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My Lords, I want to introduce a different dimension to the debate. We have been concerned about taxation and about carers, but I should like to speak on behalf of those who are in need of care. I come to this debate as a trustee of a body called the Home of Compassion. It is a place that cares for people in physical distress and infirmity.
I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, has had to leave her place—although I see that she has not left the Chamber—because I want to refer to the Care Standards Act 2000 which changed so substantially the requirements on care homes that, with the kind of finance that is available for indigent old folk, they are finding it difficult to continue in being and provide care. As the noble Baroness will know, many hundreds of care homes have had to close. I understand that in the year up to April 2004 some 500 homes had to do so, resulting in the loss of something approaching 10,000 places; and over the years the loss has been much greater.
It seems that there is a squeeze on the ability to provide care in care homes for those who need it. That filters through to the financial disadvantages visited on those who undertake to care for relatives. I had an aunt who, as the youngest daughter, devoted her life to caring for others. Such people are heroes in our society. We owe them so much. However, if on the one hand we are putting a squeeze on the provision of places in care homes and on the other hand not providing the kind of support and fair deal that would encourage people to continue in their caring roles, then we are doing a great disservice to those in need of care.
There is a lacuna in the Government's thinking on this. Where do they stand in supporting and helping those in need of care? I align myself with the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley. We want more than an undertaking from the Minister to consider these issues. We want a commitment from the Minister that the Government will bring forward proposals, perhaps in a White Paper within the year, to address this urgent and important problem in our society.
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, on bringing this matter to our attention from her standpoint, but I hope that the Minister will reflect on the other issues I have raised and see if she can go further—tonight—and give us an undertaking that the Government will not only consider the matter, but will also bring forward a White Paper containing proposals.