My Lords, the gracious Speech had some very welcome announcements in it relating to the levelling-up agenda that will have a profound impact on health and care. Previously, I have expressed concern in this Chamber that levelling up is little more than a glib slogan. However, there are now some positive reforms on the agenda that could have tangible and important outcomes.
I declare my interest as set out in the register as patron of ARCO, the association representing retirement community operators. This model of housing, often referred to as “assisted living” or “housing with care”, allows people to live independent, healthy lives while living in a housing complex where care and support are provided if needed. Allowing people to live independently in this way reduces pressure on both the health and social care systems, and is greatly needed.
To date, fewer older people have moved into housing with care complexes in the UK compared with other countries. This is for two reasons. The first is a greater reluctance in this country to leave the family home, and the second is that it is costly and very slow to build this style of housing, in large part due to the current planning regulations. The announcement in the gracious Speech that the planning system would be reformed as part of the levelling-up agenda is a huge opportunity to remove these barriers. The government task force looking into housing for older people can help feed into this.
In countries such as New Zealand, where integrated retirement communities have become rather popular, there is specific legislation making it easier for developers to meet growing demand. This policy area is relevant to both health and social care, and indeed to planning, so having specific legislation could be a useful way to address this. I hope the Government might consider it. I was also delighted to learn recently from the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will be working with the Department of Health and Social Care to provide capital funding for older people to incentivise supply. Can the Government provide more information about this initiative—specifically, how the funding will be used to incentivise supply?
One of the biggest challenges we face as a society is a population that increasingly is living longer in very poor health. It was with great sadness last month that the charity Care and Repair, of which I and the noble Baronesses, Lady Andrews and Lady Eaton, were patrons, had to close due to lack of funding. The charity focused on home repairs and adaptations for older people living with disabilities. We can no longer rely on the charity sector to see that older people and others living with disabilities are living in suitable homes. Instead, the Government’s levelling-up agenda, in conjunction with the Department of Health and Social Care, will really need to turn their attention to this. I would be grateful if the Government could outline any plans that they have to address this.
I was pleased to hear that the Skills and Post-16 Education Act had received Royal Assent. This is a good start, but there is still a lot to do to see that we have a lifelong education system that will meet the needs of the 21st century. I declare my interest as chief executive of the International Longevity Centre, which recently projected that the UK economy could see a shortfall of 2.6 million workers by 2030. Investment in education across the life course will be one important way to address this. I hope the Government will respond positively to this important challenge.
Finally, I draw attention to recent comments by the Prime Minister, who expressed the view that 90,000 civil servant jobs should be cut. Civil servants play an essential role in helping government deliver in areas such as levelling up. I hope the Government will think carefully before making any more major changes to Civil Service numbers, because the Civil Service is so important to all of us.