Disability Benefits for the Elderly

Part of Opposition Day — [1st allotted day] – in the House of Commons at 4:06 pm on 8th December 2009.

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Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham The Secretary of State for Health 4:06 pm, 8th December 2009

Some 1.3 million people work in the NHS, and I cannot be responsible for what all of them say at all times. It is my judgment that, whatever happens, more money from the health budget will have to be spent closer to the line with social care. That is just the way things will have to go, and that is why I am talking about finding resources from within my Department to fund re-ablement services-intense support to get people back on their feet after a vulnerable or low moment in their lives. Because we do not provide such support at the moment, people end up at the door of the NHS or asking for support from local authorities. We want to expand the level of support. We should also be less precious about spending health resources on equipment and telecare to help people to live in their own homes. That is all part of my vision. We have to break down the approach of the past that has said, "The health service pays for this and councils pay for that", and we argue about the bit in the middle. We can no longer sustain that-Alistair Burt is nodding in agreement. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire should listen to more distinguished voices on his Back Benches if he wants some good advice about policy. The hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire has a long track record in these areas.

This is an ambitious vision and it will not happen overnight. It raises complex and difficult questions that this House needs to consider carefully before proceeding with any reform. It cannot be a debate that is reduced to crude electioneering, because that would block out and shout down the debate. That is what we have heard from the Conservatives this afternoon. We have raised the issue of social care and the response from them is to shout it down and frighten people. The Conservatives cannot open up the debate because they do not have the ideas to put into the debate. Let us have a few more ideas and constructive comments, rather than the low politics that we have heard from them this afternoon.

The Prime Minister has committed to making social care our top domestic priority in the next Parliament. That shows that we have the ideas, the courage and the confidence to tackle the big issues that the country faces. I believe that the national care service could be a major social reform that will stand alongside some of the major reforms of the last century. It would be easy to say that it is too difficult. We have been under pressure this afternoon to say that we will drop it all, as the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire invited me to do at the end of his comments. But we will not do that; we will see this through. If we fail to act, we will make the choices more difficult, the unfairnesses will grow year on year and this post-war generation-it includes people who own their own properties and who will live longer, which is a good thing-will face ever more unfairness than their parents did. These are big challenges. The Government believe that we have the right ideas to address them, and I urge my hon. Friend to oppose the motion.

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