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Amendment of the Law

Part of Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation – in the House of Commons at 8:20 pm on 21st March 2000.

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Photo of Paul Burstow Paul Burstow Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 8:20 pm, 21st March 2000

If I sound grudging—Labour Members think that I do—it is because many of my constituents feel grudging. They have suffered over the last two years from an underfunded NHS and a Government who over-hyped and over-promised in opposition and have subsequently failed to deliver. The announcement today is about trying to put right the fact that the promises were unfunded. To the extent that the announcement puts in place the necessary funding to deliver these proposals, of course I welcome it. However, that is as far as I go in welcoming this sum today.

The crucial question—as the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) said—is how the money will be spent. It must be invested in building up the capacity of the NHS. That means, as the Government have rightly acknowledged, more nurses and doctors. We must make it worth while for some of the 70,000 nurses who are currently outside the health service to come back into it, to start to fill some of the 15,000 nursing vacancies.

There is a need to invest in physiotherapy and occupational therapists. If all the money goes to the acute sector, it will not meet people's real needs. We need investment in recuperative and rehabilitation services so that we will have easier discharging from hospitals and reduced emergency re-admissions to hospitals, which all too often is one of the biggest problems. We need to look at ways to ensure that we help older people to continue living in their own homes, rather than being prematurely consigned to care homes, as is all too often a byproduct of our current health care arrangements.

On the funding of long-term care, the Government's silence—which continued today—is deafening. A royal commission was established in December 1997 and it reported, as it was requested to do, in just over a year, in February 1999. We then waited week after week, month after month, for the Government to say what it was going to do in response to its recommendations. We were told in December that we would have a debate in which the Secretary of State would outline the Government's proposals. However, we were then told in December that the Government were going to review the matter still further and that we would have a White Paper in June this year.

All this means that there will have been no legislation in this Parliament to change the legal framework under which long-term care is financed and operated. So much for the Government who promised before the general election that they would do something to prevent hundreds of thousands of people from being forced to sell their homes to pay for their care. Under this Government, 100,000 more people have been forced to sell their homes to pay for their care, because the Government have done nothing to implement the royal commission's proposals.

It is hardly surprising that we have constituents coming to our surgeries who have been confronted by local authority accountants proffering a bill to them to pay for their care. That has happened to families such my constituent's, Mr. Albert Philo. His family cannot believe that after decades of hard work and diligent taxpaying, they have to pay for nursing care. Mr. Philo has a medical condition—dementia—and his family thought that the NHS was free at the point of use on the basis of need. However, Mr. Philo's wife is being pursued for payment for his care, pushing her into debt and causing great anxiety. The Budget does nothing to sort out the chaos that is long-term care finance.

The Government have made much of their support for carers. We have had a national carers strategy, and that was welcome because it codified much good practice around the country. However, we heard nothing today about carers, and the Government have allocated a mere 15p extra a week for carers. The vast majority of carers are older people, caring for a husband, wife, parent or adult child. Because those carers are pensioners, they are not entitled to the invalid care allowance. If the Government valued older carers, they would extend ICA to all pensioner carers.

In the Budget today, the Chancellor offered pensioners an inflation increase in the basic state pension of £2—in April next year. Wow! He also offered them an extra £1 a week in their pocket through the winter allowance, and a consultation on the income tapers on the minimum income guarantee. But what does the Budget do now to make a difference to pensioners? It puts 75p in the pockets of pensioners, with possibly a little bit more through the winter allowance in due course. When pensioners come to examine the rabbit that the Chancellor has pulled out of his hat for them this year, they will find that it was not just emaciated but well and truly dead before he even drew it out of his hat.