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Fairness and Security in Old Age

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:44 pm on 10th September 2003.

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Photo of Paul Burstow Paul Burstow Shadow Secretary of State for Health 12:44 pm, 10th September 2003

I certainly do make note of it, and in a minute I shall quote some examples from a report of the National Audit Office that demonstrate clearly that in London and the south-east we have gone beyond meltdown in the care home system. There is an excess of demand over supply when it comes to care home capacity. The NAO report states that

"for London and the south-east as a whole demand exceeds supply. There is a particular shortage of beds affordable to councils."

Increasingly, because the capital is funded to a higher level than elsewhere for social services, it can afford to poach places outside London. Increasingly in Kent and other parts of the home counties, London councils are competing with local councils for care home beds, and they are able to outbid local councils, making life even more difficult for many others outside London.

The problem of demand outstripping supply is not confined to the capital and the south-east. It is becoming a widespread issue. It is not only a matter of a growing shortage of places, for there is also a shortage of staff. Again, the NAO warned the Government earlier this year, when it said:

"Both residential and home care capacity are constrained by shortage of care assistants in the public and private sectors, who carry out many of the more basic but vital tasks. Potential applicants in some parts of the country are currently able to earn higher wages by working, for example, in supermarkets."

The reality is that in too many places care home owners fear the day that a new supermarket opens because they know that it will have an impact upon their ability to continue to provide a quality of care for the residents in their home.

A shortage of places and staff means less choice for older people. It leaves families struggling to find a good care home on their doorstep. For many, the choice is simple: sending granny or granddad miles away or topping up what the council is willing to pay to get into what they hope will be a better home. Not only do the Government expect the elderly to spend their life savings and to sell their homes to pay for care. It seems that they are now content to stand idly by while the children of older people also pay for their parents to be in the right care home. No wonder these people feel that the system is unfair. No wonder so many of them feel insecure.