Time to build 'Carer Friendly Communities'

This article was originally published on Politics Home (14th June 2017)

After an election campaign that saw headlines dominated by the critical issue of care for elderly and disabled people, it seems appropriate that Parliament should return during National Carers Week 2017 (12-18 June).

More than 6.5 million people are currently providing care for someone who is elderly, disabled or seriously ill. By 2037, it is estimated that this number will rise to 9 million as we contend with an ageing population and a surge in the number of people with long-term complex needs.

Whether it’s looking after a frail parent or a disabled child, unpaid carers do an incredible job and it is essential that their contribution is properly recognised. But in reality, this work too often goes unnoticed – and we know that the pressure of being a carer can take its toll. 

Although caring for a loved one can be rewarding, the intolerable truth is that many carers in this country are not recognised as individuals with needs and lives of their own. Around 1 in 5 carers are forced to give up work, with others having to work part-time or sacrifice their education due to a lack of support. Many more suffer financial hardship, isolation, and ill health that is often left untreated.

What does it say about our society if those who care for us in sickness or old age are pushed to the fringes of their communities – unrecognised, under-valued, and all too often unable to lead a fulfilling life?

For the last few years, I have been pleased to support the National Carers Week campaign to build ‘Carer Friendly Communities’. The aim is to encourage organisations and communities to make small changes that could help people who are trying to balance their own lives with their caring responsibilities. That could be something as simple as GP surgeries offering alternative appointment times, coursework extensions in colleges, or more flexible working hours in the workplace.  

Building ‘Carer Friendly Communities’ is not an aspiration we can pay lip service to. It is a moral demand on all of us to ensure that carers are supported to live not just as carers, but as individuals in their own right, who are able to enjoy the same opportunities as others in their community.

However, I also want to see carers given more support financially. When more than half of carers (54%) are struggling to make ends meet, it’s clear that we are failing in our basic responsibility to give carers the support they need to live comfortably. Disgracefully, many of those who are in economic hardship are already trying to juggle care with work.

I was proud that the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto committed to raising the amount people can earn before losing the Carer’s Allowance from £110 to £150 a week, as well as reducing the number of hours’ care needed to qualify for this allowance. 

We also proposed a new legal duty on the NHS to identify carers and develop a ‘Carer’s Passport’ scheme to inform carers of the rights they have in the NHS, such as flexible visiting hours and access to support. Full-time carers are more than twice as likely to suffer from poor health than non-carers, so it is critically important that the Government introduces a similar scheme to help people to seek support when they experience stress or other health problems.

But as an urgent priority following the general election debacle, the Government must face up to its mistakes and change course on Theresa May’s catastrophic plans for the funding of social care. We should be in no doubt about the far-reaching implications of the ‘Dementia Tax’. Among the most insidious of these is the likelihood that, faced with the prospect of a massive care bill, a substantial number of people will take on less professional care than they need. If that happens, we will end up with more people unnecessarily admitted to hospital. Family and friends who already often go the extra mile will be forced to take on even more responsibility as unpaid carers.

Instead of pressing ahead with these misguided plans, the Conservatives should accept the new reality of having no overall majority and embrace the approach I have been arguing for over the last 18 months – establishing a cross-party process to engage with the public with the objective of securing a long-term settlement for the NHS and social care. 

The Liberal Democrats would argue, through such a process, for an immediate injection of an extra £6bn each year, funded by a penny on income tax. In the longer-term, we would argue for the introduction of a dedicated NHS and Care Tax. Increased funding is as critical for carers as it is for those who are cared for. 

Carers Week is a welcome opportunity for us to recognise the inspiring and dedicated work carers do, and to raise awareness of the day-to-day pressures and challenges they face. As a society, we have a responsibility to ensure that unpaid carers are properly valued and supported – but we must also hold the Government to account on its duty to invest in a compassionate and effective social care system that can support the most vulnerable in our society. 


3,000 of Norfolk's poorest children to lose free school lunches

More than 3,300 children living in poverty across Norfolk could have their lunches taken away under the Conservatives’ plans to abolish universal free school lunches for infants, research by the Liberal Democrats has revealed. In total, almost 25,000 children in Norfolk are set to lose out under the plans.

Families losing out are expected to have to pay an extra £440 per child per year for their school lunches, as a result of this policy.

After it was revealed that the Conservatives have budgeted just 7p per meal for their 'free school breakfasts' pledge, the Liberal Democrats have also calculated that each child could expect to receive either half a boiled egg, one slice of bread with 12 baked beans or 37.5 cornflakes and 100ml of semi-skimmed milk.

Commenting on the research, Norman Lamb said:​

“The Conservatives’ disgraceful plans to axe free school lunches will hit thousands of Norfolk’s poorest children. In North Norfolk alone, more than 260 children living in poverty will miss out on a free lunch, and struggling families will be left to foot the bill.  

“We have to challenge this worrying policy, particularly when there is a wealth of evidence that free school meals can help to improve children’s performance at school.

"The Conservatives' promise of a free breakfast is cynical and clearly not designed to reach all children. They have set aside a meagre 7p per breakfast per child, the price of half a boiled egg or just one slice of bread with 12 baked beans.

“As a liberal, I strongly believe in investing in our schools and helping children to make the most of their talents. But as well as scrapping free lunches, spending on schools per pupil is set to be cut by around 7 percent by 2021/22 under the Conservatives’ proposals.

“The Liberal Democrats are committed to maintaining funding for schools and extending free school lunches to all primary school children.”

 

Additional Information 

250,000 children in poverty to lose out on free school lunches

During the Coalition, the Liberal Democrats introduced universal infant free school meals for all pupils in reception, year one and year two. Prior to that, when free lunches were means-tested, the Children’s Society estimated that half of all school aged children living in poverty – 1.2 million – were not accessing free school meals. This was the result of a combination of an eligibility criteria that punished low-income, working families and the stigma associated with claiming them. Based on these Children Society estimates, the Liberal Democrats have calculated that 250,000 children living in poverty will no longer claim a free, hot lunch at school.

The 250,000 figure has been broken down by local authority is here and constituency here.
 
In total, more than 1.7 million children will lose out on a free lunch under the Conservatives’ plans.

Many working families will have to pay around £440 per child per year (£2.30 per meal) for their school lunches, a substantial expense. A single parent earning the minimum wage (£7.50 per hour) and working 16 hours per week (earning £6,240 per year) will therefore have to pay approximately 7% of their annual income for each child’s school lunches. A parent with 2 children aged 5-7 faces a bill of nearly £1,000.
 
Income amongst families of the 700,000 children living in poverty, but not eligible for free school meals, is less than £10 per head per day (after rent has been paid). Making these families pay for school lunches will take up a substantial portion of this income.
 
What a Conservative 7p breakfast could buy

The Conservatives claim that they will be able to provide free school breakfasts for all primary pupils at a cost of £60m per year. If the UK’s 4.62 million children in state-funded primary schools were fed a free breakfast for the 190 days of the school year, each breakfast would cost just 6.8p. 
 
This means that a child for 7p would receive around: 

  • Just under half a boiled egg
  • One slice of bread with a small amount of margarine
  • One slice of bread with 12 baked beans
  • 37.5 cornflakes and 100ml semi skimmed milk

Pricing based on: 

  • 1 medium free range egg currently 15p at Tesco (box of 12)
  • Kellogg’s cornflakes costed at 15 flakes per penny (based on a 450g box)
  • Bread costed at roughly 5p per slice (Currently selling at 13p per 100g, and one slice weighing roughly 38g)
  • Heinz Baked Beans costed at 6 beans per penny (based on a standard 415g tin)
  • 10g of margarine costed at 2p (based on a cost of £2.00 per kg)
  • 4.4p for 100ml of semi skimmed milk (based on a cost of 44p per litre for 4 pints)

Aisling Kirwan, founder of the Grub Club, claims that a nutritious breakfast costs at least 25p per pupil on average, though this only provides porridge with milk. A more filling portion costs 85p. Even if only 20% of primary school children took up free breakfasts, the cost of provision would be £174 million, once costs such as the increase in staffing required to extend the school day is taken into account. A breakfast delivered to every primary school child would cost £800 million.


Norman Lamb to PM: Meet me to debate Dementia Tax

I am writing to the Prime Minister to challenge her to meet with me to answer twelve pressing questions on the Conservatives' dreadful plans for social care. 

You can read a my letter below. 

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Lamb urges Norfolk CC to improve support for young people with SEND

Norman Lamb is demanding faster help for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) who require a higher level of support, after it was revealed that Norfolk is one of the five worst performing local authorities at issuing Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans for those people.
 
An EHC plan is for children and young people aged up to 25 who need more support than is available through special educational needs support. EHC plans identify educational, health and social needs and set out the additional support to meet those needs.  The national code of practice states that the local authority must issue a final EHC plan no more than 20 weeks after a needs assessment is requested.
 
However, new statistics published this week by the Department for Education reveal that Norfolk is the fifth worst performing local authority at issuing EHC plans within the 20 week time limit. In 2016, just 5.6% of new EHC plans were issued within 20 weeks, down from 10.5% in 2015.
 
That is dramatically below the average for the East of England, where 50.8% of new EHC plans were issued within the time limit last year.  In England as a whole, 58.6% of new EHC plans made during 2016 were issued within the time limit, a slight decrease from 59.2% in 2015.  
 
The worst performing local authority was Hartlepool, where 0% of new EHC plans were issued within the time limit (excluding cases where exceptions were made), followed by Dorset (1.9%), Hampshire (4.5%) and Walsall (5.3%).
 
National regulations allow for exceptions to the time limits in certain cases. Including cases where these exceptions applied, 5.8% of new EHC plans were issued within 20 weeks in Norfolk during 2016. This compared to 49.3% in the East of England and 55.7% in England as a whole.
 
Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat candidate for North Norfolk, is writing to Norfolk County Council to ask what steps are being put in place to speed up the process of issuing EHC plans. Commenting, he said:
 
“These are really shocking figures which demand urgent improvement. We are letting families and children down by failing to give vital support quickly enough.
 
“Young people with SEND who require higher levels of support in Norfolk are not getting it as quickly as people in the rest of the country, or even the rest of East Anglia. Perhaps the most alarming thing is that the situation seems to be getting worse rather than better. There is a real injustice here. Norfolk County Council must set out a clear strategy to reverse this decline and bring Norfolk’s performance up to the national average, at the very least.”
 
Note
 
The Department for Education’s statistics on SEN and EHC plans for England (2017) can be accessed here. The statistics referred to above are contained in Table 8 in the Excel spreadsheet. 

Lamb challenges PM to debate Dementia Tax

Norman Lamb has issued a challenge to the Prime Minister to meet with him to debate the Conservatives' plans for social care, ahead of her planned visit to North Norfolk before the General Election.
 
Speaking on the Victoria Derbyshire programme, he challenged Mrs May to defend the proposed Dementia Tax which would force homeowners to pay tens of thousands of pounds more for home care.
 
It comes as research by the Liberal Democrats revealed that 95% of homes in North Norfolk could be eligible for sale to meet the Dementia Tax.
 
Norman Lamb has urged residents, irrespective of their party affiliation, to join a campaign to stop the Conservatives' social care plans which could saddle those with long-term illnesses with crippling care costs after their death. He is also calling for a £72,000 cap on the costs of care, which he introduced as a minister in the Coalition Government but was left out of the Conservative manifesto when it was launched last week. Despite her apparent u-turn this week, the Prime Minister has only committed to consulting on plans for a cap. 
 
Liberal Democrat candidate Norman Lamb said:

"We expect Theresa May to visit North Norfolk soon and I think she owes it to those who are very worried about this policy to explain. Caring for our elderly should be above party politics and that is why I want to urge anyone who opposes these plans to come together to stop this dreadful policy.

“Every elderly person who needs care should receive it in the best place for them. People shouldn't have to worry about losing everything they've worked hard for to pay for crippling care costs.
 
“As Care Minister, I pushed through a new law to introduce a cap on the costs people would have to pay for social care in old age. After abandoning this in the Conservative Manifesto, Theresa May today made a cynical attempt to save face by giving a vague commitment to consult on a cap after the election. Why doesn’t she get on and implement the cap that I introduced, which her party also committed to in 2015?
 
"If she genuinely believes that her proposals for social care are fair to elderly people, and those who have the misfortune to be diagnosed with conditions like dementia, then she should be brave enough to meet with me to make her case."

NormTroopers hit the streets in North Norfolk

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Over 100 activists hit the streets of North Norfolk this weekend to support Norman Lamb’s election campaign, as elderly residents spoke of their fear of punitive home care costs following the Conservatives’ manifesto bombshell. 

James Wright, the Liberal Democrat PPC for Norwich South, led a group of volunteers at an Action Day in Cromer on Sunday, knocking on doors and speaking to local residents at the Pier.

Other volunteers m​ade the trip from as far afield as London, Surrey and Ipswich, to support Norman’s bid for re-election in the face of a challenge from the Conservatives.  Action Days were also held in North Walsham, Holt, Sheringham, Stalham and Aylmerton on Saturday and Sunday.  

Speaking after the Action Weekend, Liberal Democrat candidate Norman Lamb said:

“It was a pleasure to welcome so many people from all over the country, not least James and his team from Norwich. The level of support has been fantastic – I’m sure the glorious sunshine helped! But perhaps the most positive thing was the number of local people who have never been involved before who turned out to support the campaign."

“It’s shaping up to be a very close fight. We always knew that it would be, especially with the money being poured in from Conservative HQ.  

“Many people are telling me that they don’t want to lose a hard-working local MP, and are feeling badly let down by the Conservatives’ plans for social care. I have spoken to lots of people living on modest means, who now face the injustice of being hit with a bill of typically £15,000 each year for home care. They want an MP who will stand up for them locally and in Parliament. I hope to continue doing just that, but I take nothing for granted.”

James Wright, PPC for Norwich South, said: 

“Norman has been a fantastic MP for North Norfolk for the last 16 years and I am delighted to have been able to come with a team to help him to continue the work. The response we got was incredibly encouraging.” 


Keep UEA counselling courses open - Norman Lamb

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat candidate for North Norfolk, is backing a campaign to keep counselling training courses running at the University of East Anglia.

In April, the University announced plans to close its ‘Counselling Centre’ from September 2017.  As well as providing training courses, the Centre enjoys an international reputation for its research into the effectiveness of counselling therapies.

There are concerns that the closure will have a detrimental impact on the number of trained counsellors working in Norfolk.  Opponents also say that the closure will affect provision of mental health support for students at UEA, as counselling students currently provide free counselling services for those living on campus.

Mental health champion Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat candidate for North Norfolk, is calling on the University to reconsider the plans and keep the counselling centre running. He has written to the Vice-Chancellor, David Richardson, as well as signing an online petition that has attracted almost 1,000 signatures.

Commenting, Norman Lamb said:

“These are challenging times for universities, but I would strongly urge UEA to think again about withdrawing its prestigious training course.

“Two-thirds of Britons have experienced mental health problems, so the need for highly-skilled counsellors has never been greater. We know that counselling is highly effective in supporting recovery and preventing people from reaching crisis point. It would be a major blow for mental health provision in East Anglia and across the UK if this closure went ahead, and also for the University given the prestige of its counselling programme. 

“I am also worried about the potential impact on UEA students. More students are experiencing mental ill health, but many do not receive the help they need. If less support is available, there will obviously be a knock-on effect to the NHS, as well as the increased risk of lives ruined by mental health problems if the early intervention isn’t there.” ​

 


Standing up for coastal communities in North Norfolk

Over the last few years, I’ve been working with the council and local residents to secure extra Government funding to protect our coastal communities here in North Norfolk.

I’ve met with ministers to discuss vital coast defence work at the Bacton Gas Terminal, and to ensure that neighbouring villages like Bacton, Walcott and Happisburgh also benefit from improved sea defences.

We’ve made some good progress, but there is still a funding gap of around £2 million for the project which is putting these communities at unacceptable risk of flooding.

After the election, I want to keep fighting in Norfolk and in Parliament – challenging ministers to make sure this work is completed so that we have proper protection for these villages.

The Liberal Democrats have also pledged a £2bn flood prevention fund, which would allow the funding gap to be met for the scheme.

So vote to re-elect me on 8th June, to keep a strong voice for our North Norfolk coastal villages in Parliament. 


Tory abandonment of cap on care costs is a betrayal of older people

Norman Lamb has accused the Conservatives of “betrayal” for abandoning a pledge to introduce a cap on care costs, meaning many older people in North Norfolk will end up paying thousands of pounds more for their care.

As minister in the Coalition Government, Norman introduced a cap on care costs to protect older people against catastrophic costs experienced when someone ends up with a condition like dementia.  

Within weeks of winning the election in 2015, the Conservatives announced that they were postponing the introduction of the cap, despite committing to it in their manifesto.  While Norman said at the time that this amounted to an abandonment, the Government insisted that the cap would be implemented in 2020.

Today, the 2017 Conservative Manifesto confirms that the cap has been abandoned.

Renowned economist Andrew Dilnot, who chaired the long-term care commission that originally proposed the cap, said that the Conservatives’ plan to make homeowners pay more for their care will leave “many people worse off” and “completely on their own” to deal with care costs.

Norman Lamb, who pushed through the Care Act (2014) which included Dilnot’s proposed reforms to the care system, commented:

"This is an outrageous betrayal of people who work hard all their lives, end up with a condition like dementia and will now be saddled with catastrophic costs to pay for their care. 

“All those with care needs in North Norfolk now face losing most of what they’ve worked for.

"The Conservatives claimed they had merely delayed the cap on care costs, now they have abandoned it. It is completely shameful.

“We could have made such a difference to people’s lives, allowing them to plan for old age with the knowledge that the cap on care costs would have protected them. Now, it is gone for good. That’s what happens with the Conservatives without any opposition or without controls over power.

“If re-elected to Parliament, I will continue to fight for a cap on care costs of £70,000 to protect older people from seeing everything they’ve worked hard for disappear.”  


Lib Dems pledge extra £1bn for mental health care

The Liberal Democrats are committed to ending the historic injustice against people with mental ill health.

Two out of every three Britons say they've experienced mental health problems, but too many don't get the help they need. That is why I am proud to announce that the Liberal Democrats are pledging an extra £1bn to ensure everyone has access to effective treatment and support. 

This will help us to address our 12 key priorities for supporting people with mental ill health, learning disabilities and autism. We will introduce comprehensive access and waiting time standards for mental health care in the NHS. We will end the scandal of people with mental ill health being shunted across the country because there is no support available close to home. We will tackle the growing crisis in children and young people's mental health by helping schools to promote good mental wellbeing. And we will prioritise national action to dramatically reduce the number of suicides. 

All of these priorities build on our record of action - both in government and in opposition. 

Neither Labour nor the Conservatives have a clear plan for delivering better mental health services. We’ve made it clear that our priorities will be funded from our ambitious plan to inject £6bn a year into the NHS and care with an additional penny on income tax.

You can read our full plan here. It's time to end the historic injustice faced by people with mental ill health, learning disabilities and autism. 

Read more about our plans in The Mirror and The Independent


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