Caring for the Carers

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:18 pm on 1st May 1986.

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Photo of Mr Andrew Rowe Mr Andrew Rowe , Kent Mid 6:18 pm, 1st May 1986

As I was one of the proposers on behalf of the parliamentary panel for the personal social services which put forward the early-day motion which has been adopted by the Opposition as their motion tonight, some explanation as to why I intend to support the Government may be required. However, that is not too difficult to explain. The Opposition carefully chose the motion to scourge the Government's record and in a way which paid no heed, for example, to the galloping inflation which pauperised many of the people who now need help from the state because their savings were stripped by out-of-control public expenditure which made it impossible to make sensible provision for their later years.

I will be supporting the Government. However, I should like to make it clear that we are discussing a major problem. There is a huge bulge in the number of elderly people needing to be cared for. We must plan for that bulge just as carefully as we plan for any bulge in school or university populations.

We are sadly very much a behind-closed-doors society. It is the dream of most of us to rush back from our day's work, slam our front door in the face of the world, and stay at home with perhaps a small number of friends or by ourselves. That is running away from the thought of any commitment to others. We must ask ourselves whether that really is the way forward for our society. If it is, it will be the end of the willingness to care. It has been well pointed out that in the enormous increase in the number of step-families there will be a huge increase in the number of kin but perhaps a considerable falling off in the commitment of those kin to individuals within that relationship.

As we have heard today, carers have a range of needs, but one of the things that they need most is a 24-hour response. For reasons which I entirely understand, carers, having committed themselves to looking after their loved ones, are too reluctant to accept help from volunteers. They see it as a job in which they have developed considerable skill and they are reluctant to share it with volunteers. They need help in coming to terms with what has been demonstrated to be a remarkable source of help.

Secondly, we need more part-timers. I could not agree more with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) when he says that the trade unions should be encouraged in every possible way to make it possible for people to respond outside the ordinary working day.

Thirdly, organisations such as Crossroads need support. It is enormously important that organisations which are not yet big enough to have formed major fundraising arms should be given a great deal more help with their headquarters' costs than organisations which have grown used to raising their own money. That is important. The delay which accompanied the grant to the headquarters of the Association of Carers made its life difficult. Therefore, we ask for both speed and rather more understanding of the needs of the headquarters of such organisations.

To provide care through the local authority bureaucracy is expensive, not because local authorities are unduly costly—some are, some are not—but because it is difficult for them to provide care cheaply. Liaison officers will be enormously costly, however worthy they may be. There have been examples of women meeting together and forming their own co-operative to provide care and that is a major way forward for helping carers to find the sort of 24-hour response that they need.

With the huge growth in demand, there is a need for new sources of funds. Ever since the war we have had a society which has put an enormous premium on people spending their money on their house. That is their principal form of saving. That is the most immobile form of saving and the most emotionally tied-up form of saving. It leads to poverty because people cannot bring themselves to trade down-market to free funds. They find it enormously difficult to shake off the emotional ties of their home and so they remain isolated from other people who might be more able to provide them with help. As a society we need to look seriously at ways of helping people in such a situation to release the funds which are tied up in their home. Some schemes are already available, but we need to look at the matter much more coherently and consistently than we have done.

I commend the Government for carrying out research into the best way of allocating what will always be, by definition, inadequate resources. However, their research and the findings which will come from it will cry out for more resources. What we are doing is, perfectly properly, postponing for a moment the spending of money so that we know exactly how best to spend it. But the money will have to be found. As our society begins to grow even faster—it has had several years of consistent growth—each of us should ask whether we would not prefer to spend some of our new prosperity on this neglected source of help.