Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

[Mr. Bill Olner in the Chair] — Wardens (Sheltered Housing)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 20th October 2009.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox Conservative, Torridge and West Devon 9:30 am, 20th October 2009

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. There is no doubt that the kind of environment that a warden can create will prevent the decline among elderly people that can often lead to knock-on and consequential costs of a much higher order.

However, I can see the other side of the argument, which has been expressed to me by the county council in my area. It is that floating support allows the release of resources to cover a wider range of people in a wider range of settings. I realise that floating support has such a benefit. One can reach people with the current accommodation-based support and tailor it to individual need. However, the argument runs that accommodation-based support does not do that, often delivering support to people who do not need it and sometimes do not even want it-although people can opt out. The release of resources enables people's needs to be met in their own homes and in other types of housing.

I fully accept the virtues of taking that approach. I fully understand that with floating support, the use of scarce resources is vital-even more so at present. I fully agree that the practice being developed in many Supporting People administering authorities-SPAAs-can often deliver considerable benefits. However, I am concerned that one increasingly meets a kind of intransigence over the idea that floating support is always considered better. The consultation resulting from that sense of righteousness over the delivery of floating support-if it is held-does not attract the confidence of those who are consulted, and it is frequently not held at the appropriate time.

I shall tell the Minister of a startling statistic given in the Help the Aged report. It found that something like 67 per cent.-it was certainly two thirds-of SPAAs whose consultation processes were considered had consulted residents only after the critical decisions had been made. That simply cannot be right. If one cry is coming from coastal regions such as the one that I represent and from the urban centres represented by other Members in the Chamber today, it is that elderly people feel utterly disempowered by the process. They feel helpless, believing that their voice is not heard. They feel that they are not consulted, and that if they are it is nothing more than a sham.

If it is true, as the report tells us, that 66 or 67 per cent. of authorities have already taken their decisions and only then condescended to consult those most deeply affected, it is a disgrace. The Government have a responsibility; I urge the Minister to take hold of the matter and to say to local authorities, "This is the way you should consult. You should not take decisions before you talk to the residents that are affected, just because they are elderly and frail and preoccupied with the complexities of life." Such actions are disgraceful. They are exactly replicated in the experience of those at Glebe Court, at Northam in my constituency. There, I was confronted with residents who were distressed and anxious, some tearful, and who were in a state of uncertainty and suspense.

When implementing change of so fundamental a character to the welfare of elderly people, it cannot be right to catapult them into such a state of mind in the twilight of their years, when they are entitled to peace and security. The change is being implemented in a way that does no credit to our Government. I do not mean to make a party political point; I mean that it does no credit to the systems that we have put in place. We need clear leadership from the Government. At the very least, we need clear principles of good practice that local authorities and SPAAs are required, or at least encouraged by the Government, to follow.

Those principles of good practice should make it clear that the wishes and desires of elderly residents, and their expressions of preference, are important factors when considering a move to floating support. It is a clear symptom of the failure of consultation that elderly people do not feel that they are participating in the change for which their assent is being sought. They should be persuaded by the arguments for floating support.

Such symptoms suggest that we face yet another judicial review. I understand that yet more local authorities are being taken to the High Court to challenge the changes that they are bringing forward. It is a great pity that we should have to rely upon the judges, although I declare an interest in that the law is my profession. I suppose that I should rejoice in the opportunity for lawyers to make more money, but I do not.