That is precisely my point, and I hope that it will be the key theme to emerge from my speech. Homes must provide good-quality care for people who have to go into residential care, but we need to try to keep people in their own home for as long as possible. My late grandmother certainly believed, as do I, that if good-quality services can be provided people will have to rely less on expensive residential care, and we should therefore provide a greater choice of available private homes. Not many bungalows are being built, because their capital value is not that of a seven-storey apartment block on the same land, which poses a problem for our older people, who then have the choice of staying in their family home, which is incredibly expensive to heat and often impractical, or of moving into residential care.
We want to rely less on the state to fund our residential care, and it seems logical to put greater emphasis on ensuring that new developments have as much of a duty to provide for older people as for other younger sectors of society. The issue of choice extends into the social housing sector too. In my constituency, a few areas of social housing are allocated to the over-55s, but there is a huge difference in the lifestyles of 55-year-olds and
75-year-olds, which often leads to antisocial behaviour problems. I doubt that many people would consider 55 to be old, and therefore we perhaps ought to consider revising the age allocation up, to the over-65s.
I am pleased to say that Kent Housing Group, which is a partnership of developers and local authorities across the county, is looking precisely at housing for older people, and I look forward to seeing the outcomes of that work soon. However, I fundamentally believe that there is a role for the new homes bonus, which could incentivise authorities to build bungalows or complexes for older people and lead to much more housing choice for those who wish to stay out of residential care. That could be one policy that would have a positive impact on the welfare of older people, and it would also benefit the Treasury by keeping people out of the more expensive residential system.
The funding of social care might be the hardest single problem to overcome in this policy area, but we often forget that the services side is equally, if not more, important. Good delivery of services can prevent people from needing to enter residential care, or from staying in hospital longer than the average patient. We have some excellent charities and volunteers who provide an essential community service, and they can be vital to the health and well-being of the people they look after. As brilliant as individual schemes are, however, our overall community service for the elderly needs to be much better. I heard a heartbreaking story from the WRVS about a lady whose light bulbs broke. She was unable to fix them herself, and so for a month she sat in the dark. As she used her television for light, the electricity company noticed that her bills were unusually high, contacted her and discovered what the problem was. A WRVS buddy was sorted out, and her light bulbs were changed, but it took a month and a concerned utility worker to alert others before she was helped. In these modern days of instant connectivity, I find such isolation utterly unforgivable.