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We have set up a working group, led by my ministerial colleague Lord McKenzie, which is examining a wide range of issues in relation to wardens and sheltered housing. The group includes a range of organisations such as Help the Aged, Age Concern and the National Housing Federation, and it is working on a series of projects, including looking at different ways of providing support to older people, and highlighting the pros and cons of those different approaches. We will evaluate the overall benefits to residents of each one.
Sheltered accommodation wardens in Castle Point, as elsewhere, are unsung heroes. Does the Minister agree that they are worth their weight in gold, since their small cost saves millions of pounds in social and health care costs that would arise were they to be disbanded or inappropriately used? Will he look carefully at this and ensure that wardens are protected in our sheltered accommodation?
I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the job that wardens do; they provide a crucial, valuable and, in many cases, life-saving service. I also pay tribute to all those who care for older people, including those providing floating support in the community. I assure him that we will keep this issue under very close review-as he knows, because only last week he was raising the concerns of people in his constituency in debate. On a general point, exactly how these services are provided should be a decision for local authorities, not dictated by me or by other Ministers in Whitehall.
I never thought that I would stand here and say that I agree entirely with the points made by Bob Spink, but I do-although I have to say that in Ealing, North we have heroes and heroines. May I ask my hon. Friend to make every endeavour not to repeat the compulsory competitive tendering mistakes of the past and to recognise the importance of added value in terms of individuals' quality of life and health? I urge him to take that into consideration during the review.
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct in everything that he has said about the valuable role that wardens play in his constituency and elsewhere in the country. I am happy to meet him to discuss this in more detail.
As the Minister has said, there was a useful debate on this matter last week in Westminster Hall. As well as paying tribute to the work of wardens, does he agree with Imogen Parry of ERoSH-the Essential Role of Sheltered Housing-who said:
"Many residents are pleased with changes that have been made to their support services, including a move away from resident warden services, particularly...when they have been fully involved in the process"?
Does he agree that it is consultation, first, last and always, that matters with elderly and vulnerable residents?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. This is not a party political matter. He makes some serious points about consultation. Residents and those affected by any changes in the services they receive should be properly consulted about those changes. There should be proper and meaningful consultation before changes are made, and people's views should be taken properly into account.