Statement of National Minimum Standards

Part of Orders of the Day — Care Standards Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 7:45 pm on 12th July 2000.

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Photo of Paul Burstow Paul Burstow Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 7:45 pm, 12th July 2000

That is an interesting point. When the Minister responds, we may discover that the Government are attempting to respond constructively to concerns that were expressed in Committee by the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond). The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) may have to wait to listen to the Minister's gracious comments on those matters.

In Committee, several hon. Members expressed concerns about the impact that standards would have on the supply of places in care homes, but the availability of domiciliary care is also important. The Government need to accept that there is a crisis of confidence in the care homes sector. How many homes are closing in any given week may be a matter of dispute, but I have heard that one a week, possibly more, are closing. They may be closing for the perfectly legitimate reason that they do not provide a good standard of care. Such homes should be closed, but many others are closing because they cannot provide a decent rate of return on the investment that they have made in their businesses.

Fees have not kept pace with costs. That key problem predates the Bill and national minimum standards, but the uncertainty about those standards has added fuel to it. As the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) has said, local authorities are under financial pressure on the provision of social care and the increasing demands that are placed on them. As a result, they must be ruthless in exercising their role in purchasing care places. They are undoubtedly holding down fees as much as they can. There have been some increases, but they have not been adequate in many cases.

The link between quality and the cost of meeting the standards is not straightforward. The equation is more complicated than that, but there is a link. If the standards are driven up—I would entirely applaud and support that—it must be recognised that, at some point, that will have a bearing on the fees that need to be charged and the incomes that need to be provided. We shall expect care assistants and others involved in domiciliary care and care homes to receive more training to meet the new national minimum standards and to ensure that adequate numbers of staff are registered with the commission.

All too often, better trained staff look for better paid jobs. Care assistants in care homes are not paid decent salaries. They can get better pay stocking the shelves at the local supermarket. If we do not recognise that problem, we shall store up problems for ourselves. There will be a flight from the sector as a result of improving the qualifications of its staff because they can get better jobs in other aspects of social care, where their skills are more fairly rewarded.

The hon. Member for West Chelmsford, who is no longer in his place, rightly expressed concern about the link between improvements in standards and the potential increase in costs to the consumers—those who live in care homes. He linked that to reports of yet other leak about what the Government have in mind for long-term care and the relative distribution of the consequent costs between the state and the individual. We shall have to wait for the White Paper, rather than the comprehensive spending review, to find out whether the leak is true.

If "Channel 4 News" is to be believed, I hope that the Government, even at this late stage, will give further thought to what the Prime Minister said before the general election. He said that he did not want to live in a country where old people had to sell their homes to pay for their care. The many hundreds of thousands of people who thought that the Government would take serious action on that feel betrayed and let down by the Government in that respect.

8.15 pm

We shall have to wait until next week to find out whether the comprehensive spending review will provide a true idea of exactly what sums will be allocated to such matters. Time will tell, but I fear that we might have to wait until the White Paper is published, I hope, at the end of the month.

If the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge decides to press the motion to a Division, we shall support him. New clause 4 proposes an entirely right and proper structure in which the Government should discharge their responsibility to produce minimum standards. The House should have a clear role in scrutinising those standards. Its role should involve much more than approving a statutory instrument under the negative procedure. The affirmative procedure should be used, so that we can consider not only the regulations, but the details behind them. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond positively.