It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Olner, and to have secured this debate on a subject of increasing importance throughout the country. I should say that I speak with a degree of personal interest because I have relatives in sheltered housing who have experienced the benefit of that form of care for a number of years.
It is an amazing fact, when one first reads it, that just over 7 per cent. of the retired population are in some form of sheltered or extra-care housing, and about 500,000 people are affected by the issues that we are to debate.
Let me say right at the outset what I am not here to do-perhaps I can address the Minister directly. I am not here to say that any particular local authority is uniquely bad or uniquely good. I am not here to argue that the growing orthodoxy of floating support is always wrong. I am not here to argue that floating support does not have significant benefits or that it ought not to be developed throughout the country. I am here to argue that something is going wrong with the process being followed in Supporting People administering authorities throughout the country, with the manner in which changes are being implemented and with the view that they are always right in all circumstances. Most particularly, there has plainly been a failure to make the elderly and the residents of sheltered housing feel that they have truly been consulted.
The Minister will have read the excellent report called "Nobody's Listening-The impact of floating support on older people living in sheltered housing" from Help the Aged and the Housing and Support Partnership, and I make no bones about saying that I am particularly indebted to those organisations. The report reflects many of the concerns that I intend to air this morning, but they are also reflected in the worried letters that Members throughout the country are receiving-my constituency is no exception-about the changes to the delivery of sheltered housing.
It is important to reflect on what sheltered housing with resident wardens provides for those who experience it. First, most residents speak of the sense of security, companionship and collective community in which they reside. At Glebe Court in Northam in my constituency, the proposed changes will have distressing consequences and are causing residents enormous anxiety. Like other residents of sheltered housing, they speak of the warden as the life and soul of their little community.
Invariably, wardens go well beyond the call of duty. They organise social activities. They often preside over fish and chip suppers or sausage and mash. They arrange bingo and outings. They call on residents in the mornings. They are always around to convey a sense of warmth and to provide a listening ear when one or other of the residents experiences trouble or ill health.