I congratulate my hon. Friend Tracey Crouch on securing the debate. She feels passionately about the subject and made a robust and fair-minded speech.
Care and services for older people are of increasing importance, and I agree with the sentiments already expressed about how we must deal with the issue sooner rather than later. It is a growing mushroom that must be dealt with fairly soon because the population in this country is getting older, which is placing strains on our systems. That is a good and positive thing—too often we hear about longevity in a negative way, but it is a marvellous tribute to medical science that we have people living longer than they previously did—but greater reliance is placed on our care home provision and local authorities have to adapt to the changes in pressure placed on them as a consequence. I have disagreed publicly with my local authority, Kent county council, on decisions it has made about care home provision in my constituency of Dartford.
I accept that the future lies in a public-private partnership in care provision throughout the country. The Government face a dilemma: they cannot afford indefinite free care home provision and they do not want to penalise those who have saved for their retirement. Free care home provision for all without tax rises is completely unaffordable—I agree with my hon. Friend Tony Baldry about that. Such rises, especially in the current climate, would have a huge negative impact on the finances of this country. Equally, we should not be punishing prudence and forcing the elderly to sell their homes to pay for care. Prudence should be rewarded by the state, not punished.
Health and safety legislation has often added to the cost of care provision. The apparent necessity for all rooms in a care home to have en suite facilities was used as part of a reason to close care homes in my constituency, yet residents in those care homes would say that what they want is their home preserved and not the health and safety considerations met. I recently visited Emily Court care home in Wilmington in my constituency. The residents echoed the sentiments I have heard in every care home I have ever gone to: they like the facilities, but what is most important to them is that it is their home. That drives the affinity they have for the place.
What has staggered me since the upheaval in my area with the closure of care homes is how easy it is in this country to close them. I find it incredible that no real security of tenure exists for residents in a care home. Travellers have some rights over land they settle on—that is obviously an argument for a different time—and squatters have rights over empty properties that they occupy, yet residents in care homes can be moved almost on a whim. That might need further investigation, because the consultation exercises before any care home closes concentrate a bit too much on the bricks and mortar involved and not enough on the people.