Caring for the Elderly

Part of Opposition Day — [16th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 6:52 pm on 15th July 2009.

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Photo of Phil Hope Phil Hope Minister of State (the East Midlands), Regional Affairs, Minister of State (the East Midlands), Department of Health 6:52 pm, 15th July 2009

We have had a vigorous debate. Some of it has been driven by political motivations-we know where they are coming from-but some has been driven by the experiences of constituents and by Members' personal experiences. I welcomed the contribution of my hon. Friend Kali Mountford-who spoke from huge experience-and that of Mr. Cox. Both expressed sincere concern, analysing their experiences and seeking solutions for the future.

Care for older people is an issue that arouses strong feelings, and rightly so. Given that a country is measured, ultimately, by how well it looks after its elderly, it is right for this question to be at the heart of our political discourse, whether here in Westminster, in Norwich or in any other part of the country.

I recently met an elderly couple in Croydon who were receiving excellent care through a unique partnership between the national health service, the local authority and a voluntary organisation, which were working together to give them high-quality support. They made it clear to me that they wanted us in Parliament, and in Government, to ensure that they would be looked after financially, and wanted to be reassured that their health and social care needs would be met so that they could play an active part in their community. They wanted it to be recognised that although they were elderly and frail they still had something to offer society, and they wanted the opportunity to prove it. It is up to us to rise above the party political division that will inevitably accompany debates of this kind, and try to reach a consensus on a better future for older people.

Let me deal first with welfare reform and financial well-being. Many Members have reminded us of our starting point. In 1997-10 years ago-pensioner poverty was a national disgrace: 3 million older people were living below the breadline, and the poorest had to scrape by on £69 a week. Today, no one under 60 need live on less than £130 a week. We have made huge strides in providing help for older people. Every pensioner benefits from free off-peak bus travel, free television licences and help with fuel bills.

Mr. O'Brien and other Conservative Members have tried to deny it, but we have seen glimpses of a future Tory Government, with threats to those free services, and to the winter fuel payment in particular. He may wish to deny it, but we know differently, and so does the rest of the country.

On care and services for older people, two themes of the Opposition contributions have been that the Green Paper was too little too late, and that nothing has been done over the past 12 years. Let me put the record straight. Through putting people first, more than £0.5 billion of extra investment is today allowing local authorities to transform the way services are delivered, including through piloting new personal care budgets. I thought there was support throughout the House for that new direction in the delivery of social care. My hon. Friends the Members for Colne Valley and for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) both emphasised that it represented the right approach.

The national dementia strategy was published as recently as February this year. It is the first strategy of its kind, and it is a genuine milestone in developing new services for people with dementia and their carers.

Mr. Burstow asked two questions. We will publish our response to the review of anti-psychotic drugs shortly. On the review of abuse of adults and older people, let me put it on record that such abuse is never acceptable; we must make that very clear in this House. We will publish the response to the major consultation, which involved more than 12,000 submissions from professional organisations and older people themselves, this Friday.

Let me be clear about what we have done in spending terms over the past 12 years. In 1997, adult social care spending was less than £10 billion. Ten years later, that figure has risen to £15.3 billion-a 50 per cent. real-terms increase. Local authorities have received record increases in funding for the care that they provide. Spending on care for older people has gone up from £6 billion to almost £9 billion-a 41 per cent. real-terms increase. All that investment over the past 12 years, and all the reform that I do not have the time to describe in detail, has made a real difference to older people in our communities, but we now need to build on those successes to reshape the entire system.

Given the unfairnesses that others have described in the system, and given the demographic challenge of an ageing society, it is clear that we need radical proposals to maintain a viable and affordable care service for the future. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health laid before Parliament the vision of a new national care service to deliver a fairer and simpler approach to funding and accessing care services for all adults. With the exception of Mr. Lansley and his Front-Bench colleagues yesterday, I thought that on the basis of some of the contributions from both sides of the House, we were beginning to see a bit of a consensus emerging. It is true to say-