Conservative health minister Jackie Doyle-Price has been criticisied for telling a debate on social care “austerity is the mother of invention”.
The Thurrock MP recounted a conversation she had with a council leader during an opposition day debate called by Labour shadow social care minister Barbara Keeley, who is concerned about funding gaps in the sector.
She told the Commons: “Let’s recognise it has been hard in the past, we’ve made money available in recent years, we know local authorities have had to face challenges.
“But as one local authority leader put it to me, austerity has been the mother of invention, and I would congratulate local authorities on the efforts they have made.”
In response to loud challenges from the Labour benches, the health minister added: “That’s come from a local authority leader.”
Shadow local government minister Andrew Gwynne said he was “astounded” by Doyle-Price’s remarks.
“It is illuminating to hear her thinking,” he said.
“I am astounded that a minister of the crown thinks that austerity is the ‘mother of invention’. It’s a play on words of the old English proverb that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.
“She might be quoting a councillor, but she did not deny it was her view too. There is nothing necessary about austerity. It is a political choice - and it’s a choice that is driving up inequality and unfairness.”
Doyle-Price said she had simply been “paying tribute to the innovation shown by local authority leaders delivering better outcomes with less money”.
Labour is calling on the government to provide urgent cash to help close the social care “funding gap” faced by councils across the country.
The party says that since the Tories came to power in 2010, there are more than 400,000 fewer people receiving publicly-funded care, and over 1.2 million people are now living with unmet care needs.
Government cuts to local authority budgets have resulted in severe cuts to adult social care, which are set to reach £6.3 billion by March 2018.
Councils also face financial penalties if they do not meet targets on care transfers, where patients are moved from hospital into the community.
MPs approved Labour’s motion urging the government to drop its ‘dementia tax’, stop fines and threats to withdraw funding for councils and to meet the social care funding gap, without a divison - but the vote is non-binding.
Keeley said: “The Tory Government must respect the decision of the Commons.
“MPs have recognised the risks posed to social care by threats to cut funding from local authorities, the continuing funding gap and the worries caused by the proposed ‘dementia tax’.
“The Tory government should follow Labour’s example and commit to invest £1 billion this year and £8 billion across the Parliament to ease the funding crisis in care.”
MPs from both main parties told the debate no progress would be made on the issue unless the frontbenches on both sides of the Commons work together.
Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston said: “No political party has a monopoly on good ideas.
“In a hung Parliament, where in reality it is very difficult for us to pass primary legislation, the only way for us to move forward is to see solutions worked out jointly across this House.
“I am afraid there is a funding gap, and the consensus is we will face a gap of about £2.6 billion in the future and that will have a real impact on all those we represent.
“We have to fund it [social care] properly, not just now but in the long-term.”
Former Labour shadow health minister Liz Kendall called for a cross-party group examining the funding of social care in the coming years to be set up.
She told HuffPost UK: “Any party that makes a significant proposal for funding social care risks their political opponents destroying them.
“That’s why - alongside an immediate injection of cash - the prime minister should set up a cross-party commission on the future funding of the NHS and social care.”