Will the Minister acknowledge the continuing concern that is felt in Stoke-on-Trent and elsewhere about the Government's intentions for the funding of community care? What progress has been made in the Government's discussions with the AMA on the principle of ring-fencing community care resources? Given that these are the last health questions before the recess, will the Minister state clearly when an announcement will be made about the transfer of resources for social security purposes, and not allow human community care to be sacrificed on the altar of council tax, as it has been under the poll tax?
The Government have made it clear on several occasions—and I gladly do so again—that community care policy will be fairly resourced and that local authorities will be given adequate money to implement it. I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern about ring-fencing. Staffordshire county council's record is a prime example of why ring-fencing might be needed. Throughout the 1980s, social services spending in Staffordshire was consistently below the level indicated by the Government's grant-related expenditure assessment. In the eight years from 1982 to 1990, its cumulative underspend was almost £50 million. Any shortage of resources in Staffordshire is nothing to do with the Government, who provide adequate and generous resources, but has everything to do with the county council's decisions.
When my hon. Friend met representatives of the AMA, did he discuss the crucial importance of increasing opportunities for volunteers in the personal social services? There is no doubt that volunteering not only provides a remarkable service but prevents the many volunteers who have a valuable and important task to perform from becoming a charge on the personal social services themselves.
My hon. Friend is quite right. Indeed, he is a well-known expert in the field. We want to encourage all local authorities to maximise opportunities for volunteers which are useful to the volunteers themselves and to those whom they seek to serve. We are very concerned about the attitude of a few Labour-controlled local authorities, which are obstinately reluctant to increase usage of the independent sector.
In view of today's devastating report from the Policy Studies Institute, which shows the total collapse of the Government's inner-city policies over the past 13 years, will the Minister join me in congratulating social workers on their work in inner-city areas? They sometimes enter unlit blocks of flats in dangerous circumstances to try to settle disputes of which they know nothing beyond what they have been told in a telephone call, and sometimes emerge with injuries. It is they, not Members of Parliament, who are on the front line.
I gladly pay tribute to a number of local authority employees who work in inner-city areas. Their major handicap is the fact that too many inner-city local authorities are controlled by the loony left.