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Special Report on The Queens Speech

What it means for social care, mental health and domestic violence

The new government will consult on the future of adult social care but have been criticised for ignoring children’s social care in the Queens Speech

The Queen’s Speech outlined how ministers will “work to address the challenges of social care for our ageing population, bringing forward proposals for consultation to build widespread support”.

The Queen’s Speech which sets out legislative priorities for the next two years acknowledged that the ageing population presents “one of our nation’s most profound challenges”.

“It raises critical questions as to how as a society we enable all adults to live well into later life and how we deliver sustainable public services that support them to do so,” said the Queen. “The government has already invested an additional £2 billion to put social care on a more stable footing and alleviate short-term pressures across the health and care system.”

“However, further reform is required to ensure that the system is prepared to meet the challenges of the increasing numbers of over 75s,” she added.

Tipping point

Therefore, the government will work with partners at all levels, including those who use services and who work to provide care, to bring forward proposals for public consultation. The consultation will set out options to improve the social care system and to put it on a more secure financial footing, supporting people, families and communities to prepare for old age, and address issues related to the quality of care and variation in practice.

The number of people aged 75 and over is expected to increase by 70% between 2015 and 2035.

Chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, Cllr Izzi Seccombe, said that councils, the NHS, charities and care providers are united on the need for the government to take action to secure a sustainable funding solution for adult social care.

“While the £2 billion announced in the Spring Budget by the previous government was a step in the right direction, adult social care is at a tipping point,” she said. “The government must set out in detail its proposals at the earliest opportunity for how it will close the £2.3 billion funding gap by 2020, and provide the vital services not just for older people but all adults requiring support, including those with physical and learning disabilities, and mental illness.

“This must also include consideration of how best to share the costs of social care equitably between the state and individual,” she said adding that while it is “difficult territory”, local government is ready to work with government to deliver a long-term sustainable funding solution for social care.

140 per cent increase in child protection enquiries

However the LGA added concern that there was no mention of funding for the “impending crisis” in children’s social care outlined in The Queen’s Speech.

Cllr Richard Watts, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said that councils were hoping for measures to be announced to address the funding gap facing children’s social care. “Pressures facing children’s services are rapidly becoming unsustainable, with a £2 billion funding gap expected to open by 2020.”

“Councils are committed to providing the best possible support to vulnerable children and their families, but the fact is that local authority budgets continue to shrink whilst demand for children’s social care services has more than doubled. In the last ten years, we’ve witnessed a 140 per cent increase in child protection enquiries, and this shows little sign of abating.

“Local government leaders are calling on the government to commit to the life chances of children and young people by acting urgently to address the £2 billion funding gap. This gap will continue to grow unless action is taken now to reduce the number of families relying on the children’s social care system for support.”

Chief executive of NCB Anna Feuchtwang agreed that a review of how the social care needs of vulnerable children will be met should be carried out alongside the consultation of adult care.

“The government continues to overlook the crisis facing children’s services. Demand is outstripping resource leaving thousands of children missing out on the help they need, including children in local authority care, children who have been abused and neglected, and young people with disabilities. Without additional funding, social care will become an emergency service – stepping in only when children reach crisis point,” she added.

Alison Michalska, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services added: “Children’s services face funding shortages of their own and there was very little information in the speech about the future of local government financing. With fundamental changes to the way in which we are funded expected in 2020, there is a need for more clarity on this issue as a matter of urgency.”

Domestic Abuse

However, measures around mental health and domestic violence have been welcomed.

The Queen confirmed that legislation will be brought forward to protect the victims of domestic violence and abuse. The main purpose of the Bill is to ensure that victims have the confidence to come forward and report their experiences, safe in the knowledge that the state and justice system will do everything it can to both support them and their children, and pursue their abuser.

The main elements of the Bill are:

  • To establish a Domestic Violence and Abuse Commissioner, to stand up for victims and survivors, raise public awareness, monitor the response of statutory agencies and local authorities and hold the justice system to account in tackling domestic abuse.
  • To define domestic abuse in law to underpin all other measures in the Bill.
  • To create a consolidated new domestic abuse civil prevention and protection order regime.
  • To ensure that if abusive behaviour involves a child, then the court can hand down a sentence that reflects the devastating life-long impact that abuse can have on the child.

Around 1 in 5 children have been exposed to domestic abuse. Those who witnessed domestic abuse as a child were more likely to experience domestic abuse as an adult.

Alison Michalska, ADCS President, said: “We welcome the government’s commitment to protecting victims of domestic violence and abuse including stricter sentences for perpetrators if abusive behaviour involves a child. We know from our own research that domestic violence is increasingly common amongst the families that we work with and can have a devastating and intergenerational impact on children and families. Putting an end to the direct cross examination of victims in the family courts will prevent any additional trauma for victims.”

Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, called the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to overhaul the way we respond to domestic abuse.

“For too long women and children have been left facing a postcode lottery of services and a justice system that does not understand their experiences; keep them safe or deal with their abusers effectively. It is imperative that this country’s response to domestic abuse does not simply stay focused on managing risk, but places the survivor at the centre; working with her needs and strengths to build long term safety and independence for her and her children,” said Ms Neate.

“We welcome the plans for new robust court orders, they mark a necessary move towards an approach that holds perpetrators to account. This programme of work must be delivered alongside specialist training for the police and judiciary,” she added. “It is critical that the voices of survivors must be heard as this legislation is developed and Women’s Aid looks forward to working with government to ensure that happens.”

Mental health

The Queen also unveiled plans to reform mental health legislation and ensure that mental health is prioritised in the National Health Service in England. The government will review the mental health legislative landscape and publish recommendations on where new policy could provide greater rights for those experiencing mental health problems so they can live lives free from discrimination.

Considerations will include:

  • looking at why rates of detention are increasing and taking the necessary action to improve service responses;
  • examining the disproportionate number of those from certain ethnic backgrounds, in particular black people, who are detained under the Act;
  • reviewing the use of Community Treatment Orders, to see if they remain fit for purpose in helping people leaving hospital to receive better care and support in the community;
  • considering how the rights of family members to get information about the mental health and treatment of their loved ones can be improved;
  • ensuring that those with mental ill health are treated fairly, protected from discrimination, and employers fulfil their responsibilities effectively.

Document which accompanies the Queen’s Speech states that the government will continue to invest in new and better services across the whole spectrum of mental health conditions. In particular, the government has pledged to make further improvements in early intervention, investing in community services and expanding access to 24/7 crisis care support both in the community and in A&E.

The government is also set to publish a Green Paper on Children and Young People’s Mental Health focused on helping young people receive the best start in life. This will ensure best practice is being used consistently and will help to make improvements across all services so that children and young people get the right mix of prevention and specialist support.

Current legislation is outdated

Chief executive of NCB Anna Feuchtwang said: “We welcome the government’s commitment to prioritise mental health alongside physical health in the NHS. But if we are serious about giving children the best possible start in life, we need an equivalent change to prioritise wellbeing in the education system, as well as academic achievement. Schools must have the resources they need to promote emotional wellbeing and bring in specialist support for a child should they need it.”

The LGA’s Cllr Izzi Seccombe, added that councils play a huge part in tackling mental ill health including providing a home and support for people who have received treatment for a mental health condition so they can move out of hospital, or helping people get back to work. “Additional funding for the NHS to tackle mental illness is clearly a good thing, but it is important to remember that councils have a significant role in addressing this as well. Future money for mental health must explicitly include investment directed towards supporting the work councils do,” she added.

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of the mental health charity Mind, said the charity welcomed the proposals as, at over thirty years old, the current legislation is outdated and not in line with the principles of modern health care.

“In the last ten years in England, we have seen a 47% rise in the Mental Health Act being used to detain individuals, with BAME people disproportionately affected. These figures show that neither the Act, nor wider mental health care, is working as it should to support people when they are unwell.

“Changing the Mental Health Act is a mammoth task and needs to be done properly, in full consultation with people with lived experience and in line with the recommendations of the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health. People who are at their most unwell need choice, control and dignity and they need legislation to support that,” he added.

'Children’s needs should be put first'

The Children’s Society Chief Executive Matthew Reed said: “Amidst all the political turmoil, the new government must not forget the needs of children.

“The growing mental health needs of children have been neglected for far too long by government and we are pleased to see that tackling mental health has been made a priority. The government must act swiftly and put more resources into mental health services for children and young people. We’re calling for access to counselling in all schools and for action to reduce waiting times for NHS mental health services. No child should have to endure months of suffering before they get help,” said Mr Reed.

He added that The Children’s Society are relieved to see that scrapping universal infant free school meals did not feature in The Queen’s Speech. With four million children in the UK growing up in poverty, set to rise sharply to 5 million by 2020, this is a time when the government should be helping not penalising struggling families.”

“The decisions and deals made in this parliament will affect the lives of millions of children for years to come, we urge politicians of all parties to ensure that children’s needs are put first irrespective of the political climate,” Mr Reed concluded.

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