Care (Older People)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:41 am on 6th September 2011.

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Photo of Alison McGovern Alison McGovern Labour, Wirral South 11:41 am, 6th September 2011

I do not know the statistics on that, so I am hesitant to comment. If the hon. Lady says that that is the situation, of course, I believe her. However, I do not know off the top of my head whether that is the case comparatively. I will make some comparisons with children’s services because there are some interesting parallels. If, as she mentions, the budget for children’s services has increased, I can only think that that is a good thing given the importance of child protection and youth services. I live in hope that we can move towards having better funding for older people’s services in the near future.

I return to the point I was making on enforcement. We have all had cases—since I was elected, I have had many cases—of people coming to surgeries who feel that the care provided is not sufficient. There must be a clear, easy process to follow for relatives or those concerned about a poor standard of care. At the moment, the system is confused. I will not repeat what has already been said, but that is my conclusion. If someone feels that the quality of care they have received is poor, the process they have to go through is not easy.

Some of the issues raised by constituents at my surgery have stemmed from the absence of professional development for those providing care. I have seen extremely good quality examples of both residential accommodation for older people and care provided in people’s homes but, by and large, the work force who provide that care are underpaid and neglected. It has to be said that that work force are mainly women who often have not received much workplace training over many years and are some of the lowest paid people in our society. Frankly, it does not do much for the dignity of older people that the job of looking after them is one of the lowest paid and least respected in our society. It is about time that we put that right. We should make it clear that looking after older people and protecting the dignity of our society is an important job. We ought to pay those people a decent wage and give them the training and support that they deserve.

The example of e-monitoring has been mentioned. In my surgery, I have been given examples of that. People are given time to look after people but not enough time to travel between appointments, and they are for ever catching up after themselves. By and large, the whole system is set up to make a profit for the company concerned, rather than to think first about the quality of service for the person receiving care.

[Mrs Anne Main in the Chair]

On the profit issue, I am not an unreconstructed left-winger. [ Interruption. ] To the chagrin of some, I am not one who thinks that the profit motive has no place at all in public services. However, there is a structural issue here. We have a large amount of competition for the provision of care. Price competition, in an industry where greater profit cannot be extracted through the use of technology—this is a person-to-person service with a one-to-one relationship with the person, so we cannot invest in technology to make more profit—means that wages are the only expenditure that can be driven down. In an environment where the work of care is seen as low, wages have been driven down. There has to be a response from the Government on the structure of the industry, which effectively means that wages have been pushed down lower and lower, and people’s skills and time are not being invested in.

I draw an analogy with the child care industry. In the 1980s and early 1990s we had a similar situation. Frankly, those involved in child care were seen as the lowest of the low and were paid as little as humanly possible to look after children. Those days are over now. By and large, those who look after children are now paid a bit better and are likely to have qualifications. Can we not set ourselves the challenge of better wages and a better skill level for those working in care for older people? That would meet the aspirations of the hon. Members who have spoken so far and would do a great deal to improve the quality of care. That would help us to deal with some of the funding issues. People would feel that what they paid for was worth having and worth investing in. Hopefully, it would also meet the challenge set to me earlier and ensure that the case is made to local authorities to pay for quality.

In conclusion, I agree with the comments that have been made so far. There has to be attention to quality and to standards, and an ability to uphold those standards. There is a problem, however, in the market for care that is forcing a driving down of the quality, and it could be dealt with.