Inequalities in Dementia Services — [Christina Rees in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 1:02 pm on 16 May 2024.

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Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Social Care) 1:02, 16 May 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. I yet again commend my hon. Friend Debbie Abrahams for securing this debate and for her ongoing advocacy on the issue. I also thank the other hon. Members here; we are a small but perfectly formed debate.

I particularly thank my hon. Friend Holly Lynch for her important contribution. She is absolutely right to champion not only the important services being provided in her patch and across the country, but that desire to want better and to want more so that no person or family looking after somebody with dementia is left behind. That wraparound support is absolutely crucial. I also commend her and my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth on thanking those national and local organisations and charities, and the wonderful army of volunteers who keep dementia on the public policy platform.

I thank Andrew Rosindell for his important interventions. It is absolutely right that we have to approach how we deal with dementia in the 21st century on a cross-party basis. I hope that we can reach some consensus on what needs to be done, because never has the need for a clear, concerted focus on dementia been more pressing. It is one of the biggest health and social care issues facing our society. As my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth pointed out, almost 1 million people in the United Kingdom live with dementia—a figure that is expected to rise to 1.4 million by 2040.

Behind those numbers lie individual people with their own distinct circumstances and challenges and their own unique stories of living with dementia. It is a cruel condition that strips people of their fondest memories and causes devastation for families.

Dementia can impact anyone at any time. It is indiscriminate in the impact it can have, but we know that certain groups are at increased risk. We know that women are more likely to develop dementia than men. They are also more likely to be caring for a loved one living with dementia. We know that those from poorer and disadvantaged backgrounds are more susceptible to key dementia risk factors, with often limited access to health services.

My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth is absolutely right to refer to these conditions as health inequalities, because it is often those living in the poorest, most adverse circumstances who face the hardest challenges, not just with this condition, but with a whole number of conditions. If we want to live in a better, fairer, more equal society, we have a duty to bear down on those inequalities. I completely agree with my hon. Friend about referring to such conditions as health inequalities. People from ethnic minority backgrounds are also at higher risk, as are those with conditions such as Down’s syndrome, but the population living with dementia is expanding all the time; it is not restricted to any single group, and we must be ready to tackle the challenges that presents head on.

Nowhere is that challenge clearer than in adult social care. Around 60% of people drawing on home-based care and support services live with dementia, rising to 70% for those in residential care. We need long-term solutions that reshape social care into a service that is fit for the future and fit for the challenges of the future. That is why I am proud of Labour’s commitment to a 10-year plan for fundamental reform of adult social care, culminating in the creation of a national care service.

The NCS will employ robust central frameworks and standards, but it will be underpinned by locally led delivery. Every community will have its own unique set of needs, face unique challenges and require unique solutions. One of our aims will be to gradually reduce the postcode lottery that operates within social care that causes people living with dementia and their families so much distress. However, a reformed and reshaped social care sector alone cannot and will not meet the needs of an ever-growing population of people living with dementia.