Disability Benefits and Social Care

Part of Opposition Day — [2nd Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 3:17 pm on 20th June 2012.

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Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Conservative, West Suffolk 3:17 pm, 20th June 2012

One day, Mr Deputy Speaker, you, like me, God willing, will grow old. I want to concentrate on the UK’s care system for the elderly. We have heard much today about benefits and changes to Remploy, but I want to focus a bit more on something that was touched on earlier—the need to provide social care for our elderly and for those with permanent and long-term disabilities, and the urgent need for reform.

I am motivated in this by thinking not only of my own growing old—I hope—and of all those in this Chamber, but family experience and my experience of supporting a friend of my age who, at the age of 28, sadly had a stroke and is now confined to a wheelchair and has to live with permanent care. Supporting him, and starting a trust to support him, gave me the personal experience of trying to navigate the care system for those with permanent disabilities, and it brought into sharp relief the difficulties that that brings to many people who support disabled people, whether they are of what would otherwise be working age or in old age.

The Dilnot commission has been the most important step forward in this area for many years. Criticisms of inaction can be levelled not only at the previous Government but at previous Governments. This is an area where cross-party support and a lack of political tension is necessary.

Over the past decade, 200,000 people have sold their homes to pay for their care. Yet more people, who did not have assets, have had to survive with substandard care. BUPA has estimated that in a decade, there will be a shortfall of 100,000 care home places unless action is taken. In the same period that spending on the NHS has risen by about £25 billion, spending on social care for the elderly has risen by only £43 million. Given that 400,000 elderly people are in care homes and that more than £7 billion was announced for this area in the spending review, we need to ensure that Government support is focused and that financial support is brought in from wherever possible to strengthen this crucial sector.

I pay tribute to the work that the Minister has done to bring forward proposals and ensure that we are moving in the right direction. The introduction of carers breaks is a welcome step forward. I warmly welcome the linking of social care and health care budgets in the Health and Social Care Act 2012, which will tie together what have too often been disparate functions.

It is clear that there is also a need for reform in self-funding. There must be support for vulnerable elderly people who do not have access, but we must also ensure that those who do have access do not have to lose their home to pay for their care. The problem is the lack of an insurance market. We can insure all sorts of things in life. The moustache of Mervyn Hughes, the great cricketer, was once insured for £200,000. Kylie Minogue’s rear was insured for $5 million, Heidi Klum’s legs for $2 million and Cristiano Ronaldo’s legs for €100 million. However, I cannot take out insurance for the possibility that I will have to spend many years in social care. Nobody in this country can insure against the small chance that they will need very expensive care in their old age.

The problem is the uncertainty over the cost. For many of us, there will be no care costs at all. For most of us, the costs will be relatively small. For a small proportion of people, however, there will be very high and uncertain costs. There is a role for Government in ensuring that the market works in tackling the uncertainty. There is uncertainty over not only what the cost will be, but who will be hit with the cost.

That brings me to the final point about why this matter is so important. This is not only a practical problem, but a problem of values. Those who save hard and work hard for their whole life feel that they are penalised by a care system that takes away what they have worked for. Those who put money aside and save for their retirement look for a something-for-something system in which people get out according to what they put in. We must look after our most vulnerable and end the scandal of people being forced to sell their homes to pay for their care. I hope that we will come forward soon with serious proposals to take this injustice away.