How he plans to make individual budgets available to social care users over the next three years; and if he will make a statement.
Local authorities will receive an annual social care reform grant in addition to mainstream resources over the next three years to support the radical transformation of social care in every area. Personal budgets for the vast majority of those receiving public funding are at the heart of that vision.
On Sunday I visited the Patey day centre in my constituency, which provides help for sufferers of dementia. I welcome the Government's announcement of the first ever national dementia plan, which I hope will stress the importance of enabling sufferers to stay in their own homes for as long as possible. Does my hon. Friend agree that individual social care budgets are vital to achieving that aim?
I entirely agree. It is important that at long last we, as a society, are bringing dementia out of the shadows by establishing the first ever national dementia strategy. It will reflect the fact that dementia affects an increasing number of families, and is a pretty horrendous disease to cope with. The purpose of family budgets is to give families maximum control, power and choice over the care that is provided. They are in the best position to decide on the best way of responding to their own needs. When family members are not there to help people exercise that control and choice, advocates will be available to ensure that a personally sensitive service is provided.
Is the Minister aware of the dilemma faced by many seriously disabled people who reject the highest level of care available because it involves a transfer from social services and direct payments, which give them control over their lives, to the national health service, where they do not have that?
The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point. We are committed to a fundamental review of the care and support system this year, to assess our ability to achieve a fairer funding settlement that redefines the respective responsibilities of state and citizen. One of the issues that we must consider is the relationship between the national health service, local government and the voluntary sector in every local community.
Will my hon. Friend consider the problems faced by disabled people who, on engaging carers, effectively become employers? When my hon. Friend John Austin and I met disabled lobbyists recently at the House, they described their difficulties and the need for guidance and advice. They also pointed out that the different rates paid by local authorities can create problems of recruitment and retention. Will my hon. Friend consider providing some guidance?
I agree with my hon. Friend. One of our reasons for organising a fundamental review of eligibility criteria is the inconsistency of decisions on funding to meet people's needs, both within and between local authorities.
My hon. Friend referred to the difficulties experienced by people receiving direct payments who employ their own staff and take responsibility for their own care. As we incorporate the new arrangements in the mainstream social care system, one of the challenges for the Government is to ensure that we take account of all the barriers and obstacles that prevent people from exercising self-determination. The belief that disabled and older people have a right to self-determination is entirely consistent with the long history of our party's values.
If—as we all agree—the use of individual personal budgets and direct payments for social care needs to be massively expanded, they need to be widely available. What is the Minister's response—and let us have some action, rather than yet another review such as the one that he mentioned—to last week's report from the Commission for Social Care Inspection? The commission found that in 2005-06 alone seven out of 10 local authorities restricted their services to people with substantial or critical needs, that there was a wide disparity in the levels of care and help provided even in the same areas, and that as a result 281,000 people in need of help were receiving none while another 450,000 were receiving less than they needed.
The action that the hon. Gentleman calls for is the social care transformation that will begin in every local authority area in April; it will last three years and it is funded by half a billion pounds of social care reform grant. At the heart of the agenda will be personal budgets for the vast majority of people receiving public funding; information, advice and advocacy for everybody, irrespective of their means, including self-funders, who are all too often left on their own; and a shift to prevention and early intervention, so that we move away from current eligibility criteria, under which, for example, it appears to be nobody's responsibility to do anything about an older person who is lonely or isolated. From