3 Jun 2024

Baroness Andrews OBE, former Chair of the Adult Social Care Committee

Last month, we sat down with Baroness Andrews OBE, Labour peer and former Chair of the House of Lords Adult Social Care Committee, to discuss the position of unpaid carers in the UK and what policy changes are needed to better support them.   

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Lack of Optimism  

As we begin our discussion, we refer Baroness Andrews to some of the findings highlighted by GoodOaks Homecare’s You Are Not Alone campaign and their recent Caring Unseen report, which polled unpaid carers across England.   

This revealed that less than one-third of unpaid carers anticipated their ability to provide care to their loved ones would improve in the coming 18-24 months. “I am rather surprised that there are so many, to be quite honest,” she says. ”When we took evidence in the select committee, I think nearly all the carers we spoke to had health issues.”  

A particular cause for unease concerns the inability of carers to find time to take care of themselves and not just their loved ones. She notes, “often [these carers] wanted to see a doctor or specialist and just couldn’t get an appointment because they can’t get out of the house.”  

“It seems extraordinary [that] we take so little care of them because they are such a national resource. This is why surveys like GoodOaks’ are so important. It allows us to see some of the day-to-day realities of what it is like to be a full-time carer.”  

Government Action  

Our conversation occurs more than a year after the House of Lords’ Select Committee on Adult Social Care published its report on the sector. However, Baroness Andrews makes clear that the Government’s response to the recommendations has been far from perfect.   

She notes that “the government’s response, in short, was extremely was very slow”, adding that “we didn’t have a response for ages...and then when we eventually had a debate, it was perfectly obvious just how partial the response was.”  

Nonetheless, there were areas of consensus between the committee and the Government. “We agreed that there was a real issue with lack of data. It’s very hard for some carers to be identified as carers [and] that means they don’t get the benefits [they’re entitled to], so we don’t see some of the people who are struggling most.”  

On this point, Baroness Andrews emphasises the need for greater integration. “You need to require doctors or health workers who come in contact with unpaid carers to ensure they are identified and registered.”  

Although a step in the right direction, to her, this constitutes “low-hanging fruit”, and when it comes to the more significant issues the report raised, namely “to commit to a pay review for paid workers ... they didn’t”.   

Furthermore, on an issue that was less financially demanding but nevertheless essential, the Government also failed to act. “We wanted them to agree to set up an Adult Social Care Commissioner”, she explains, which would serve a similar function to “the Children’s Commissioner... [to] give some voice and visibility to the sector.”  

There is some optimism in her position, believing “that [the Government] do know the scale of the problem” but regrets that “they haven’t been able to construct a really positive and convincing narrative that they see this as a national imperative.”  

Why would you not grow a skilled, well-paid workforce to underpin the real economy? It’s a virtuous circle
Baroness Andrews OBE, Labour peer

When asking whether there should be a National Carers Strategy, as had been the case under the last Labour Government, she finds such a step “really important” both in convincing stakeholders of the attention being paid to the sector but also because “it is only when you sit down and think seriously that you can identify what policies you need to address these gaps [and] needs.”  


Social Care Workforce  

As we move on, we discuss research that shows that by the end of the decade, around one million people in the UK will require care without any family to care for them. The answer to the question of how to deal with this increase is clear to the Baroness.   

“The only way of doing it is to actually invest in the workforce”, she states. With the existing shortages in the supply of care, “if families are not there, [then] there will not be any fallback at all” for those who need it.   

Most importantly, regarding investing in the social care sector, Andrews believes the government must “make a priority of investing in better pay”. She argues that this has to go far beyond the minimum wage and requires “a proper pay review to make it a profession that people choose to go into and are proud to be part of.”  

Baroness Andrews makes it clear that this issue should not be partisan and must be supported by all political parties. “Why would you not grow a skilled, well-paid workforce to underpin the real economy? It’s a virtuous circle.”  

As the conversation touches upon the importance of building the UK’s domestic workforce for social care, we ask her whether the recent ban on dependants coming to the UK on Health and Care Worker visas is the right decision to encourage greater investment in making the sector attractive to British workers.   

Baroness Andrews emphasises that “we are very lucky to have these fantastic people come in,” but “it’s now become very complicated because of the hostility towards immigration. Yet these people are saving us enormous amounts of social and economic stress.”  

However, though critical of the restrictions announced, she believes that a reliance on foreign workers “is not a long-term solution” and that the UK has “got to have [its] own trained people is part of our economic strength.”  

Regarding higher pay for carers in the sector, we ask her how local authorities, many of whom are already facing a serious budget crisis and perilous finances, are expected to pay for those increases. Baroness Andrews sees the responsibility as that of the central government, asserting that “it has to be funded” and stressing the difficulty that “over half of local authority budgets are [already] going into adult social care.”     


Carer’s Allowance  

Following the recent news that more than 34,000 unpaid carers incurred fines last year due to minor breaches of benefits rules, we add to this discussion further polling from the Caring Unseen report, which also revealed that only half of unpaid carers felt they had a “good understanding” of the Carer’s Allowance. 

Baroness Andrews underscores how worrying the situation is. “The allowance is is the lowest of all the benefits, and to think that people have misunderstood the working hours rule is awful”.  

The entire situation unfolding “means that those who should be giving them the information are not ensuring that they understand the significance of what they’ve got to do” and outlines how detrimental these fines can be to people’s mental health. There are similarities to the Horizon IT scandal, with innocent people being “allowed to carry on in ignorance with a system which should have been perfectly straightforward.”   


A National Approach?   

As we near the end of our conversation, we decide to ask whether the scale of the crisis in the sector calls for a greater role for Westminster, and if reform akin to the founding of the NHS is needed. However, despite the desire for the Government to do more on specific issues, she remains sceptical of such a top-down approach.  

“I think we have to be very careful”, Baroness Andrews observes, believing that, even with a National Care Service, “ultimately it will always have to be delivered at [a] local cannot actually deliver this from Whitehall because social care exists in a web of relationships that operate at the neighbourhood level.”  

Despite this, a role for the state remains with “a national policy for social care which focuses on [the] standards, skills [and] investment” desperately needed.   


As we near the next general election, Baroness Andrews’ perspective on how to deliver positive change in the sector is particularly relevant at a time when demand for care continues to rise and supply shortages, especially around its workforce, worsen. Whether a future Government decides to fully implement the findings of the Adult Social Care Committee’s report remains to be seen, but the passion and knowledge for the sector that Baroness Andrews displays will continue to be an asset to Parliament in years to come.   

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