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Mr. Darling: I was about to come to that matter. I was going to draw attention to some of the changes that we have made in the past three years. The hon. Gentleman was critical of the Government's record on welfare reform. I want to demonstrate that we are reforming the welfare state and, importantly, that we are delivering results.
I was about to start with children and, indeed, vaccine damage. The House will bear in mind that the primary change that we made in the summer was to increase the amount of money that went to children who were damaged because of vaccine from £40,000 to £100,000. That change did not need primary legislation and the money is going to the parents of children affected.
We needed to reduce the disability threshold from 80 per cent. to 60 per cent. and to increase the time limits. We intend to use an order under the regulatory reform Bill, which is also in the Queen's Speech, to implement that change. We did not include it in the social security legislation because it would not have been possible to do so without significantly widening the scope of the Bill. We can do it through the regulatory reform Bill and we will do it.
That is not all that we have done for children in the reform of the welfare state. We are the first Government to have committed ourselves to eradicating child poverty within a generation. We are reforming the Child Support Agency--something that was long overdue. We have increased child benefit, introduced the working families tax credit and we are spending more money on families. The Conservatives opposed all those measures.
For people of working age, we have recognised that there is a real need for incentives to make work pay, to make it possible and to get more people into work. Measures such as the new deal have contributed to the fact that more people are now in employment than there has been for a generation. Youth unemployment, which we debated many times in the House in the 1980s and the early 1990s, and about which the previous Government did nothing, is down by 70 per cent. The reforms that we are making through the new deals are a significant reason why more people are in work.
For older people, we have reformed bereavement benefits--to which a Liberal Democrat Member referred--by increasing the amount available and ensuring that men and women have equal rights. We have reformed the state second pension and introduced stakeholder pensions. We have cleared up the mess of inherited SERPS--albeit at a cost of £12 billion because of the mistakes made in the 1980s.
I make no apology whatever for introducing the minimum income guarantee; it has helped about 2 million of the poorest pensioners--people who lived in poverty under the Tory Government and who are now, on average, about £20 a week better off. Since we began the take-up campaign, 750,000 people have responded. The hon. Member for Havant asked why they were not all successful. It appears that most of them have just too much money in the bank because of the ridiculous limits that we inherited from the previous Government. That is why we are doubling the limits next year and why, when the pension credit comes in, we shall abolish the limits on the amount of money that old people can save.
We know that the hon. Gentleman is against the pension credit; no doubt at the next general election--whenever it comes--he will explain why he opposes a measure that, for the first time in the history of the social security system, gives people a credit for having saved. It rewards saving rather than penalising it, as the present system does.
I said that we had reformed the welfare state, and the hon. Gentleman asked about results. I can say something that he could never say: for the first time since the second world war, the social security budget is growing at its lowest rate. The hon. Gentleman was never able to say that. When the Tories were in office, they doubled social security spending. It is now growing at one of the lowest rates since the second world war. If it were not for the spending that we have chosen to allocate to families and pensioners, the rate would be falling in real terms.
The reason for that low rate is that we are getting more people into work and bearing down on fraud and error in the system. The Tories would never have been able to say that. They have nothing to say on that. Instead, we hear policy after policy with no great philosophy behind them; the Tories seem motivated only by the desire to slash and burn. For example, the hon. Gentleman seems to assume that every lone parent with a child aged over-ll will be
Of course, the hon. Gentleman would remove the new deal and all the help that we have provided. That is ridiculous when we consider that 54 per cent. of those lone parents have no qualifications at all; they will receive no help as a result of Tory policies, but will be forced off benefit. The Tories simply hope that they will find work. When the Tories came into office in 1979, about 300,000 lone parents were on benefit. Their approach meant that when they left office, the number was more than 1 million.
The hon. Gentleman said that he would save more than £1 billion on industrial injuries. This week, the figure came down to £160 million. The only way to save such an amount is to transfer all the costs on to employers--a jobs tax for every employee.
There is no coherence to Tory policies. In contrast, we have set out our vision for transforming the welfare state. We are making changes. We are getting children out of poverty and getting people into work. We are reforming the pensions system so that it reflects our present needs and those of the next 50 years. None of that was done by the Tories. Under their regime, social security spending escalated--so did child poverty and pensioner poverty--and there was mass unemployment.
We are making coherent changes to reform the welfare state; the results are there. Spending is under control for the first time in decades--something the Tory party could never do. We are sorting out the economy; we are getting more people into work and providing them with better schools, higher standards and greater opportunity--all matched by greater responsibilities, as the Queen's Speech shows.
It has been evident yesterday and today that, even at this stage of the Parliament, the Tories have no coherent or credible strategy for this country. That stands in stark contrast with the fact that we have put stability in the economy; we are making the necessary investment to ensure that, for the future, we have an economy where enterprise and fairness go hand in hand.
Last Monday, 4 December, was a melancholy anniversary for the Such family. It was the second anniversary of Barrie Such's transfer to Evesham community hospital, where he has been cared for brilliantly, but where he also simply should not still be. I emphasise that he is not being held against his will, as some local media have reported. But we all know that hospitals should not become permanent addresses. That is not their purpose.
Barrie's place as a father and as a husband is with his family--of that I believe there can be no doubt--but something has gone desperately wrong since that fateful day, on 27 January 1993, when he was very seriously injured in a fall at work. Barrie became an tetraplegic in that fall--but suffered only limited brain damage, as has recently been recognised. He could and should have been reunited with his family permanently, but instead the last eight years have been a nightmare for them all.
This is a tragedy, but it is a tragedy without any obvious villains--and that is what I find so perplexing and frustrating. Everyone involved in this case shares my deep sense of sadness, and even anger, at the injustice that has been done to Barrie and his family. But still nothing happens.
If this is a tragedy, I feel like Lear on his blasted heath, railing against the elements. For I have railed against the elements on Barrie's behalf, against BT, for which Barrie was working when he had his accident, against the national health service, against Worcestershire's social services department, and against Wychavon district council's housing department--but all to no avail. And I still do not know who the villain really is. For each of them has done something to help, but I believe that none of them has done enough.
A lot of people have worked hard for Barrie, and above all one of the bravest women I know, his devoted wife, Wendy. The supporting cast includes their friends, her GP, the spinal unit at Oswestry, a mass of professional health staff and the amazing nurses and domestic staff of the Evesham community hospital, who really have kept hope alive. There are many professional people who feel deeply about their failure to care for Barrie appropriately, but the fact is that, for whatever reason, they have failed.
I have railed, too, against the Benefits Agency, which has also failed to ensure that the appropriate benefits and advice were available to the Such family. There I seem to have had more success, and I am grateful for the work now being done by the agency to ensure that part of the Such family's tragedy is addressed.
As we debate his case now, Barrie lies, increasingly institutionalised, in a hospital bed--a bed that we are likely to need this winter. He is one of Worcestershire's 100-plus bed blockers. "Bed blocker" is an ugly phrase. Behind each and every case lies a failure of the system to provide appropriate care to a human being, but there can be no greater failure than the treatment of Barrie.
I worry that there are other people like Barrie Such, in other hospital beds or old people's homes, facing similar tragedies. And I worry, with a health system creaking at the seams and social services departments under appalling pressures, that there will be more Barrie Suches in future--hence the importance of this debate.
Barrie's story is long and complicated, but I shall try to tell it simply. Christmas 1992 saw the Such family happy and contented. Barrie was then 47 years old and married to Wendy, and they were celebrating with their three children--Louisa, then 15, Catherine, 11, and Nicholas, nine. They were a close and happy family.
I have a photograph of those children, taken on a holiday that summer, and a formal portrait taken in 1998 to mark Barrie and Wendy's silver wedding. I met Nicholas recently at their home in the village of Badsey. They are children of whom any parent would be proud. They are now 23, 19 and 17. Their childhood with their father has gone. They did not know, in those Christmas holidays of 1992, that a sudden and traumatic event a month later was destined to destroy their happiness.
Barrie Such was a faultsman joiner working in what is known to BT as the PC Midlands zone. He was an experienced employee and had worked for the company for 27 years. On 27 January 1993, he was sent on what he knew was a difficult job. In a remote country lane, he fell from a ladder while cutting branches from a tree that had been interfering with a cable.
It is not in dispute that Barrie was not following BT's safety instructions to the letter. But from what I know of the accident, I believe that it was not possible for BT engineers at the time to meet their targets and comply with those safety instructions.
There were only two hoists in the area, one of which should have been used for such a difficult job. Instead, Barrie was expected to prop his ladder up against a tree in that narrow country lane and lop the branches that threatened the telephone cable.
BT seemed to feel that Barrie was wearing the wrong footwear at the time of the accident--not boots but slip-on shoes. What it did not say is that the shoes were issued to Barrie by the company--and, mysteriously, the company collected them from his home a few days after the accident. I am clear that BT must bear a heavier share of the responsibility for Barrie's accident than it has accepted so far.
The medical description of his injuries is lengthy. In essence he broke his neck and was lucky not to die. But it was immediately apparent that he would be paralysed from the neck down for the rest of his life. He had gone in a few sickening seconds from working father to tetraplegic. He was airlifted to Cheltenham hospital and subsequently transferred to the Midland centre for spinal injuries at Oswestry, where he remained until 2 August that year.
For the next four and a half years Barrie lived at home, but the strain on the family, and on Wendy in particular, was just too great. He needs 24-hour care, so all the family joined in with all the aspects of care and nursing--feeding, washing, changing clothes, making wet and dirty beds, lifting, changing blocked urinary catheters and just "Dad sitting".
There was marvellous help from district nurses, auxiliary nurses and a home help, but it just was not enough. Although the family home was converted to enable Barrie to live there, it is a small house and it was a difficult, cramped life for them all. For example, the through-floor lift was a problem as there was no room for a wheelchair and a bed in the bedroom. It was not until the summer of 1994 that the house was completely converted, causing enormous disruption to the structure of the property. To be fair to BT, I must add that it helped with all that adaptation work. I believe that the more junior staff in BT were shocked by what the Such family were going through.
To enable the professional helpers to get Barrie up for the day, the bathroom was out of bounds to the rest of the family between 8 am and 10 am. In the evenings the reverse process put it out of action from 5.45 pm to about 8 pm.
In February 1996, a community psychiatric nurse was called in. That nurse's professional judgment confirmed what any sensible outsider could have seen. There was nothing for Barrie to do, the family was overstretched and the house was insufficiently adapted to make life tolerable for any of them. As the nurse put it in a letter, the family
After eight months in the nursing home Barrie's health had deteriorated seriously--unsurprisingly, in retrospect, since an old people's home was hardly the place for him. For whatever reason, the care was not of the standard needed to nurse a relatively young tetraplegic. In October 1998 Barrie was back at Oswestry where his condition was stabilised. About six weeks later he was transferred to Evesham community hospital, where he has been ever since.
It was in March l999 that Wendy first came to see me at my surgery. She was almost reluctant to complain, half apologising for troubling me. But I quickly saw that she was a member of a family that had been betrayed by the society in which they lived. However, that recognition has done nothing for the family, and Barrie is still in the marvellous but inappropriate care of the nurses at Evesham--marvellous because they are the finest bunch of medics and carers one will find anywhere, but inappropriate because his place is still, as it has always been, with his family.
The first of many case conferences was held at Evesham hospital on 22 April 1999. Perhaps unsurprisingly, in view of the fact that this debate was to be held, the most recent was held yesterday, and was also the best attended so far. Meanwhile, I tried to talk to the Chairman of BT. I wrote to Sir Iain Vallance on March 16 1999:
Again, to be fair, I must tell the House that BT has done a lot for Barrie--including voluntary redundancy 15 months after his accident, giving him maximum benefits and the immediate payment of a deferred pension--and it contributed towards the alterations to the family home. But money does not buy happiness; in this case, it did not even buy a sustainable solution to make happiness possible. Perhaps a little more thought and planning by BT might have made a difference, and it still could.
Meanwhile, Worcestershire health authority and the county social services department were falling out over who should pay for Barrie's care. On 6 April 1999, I was told that the arbitration procedure had been invoked to resolve matters. Evesham community hospital had assessed the total staff input to Barrie as 10 and a half hours in every 48-hour period, so no wonder the social services department felt that the health authority should take some long-term responsibility.
I have tried, and failed, to persuade BT to help Wendy buy another property in Badsey that would be suitable for conversion for Barrie to come home to--if a suitable care package could be developed. BT has repeated its offer of an ex gratia £25,000, which is something. This time it has done so in a more considered way, but it still has not solved the problem.
I have got the Spinal Injuries Association involved, but through no fault of its own, it has found that it can do nothing except confirm how dreadful this case is. The association provided me with a useful statement of the requirements of tetraplegics, the crucial conclusion of which is the need for 24-hour care.
We explored an option at a new extra care facility in Evesham, called Yates Court, but we all concluded that it simply did not meet Barrie's needs and would not reunite the family. The county social services department has just had a deeply disappointing financial settlement from the Government, which means that it has precious little cash to help Barrie.
Wendy has sent me cuttings showing that other people--a paralysed armed robber and an income support claimant--have been given expensive homes by the taxpayer. She has sent me a cutting that boasts of a £1 million gift to a charity for carers from BT's £14 million community activities budget. What a shame that BT cannot help carers like Wendy and her family, whose unlooked-for role as carers was created by the company's own failings.
So I look to the Minister tonight for guidance, and perhaps a ray of hope. To put it simply, Barrie must never be exiled to an old people's home. He certainly must not be moved from the Evesham area, as some local professionals appeared to be suggesting at a case meeting yesterday.
If those are the alternatives, Mr. Such should remain where he is, in Evesham community hospital, where he is being cared for magnificently. The Such family need to move to a larger house in the Badsey area, close to their friends and with a comprehensive and guaranteed care package for Barrie. Surely that is not too much to ask.
One final thought, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If you go to the small country lane to see that tree and the cables that started this story, you will find that the cables are now underground. As Wendy said to me, that is probably because of the fault record on that stretch. The money was found to sort out that problem. Now let us sort out Barrie.