates and workforce pressures in the sector.

Another way councils are able to support their adult social care workforce is through the market sustainability and improvement fund. At the autumn statement, the Chancellor announced that £400 million of new ringfenced funding would be made available for adult social care in the next financial year. We have combined that with £162 million of fair cost of care funding to create the fund. We are allowing councils to use the new funding flexibly on three target areas: support for the workforce measures; increasing fee rates paid to providers; and improving social care waiting times, which will improve adult social care market capacity and sustainability. My hon. Friend the Member for Southport might be pleased to know that Sefton Council will receive £3.6 million through that fund. Many local areas have chosen to use a significant proportion of the adult social care discharge fund on measures that support the adult social care workforce, including those who work in home care.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish talked about the importance of commissioning—I think he referred to ethical commissioning. I assure him that I think how local authorities commission care is really important, because it influences the terms and conditions on which care providers employ their workforce. That is one reason why, in April—just a couple of weeks away—we are starting the Care Quality Commission assurance of local authority social care provision. That will increase oversight of how local authorities are implementing the Care Act 2014, and part of that is very much about how they commission care. It will enable us to identify local authorities that are doing a really good job and will give us more information about those whose commissioning does not support their market or leads to some of the practices that we have been talking about.

As I said at the beginning, we want quick answers. My hon. Friend the Member for Southport wants change here and now, and so do I, but we also have to look to the longer term for our social care reforms. People at the heart of care must set out a longer-term vision for social care. I will shortly be publishing a plan setting out our next steps for the reforms. It will include substantial reforms to the adult social care workforce to strengthen careers and opportunities, and make adult social care a better sector to work in. That will help attract more people to work in social care and retain those valuable staff members.

I thank my hon. Friend for making the case and other Members for showing support for domiciliary care workers. I share my hon. Friend’s aspiration to support his care workers. In fact, I believe I have shown that in practice—for instance, through the support I put in place during the pandemic for the social care workforce; things I am doing right now with the funds such as the market sustainability and fair cost of care fund; and things that I will do in the future, including with our adult social care reform. I am happy to consider his proposals further as part of the work I am doing to boost our support for the care workers our constituents depend on.

Damien Moore Portrait Damien Moore
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I thank the Minister for her remarks about the things that the Government are doing for adult social care. That is incredibly important. The more airtime we can give this issue the better. We are pushing for better conditions for care workers in our constituencies.

I thank the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) for his contribution. Members on both sides of the House want to find a way forward. The hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) represents a very different constituency from mine, but it has the same problems. Similarly, although my constituency is different from that of the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who talked about his brother, the conditions are similar.

We know this is a national problem; that is why I believe it requires a national solution. Somebody who works in one local authority area but lives in another should be able to cross the border knowing that the badge is available for the place they work; it should not just have to be registered in the place they live. If they work in multiple areas, they could go to all of them, which would make it easy for them to go about their business. It is a simple, easy, effective solution to the problem.

Even if charges are refundable, people have to go through the process of the refund—the reimbursement of costs. As MPs, we know getting the costs of our work reimbursed is well-deserved because they are part of the job, but the way we have to do it can sometimes be cumbersome. It is therefore absolutely right that those providing care to the most vulnerable, some of whom have complex needs, are supported even more. Even if reimbursement is available, the process of finding a parking space, getting a ticket and getting it reimbursed is incredibly stressful. We want to take the stress out of it.

This will, of course, be something that the Government have to look at, and they will have to consider all sorts of factors and the cost. But let us talk about the cost of agency workers: it is getting out of control. If we talk about the cost of a visit to hospital, it is much cheaper than the cost of somebody being able to do their job properly. We talked about people with health conditions and the frail and elderly population. We talked about all the work we are doing on discharges. Never mind the discharges; let us stop them from going in in the first place if there is no need for them to do so.

This has cross-party support. We have shown that we can do this, but we must put extra effort into supporting our care workers because they are supporting vulnerable people, including our constituents and people in our own families. It is incredibly important that we do something for them that makes a real difference. This is something we should all want to sign up to. I appreciate in this post-covid world that there might be slight differences in the way we do that, but we must ensure that we give care workers this easy support to retain them. I commend all the work being done on recruiting them, but to retain them, we need to take that stress out of their lives. We would not want it in ours; let us not put it in theirs.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the matter of car parking charges for care workers.

Sitting adjourned.