Adoption and Children Bill

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Tim Loughton: The Minister will mention the wonderful £300 million extra to deal with bed blocking. Whether part of it has come from partnership funding remains to be seen.

Jacqui Smith: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that his passion about the shortage of resources for social services departments would be slightly easier to stomach had he not stood for election seven months ago on a manifesto that did not even pledge to match the extra resources that the Government will put in? I accept that it is a challenge to ensure that extra resources go to social services, but does he accept that the Government have made the improvements, and that his party stood for election on the basis of cutting those increases?

Tim Loughton: The Minister says that the Government have made improvements, but we have yet to see what they are. Although she and her colleagues constantly seek to deny it, she knows that the complete pot of health funding promised by my party at the election at least equalled that of the Government's figures. We made no bones about that. The only way in which the Government will tackle their problem of bed blocking is to reorient the money between acute care and social services. The Government have created a problem by trying to accelerate the intake of those going into hospital, while

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failing dismally to do anything about the suitability and extent of residential elderly care for those coming out of hospital. Indeed, they have presided over the loss of 50,000 beds. Some of those who have suffered work in child care services, which makes the subject relevant to the debate.

The Chairman: Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman of the amendment and ask him to bring his comments back to it.

Tim Loughton: I shall, after I give way to the hon. Member for Luton, South (Margaret Moran), who has waited patiently.

Margaret Moran: It is noticeable that the hon. Gentleman has not answered the question asked by my hon. Friend the Minister. Perhaps he might clarify what his party's manifesto specified about social services funding as opposed to health funding. I spent many years as a leader of a council that struggled with social services budgets. He referred to the cumulative effect of the run-down in social services, but he cannot avoid the fact that, between 1992 and 1997, the growth in personal social services budgets was 0.1 per cent, as opposed to more than 20 per cent. between 1997 and 2003 under this Government. As he will accept, that is surely why local authorities such as mine have a £1 million deficit in their budgets. We will try to bridge that gap between now and 2003.

Tim Loughton: The hon. Lady's sophistry, which is so typical of Labour Members, is entirely unconvincing. She knows that the additional responsibilities that were shifted on to social services during those years, and the ring-fencing and then discontinued funding, do not add up to the figures that she gives. I return to the overall figure from the LGA, a Labour-led organisation. Its research shows that, despite all the figures that she tries to dress up, there is a gap of almost £1 billion. That gap has never been bigger. If local authority social services departments throughout the country spend £1 billion too much, for which her Government are prepared to fund them, it is incumbent on her party to say what those departments

should cut to make up the balance. Her party is in control, in government and responsible for the shortfall of £1 billion.

The biggest losers are child care services—I say that before you stop me, Mrs. Roe, as I can see out of the corner of my eye that you might. I want to return to the amendment.

Mr. Shaw: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Tim Loughton: Yes.

The Chairman: Order. I hope that the intervention will be connected to the amendment.

Mr. Shaw: I am grateful for your guidance, Mrs. Roe, in ensuring that I remain in order.

I support the provision of more resources for child care services. It is essential that we put as much money into them as possible. If a proportion of the £1 billion goes to child care services, that will be welcome. There may be a difference between the SSA and what

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councils can spend, and local government finance is an issue that vexes us all. The Government's commitment is that we want more money to be put in. Can the hon. Gentleman commit to providing that additional £1 billion? He criticises us for not providing it, but would he?

Tim Loughton: We are in danger of testing your patience, Mrs. Roe. Such questions are for the Government to answer. The gap exists under the Government. When we come up with our comprehensive new proposals for health and social services, it will be even more incumbent on the Government to defend the biggest ever gap in social services funding.

Let us get back to the amendments. When the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford first intervened to make an entirely unrelated point, I was saying that many families could see it as humiliating to have to go to a social services department to ask for support for their problems. The parents might have learning problems that they share with the children whom they are trying to bring up. The biggest cause of breakdowns in adoption placements is attachment difficulties, especially for children with histories of multiple placements. Those children desperately need support, especially at the early stages, to ensure that the foundations on which a placement is based are as solid and comprehensive as possible.

Social services departments say that they have been especially under-resourced for post-adoption services, and that will continue given the requirements in the Bill. For obvious reasons, they have been good at providing pre-adoption support such as investigations and getting children out of dangerous positions, but most people's experience suggests that follow-through support during entire childhoods tails off. If we achieve what we are trying to achieve via the reforms of the adoption process—if more people are adopted—the problem will get bigger, because the potential clientele will grow. Far more people, having been adopted, will need—if we set them up properly—post-adoption services. If the figure is to increase by 40 per cent. over the next few years, there will be a much larger pool of people, and if they are adopted at the age of three, four or five, they will have another 13 or 14 years before they reach adulthood. It is therefore essential that we get post-adoption services absolutely right and that they are properly resourced.

Mr. Shaw: The hon. Gentleman's point about children and parents who need greater support because of events prior to placement is right. We all want to increase the number of adoptions. Is it not best for local authorities to be able to target resources at the most complex cases? The amendments could result in everybody getting the same. There will be finite resources—even the hon. Gentleman with his extra £1 billion will agree with that. If the amendments are agreed, the ability of a local authority to make an assessment to target resources at those most complex cases will be undermined.

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Tim Loughton: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right in the first part of his premise, but he is wrong in his analysis of the effect of the amendments. The point that we make in amendment No. 64 is that an adoption support service should not be produced—if it is to be produced, which is addressed in the next clause—only for a person who says, ''I need adoption support''. Such a person would typically be a parent who has recently adopted a child, and it could be the siblings of that child who need extra support, or the child himself or grandparents. The child and the siblings are unlikely to call for that support themselves, and certainly not directly through a social services department. Therefore, if there is a case for adoption support, of whatever description, social services departments and local authorities should have to respond to connected people for other connected people, rather than specifically to that connected person. That is particularly appropriate to a child or siblings who need support.

I have largely covered amendment No. 66 in that where adoption support services are deemed necessary, they should be provided—not unregulated on demand, but certainly not episodically. We need a proper, holistic programme that continues until the situation is deemed by the people receiving the support to be back on course, whatever form the support might take. In view of the patchiness of services, it is incumbent on us to identify whether we need a minimum package that will constitute adoption support. Perhaps that will be the point of the regulations. It will take different forms for different problems, but we must agree on whether people have an entitlement to expect such a minimum package.

It is also incumbent on us to ask the Minister what will happen if the local authority fails to provide the support. Nowhere in the Bill, so far as I am aware, is there a duty on the local authority to provide support services. It has a duty to maintain support services and a duty to assess the need for such services. There is not the same duty on a local authority to come up with the goods. We shall consider that anomaly in more detail when we discuss assessment under the next clause.

Those amendments are exploratory—a better word than ''probing''—and would add to the Bill. I disagree with the analysis of the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford that they would in some way restrict what is available to other people; that will depend on what resources are available. They clarify to whom the support services should be available and ensure that need for them is identified by the person who will receive them. That need has to be satisfied before an episode or series of episodes of support services is stopped. I commend the amendments.

5.45 pm

 
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