I feel somewhat upstaged by the speeches of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) and of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Health. Those who follow the Order Paper may recall that on 10 February I tabled a not dissimilar private Member's motion. On listening to the opening speeches in this debate, particularly that of the hon. Member for Oldham, West, I could not help but feel that if I rather than the hon. Gentleman had opened the debate—I say this in due modesty—I might have created a better atmosphere for the debate. Above all, this is a subject on which we should try to strike a consensus. I shall not, therefore, reply to some of the more partisan of the hon. Gentleman's points or take up some points raised by the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley).
I start with the proposition that many more dependent people are cared for at home than are cared for in the ordinary hospitals, institutions and rest homes of all the statutory, charitable and private groups combined. That is our point of departure. To set it out in a little more detail, I shall give the House a round up of the facts, some of which have been mentioned.
More than 1·25 million people are caring for a relative or friend who is severely or very severely disabled due to illness, accident or the infirmities of old age. About 100,000 of those carers have been doing so for 10 years or more and some have been doing so for more than 30 years. More than 5·5 million people are supporting a person who because of age, illness or disability could not live safely or comfortably without the help of the carer. More women now care for an elderly or disabled relative than care for a child under 16. That fact, which has not yet come up, is one of the most penetrating facts to grasp in the debate. As the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South said, four out of five carers are women.
Recently published reports confirm that there is an inverse ratio of support for carers—the more handicapped the dependent relative, the less support is made available. Research in Yorkshire has shown that the more disabled the relative, the fewer the people able to undertake the care because it is too difficult and onerous. That means that volunteers and neighbours find it increasingly difficult to give meaningful help as the disability becomes more advanced and severe.
If 1 per cent. of those caring just for the elderly suddenly gave up, our health and social services would find their budgets being increased immediately by 20 per cent.