I have been a Member in this House for a little while now, and during that time I have discussed demographic change on many occasions. Mr. Waterson has been in the Chamber for some of those debates, and we have had several exchanges about the need to look ahead at what we must do for people in the future. It is therefore a little remiss to have forgotten those occasions and instead to spend all our time talking about what we must do on pensions and pensioners as if that is all that needs to be addressed on the subject of elderly care-because the subject of today's debate is elderly care, not pensions.
I thought for a while that I had wandered by mistake into a session on leaflet-writing for the forthcoming Norwich by-election. That distressed me a little, because I had made a promise to people very important to me that on this rare occasion when I am able to speak in the House I would talk about elderly care, as that matters a great deal to me, partly because of members of my family, but also because of constituents of mine, some of whom have had good experiences and some of whom have not.
Having seen the Green Paper and some of the statements made in the House, I particularly wanted to take advantage of the opportunity given to me by the Opposition-I am grateful to them for that-to say what I think needs to be done on elderly care in the round. I want to pay tribute to the Government for what has happened already, because we would think from listening to today's debate that nothing had happened in the past 12 and a half years-but actually a great deal has happened.
I can remember-Members have to acknowledge this-a time when in homes we would think, "My goodness, I hope I never end up here." I still think that about some homes, and we have to do something about that. Having said that, however, there are homes in my constituency that have changed beyond recognition, and I pay tribute to those people in my constituency and the officers on the council who have worked closely together on that. The local authority and the staff of those homes have worked hard to change the system entirely. As a result, we now have assessment centres so that when people leave hospital they can be properly assessed and we can ensure that they get the proper care that they then need.
Sadly, that is not the case throughout the country. I have been very saddened when I have seen people who are not my constituents not receiving that level of care; some of them have been relatives of constituents of mine, who have asked me to intervene on their behalf. We have seen some high-profile cases on editions of the "Panorama" programme and elsewhere, so we cannot say with hand on heart that all our older people have had a life of dignity and care-the sort of life we would want for members of our own families. Some people have starved or have suffered elder abuse, and we must say that in this day and age that sort of thing must stop. It has saddened me a bit that this House has not taken just a little while to talk about that and what we need to do.
I have not had enough time to digest all of this Green Paper, but from what I have read I have seen the beginning of what could tackle some of the issues. This country has some fantastic people whose brains we ought to be using in order to bring together what we could be doing, but I still wish to make suggestions in order to take things further. The idea of having personalised care has been talked about for some time, but it has not been properly delivered. Such care has been delivered in some places, but it has not been delivered everywhere and it has not been delivered to the standard that all of us have wanted. We would all want the best for our mother if she was in care, yet we would have to say that we have encountered cases in our constituency mailbags where the care provided has not been good enough.
What in the Green Paper would make the situation better? Having one standard of care for everybody below which we cannot drop must be a good thing, but how are we going to make it work? Where the only other member of an elderly person's family is themselves old and frail, how could that person ensure that the care provided is top-notch? How could that person stand up to everybody in the system, given that the system sometimes feels overwhelmingly large? I think that the relevant body is now called the Care Quality Commission, but because there are so many names in the system these days people going into homes may not know the right name to give and may feel quite belittled by the system. Can the family member be sure that they are asking the right question? Do they know who to ask for? Are we really empowering people in the right way? Do we perhaps need something akin to what we have in the health service? Do we perhaps need a patient advice and liaison service in the social care system? Could we be considering that in this Green Paper, so that there can be advocacy for people in the care system and so that in future we do not have people who feel that they have not been fed properly?
My mailbag, like those of other hon. Members, has contained cases where someone has felt that their relative had not been properly fed, had not received enough drink and had not received the proper care. Those people may have felt that their relative died inappropriately and too soon because of the care that they did or did not receive. If such people feel that and then cannot obtain answers, they will never believe that their loved one died in the way that anybody would want their loved one to die, and we cannot have that in our system today.