Our recent consultative document "Priorities for Health and Personal Social Services in England" emphasises the importance of developing community services—including those provided by voluntary organisations—to help elderly and handicapped people, and others in need, to live in the community and with their families to the maximum extent possible. We propose a deliberate and challenging policy of giving these services priority over the acute hospital services in the allocation of the limited resources available for growth.
I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he agree that at a time when public expenditure must be pruned ruthlessly, effective community care services would do much to save expenditure by their greater use of voluntary effort and by saving more people from going into institutions? Will he therefore give the highest possible priority to improving community care services?
I assure the hon. Member that we shall do that, within the restraints on public expenditure. Personal social services are receiving a higher share at a time when there is nil growth in local government expenditure. That shows the priority given to them. We need to improve community care as much as we can, and we should use effectively the resources of voluntary organisations as well as statutory bodies. Much can be done by voluntary organisations in the community, and local authorities are working more closely with them to establish a basis for a partnership.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that if he is to provide greater community care, he will have to ensure that technical aids are made more readily available, because only then can dependants look after relatives who are disabled, elderly or suffering?
I agree with my hon. Friend, who has done a tremendous amount of work in this area. The Government have also done a tremendous amount of work, and will continue to do so. It is vital that modern equipment should be available to help handicapped and disabled people to live in their own homes.
I cannot accept any extension of the allowance at the moment. It begins in July, and 10,000 applications have been received. The allowance will help men and single women who are prevented from working by the need to care for severely disabled relatives who are receiving an attendance allowance. As the new allowance has only just been introduced, it is too early to contemplate an extension, though we should like to consider that when conditions permit.
Does my right hon. Friend not agree that it was an absolute disaster to separate social services from the NHS and community care? Does he not further agree that in present economic circumstances it would also be disastrous if the big spenders—the hospitals—were able to make a greater claim on resources when community care should have the priority that he is recommending?
I agree that it is vital that we take every possible step to ensure effective co-operation between health authorities and local authorities. That is one of the reasons why we have put forward proposals to provide funds for joint financing, particularly in community care. Projects could be sponsored and financed jointly by health authorities and local authorities. That would be one way of ensuring the sort of co-operation that my hon. Friend and I both wish to see.