Care (Older People)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:59 am on 6th September 2011.

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Photo of Tracey Crouch Tracey Crouch Conservative, Chatham and Aylesford 10:59 am, 6th September 2011

Thank you very much, Mr Streeter, for calling me to speak. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for, I believe, the first time, which is an honour.

I am grateful for the opportunity to hold this important Adjournment debate on care and services for older people. As part of the younger generation of MPs, I am proud to initiate a debate on a subject that I hope will be of interest not only to those who are in their third phase of life but to the next generation and to the generation after that who will one day find themselves in need of care and services. The statistics show that those of us who are in our thirties will fuel the ticking time bomb that is the ageing population, so it is incumbent on us to try to provide solutions to meet this challenge.

My initial interest in care for the elderly stemmed from my late grandmother, who worked in community care for much of her life. She strongly believed, as I do, that people want to live in their own home and community for as long as they can physically do so, and that the delivery of certain services can prevent people from entering residential care, which benefits both them and the state. It was with that in mind that I chose such a wide-ranging title for this debate. It is very easy to focus entirely on the issue of funding care, but there is more to looking after our older generation than the issue of how to pay for their care. Services for older people, whether delivered by volunteers, charities or local authorities, also need our attention if they are to be developed and improved.

I want to start, however, by expressing my very strong support for the campaign to appoint an older people’s Minister. I believe that if that post had a cross-departmental remit, as there is for equalities or for women and equalities, it would be of huge value to the Government. Some of the issues to which I will refer do not fall within the portfolio of the Minister of State, Department of Health, Paul Burstow, and although I have the greatest respect and admiration for what he is doing to improve social care, he is not responsible or accountable for issues such as transport policy, local authority spending or the provision of financial products and education.

Having said that, if the Government maintain their opposition to the creation of another ministerial post, perhaps they would consider two other options. First, we could establish a new Cabinet Committee on older people’s issues that would effectively scrutinise emerging policies. Secondly, we could consider introducing a new test within regulatory impact assessments that would specifically examine the effect of proposals on the over-65s, as other tests do for other defined sectors of society. We need to pay much closer attention to the impact of national Government policies on the older generation, and I believe that a Minister for older people or a new Cabinet Committee would help to do that. However, there should also be a far greater assessment of the impact of policies at local level and I would welcome the Minister’s views on that matter when he responds to the debate.

The publication of the report of the Commission on Funding of Care and Support—the Dilnot report—was welcomed as a much-needed examination of how to fund care in the future. It is an accepted fact that we are all living longer and that our care needs are greater but that funding in social care has not increased by anywhere near enough to match our requirements. Significant demographic change is not something that should surprise us—it has been predicted for many years—yet the long-term care system has remained unreformed. Dilnot’s findings are very sensible, and hopefully they will achieve the better and fairer funding system that we need. However, there are some questions that arise from the report that I hope the Minister will address.

The Commission set out a reasonable timetable for the implementation of reforms. If we are to begin a new programme of funding, one that should perhaps be aligned to some of the other changes affecting future pensioners, we need to ensure that legislation is passed soon. It may be brazen for me to say so as a new MP, but Governments of all colours appear to be adept at pushing difficult issues into the long grass and waiting for the next Government to address them. We are seeing that at the moment on public sector pensions, which is another ticking time bomb issue that was ignored for decades; dealing with it now will cause more pain than if it had been dealt with sooner. We must not let the funding of social care become the next big but continuously ignored problem.

With that in mind, I should be grateful if the Minister provided us with an update on the public consultation on the Commission’s proposals and told us when he will publish the White Paper on social care. Does he expect a Bill on this issue to be included in the 2012 Queen’s Speech and will implementation of changes to funding begin in 2013, as per the Commission’s timetable? It would help all of those who are involved in delivering care and those people who are planning for their retirement if we received some clarification at the earliest opportunity about the timetable for implementing the Commission’s proposals.

The Dilnot report rightly focuses on the issue of financial advice, guidance and product availability. It is estimated that about 130,000 people enter residential care each year. Under the current system, around 41% of those people are self-funders—in other words those people who have assets exceeding £23,250. The increase in the threshold will raise that figure to £100,000, but given how much wealth is tied up in fixed assets such as housing, that will not necessarily change the numbers dramatically.

I am concerned that self-funders deplete their assets paying for care and end up becoming reliant on local authorities for future care funding. Earlier this year, the Local Government Information Unit estimated that a quarter of all self-funders fall back on the state, costing local authorities up to £1 billion per year. The unit’s own report indicates that key decision makers in councils are unaware of the problem or underestimate its cost by 50%. I was shocked to read that 61% of authorities did not know how many self-funders they have or how many self-funders fall back on state funding.

While we need to improve local authorities’ understanding of funding liabilities, it is also clear that those who are in a position to fund themselves need much better financial advice and planning to mitigate the premature exhaustion of funds. Dilnot mentions the variety of financial products that are available, and I should say at this point that although I entered Parliament after working for an insurance provider I have no registered interest in the sector. Nevertheless, from my time in the industry, I think that it is fair to say that there is an appetite for providing products in this area, but the market is not as wide or as competitive as it could be.

I recently met representatives of Partnership, a provider of immediate needs annuities, which is a product to which Dilnot refers to in his report. Like the Dilnot report, Partnership made it very clear that there is a need for improved advice and education. Raising awareness of long-term care needs is essential, not least because people’s expectation is that when they get old they will be looked after for free. I am not convinced that the Dilnot report changes that expectation. Although care costs will be covered, the so-called “hotel costs” of food and board will not be covered, so we need to improve individuals’ understanding of what they will be required to fund themselves.