Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk): My hon. Friend mentioned lifelong learning, which is of great interest to me. It is a tragedy for many people who want to engage in lifelong learning that the Government took such a strange attitude to the quality of individual learning account training providers, as a result of which they were forced to close down the scheme having overspent on it by £63 million—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I do not see how that relates to the debate.

Mr. Rosindell: I am sure that my hon. Friend's point is valid, but perhaps a question could be put to the Minister on another occasion when we are debating that subject.

"Discrimination" is a word that is used frequently; I hear it regularly in this place, particularly from Labour Members. I am concerned that we should not use words that inflame the situation. Sadly, it is a fact of life that people are different. We will not change that through legislation. The word "discrimination" is used so often, and it is not necessarily an appropriate word in every instance. No one denies that discrimination exists, but it is important to get to the root of problems rather than use words as a cover for political correctness.

I want to refer to an article published in Community Care last June. It states:

None of us would condone that. All of us want those problems to be eradicated. We must bring people together without trying to pretend that differences do not exist; they do. We must be careful that we do not give the false impression that everyone in society, whatever their educational background, and whatever disabilities they may have, can suddenly be lifted up to exactly the same level. Of course, we would all love that to happen, but we

1 Feb 2002 : Column 570

must be realistic. We must do everything we can, but we should not use words that can give an impression that can ultimately lead to disappointment.

I want to refer to one or two cases from constituency, and my borough, Havering. In Havering, many aspects of the White Paper are applauded by councillors from all parties, and, indeed, by borough officers. Only yesterday evening, I received details of some of the progress being made in my borough in relation to the points raised in the White Paper, even at this early stage. Havering continues to fund the excellent London People First organisation, which operates in my constituency. It has helped to establish the second service user parliament in the United Kingdom. Assisting more people with learning disabilities and their carers to access direct payments has provided a great advantage. Havering provides cash payments to help people with learning disabilities to organise their own care. If people can do that without being guided all the time by those who work in council offices, that is a good thing. Let us give people more opportunities to be independent and to make their own decisions. It must be a good thing to work towards promoting independence and reducing reliance on local social services departments.

Developing a person-centred approach is vital, and in Havering, we have excellent services such as the Jackson's Cafe. We have initiated or funded a number of other new developments, such as the new supported housing schemes, which residents are incredibly excited about. Those schemes give them the opportunity to lead more independent lives. A new joint community learning disability team is a model for people in many other services who have come to see it as a service that integrates all health and social services provision.

A new worker is also being employed, funded by a local bank and employed by Havecare, a local voluntary organisation dedicated to looking after the interests of carers and those with learning disabilities, and helping them through difficult periods. The new person is being employed for that purpose in a public-private partnership in this instance, and I hope that that will be a success.

The last long-stay hospital in Havering—Little Highwood—will close in 2003, and the residents will all be housed in purpose-built quality homes. That must be the way forward for all those with learning disabilities who need care outside the family home. Havering has also established a local partnership board, consisting of representatives from all the key local sectors, including voluntary groups and other organisations involved in the care of people with learning disabilities. We are establishing a pooled budget under the Health Act 1999, under which budgets between health and social care are to be pooled to avoid divisions and complications between services. That is another positive step forward.

My borough supports a range of activities, such as theatre productions and sports for the disabled. These are leisure activities that we should encourage and support, as they give people the opportunity to get out and take part in the activities that the vast majority of people take for granted—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I must ask the hon. Gentleman to relate his remarks to the White Paper.

Mr. Rosindell: I am about to come to that, Madam Deputy Speaker. If there is a criticism of the White Paper,

1 Feb 2002 : Column 571

it is that it does not address the funding issues, especially the need for more revenue to support the large number of children surviving into adulthood who would previously not have survived, and the number of older people with learning disabilities whose life expectancy has increased to the point at which many outlive their families, particularly their elderly parents.

More children are being diagnosed with disorders such as autism and attention deficit disorder, yet few specialist services exist to support the parents of those children. The same can be said of primary health care. Although it is slowly improving, people with learning disabilities are, sadly, not particularly well cared for by their general practitioners. They need specialist primary care services. To some extent, the White Paper is Government policy without guaranteed Government funding. A thorough review of the needs of people with learning disabilities and their carers in the next comprehensive spending review later this year would make that point, and I hope that the Minister will take that on board.

Mr. Boswell: Is my hon. Friend aware that a thoroughly desirable practice is growing up in primary care trusts, in which one of the partners specialises in a particular area of practice? It might be possible for a named individual in each trust to take the lead on learning disability issues, to set an example and to provide a focus of interest in the trust.

Mr. Rosindell: I support that view. Making an arrangement whereby someone specialises in an area is the most efficient way to deal with a policy or need. My hon. Friend makes a valid point and I hope that the Minister takes it on board.

The additional costs to local government need to be addressed as councils will be held responsible for the loss of such services. Councils need to show community leadership in speaking out for people with learning disabilities, who are frequently misunderstood and discriminated against. They are also disproportionately the victims of crime that is often repeated and targeted. I am sure that we all agree that that is shameful.

Local government has a role in promoting the needs of people with learning disabilities and their integration in society. That campaign has been running for at least a century and I hope that it does not run for yet another century. We must address these issues and I hope that the Government and the Minister take those points on board. We must all work together on the objectives set out in the White Paper and Conservative Members will do all that we can to play our part in achieving their success.

12.26 pm

Jacqui Smith: This has been a well-informed and constructive debate. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have made good use of their constituency experience to contribute to achieving an objective in which, as the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) made clear, we all share: turning the aspirations of "Valuing People" into reality for people with learning disabilities and improving their opportunities.

The hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) has a long history of involvement in this area, before and since being elected to the House, and he raised a number of important issues, which I hope to cover. One relates to

1 Feb 2002 : Column 572

the challenge for providers of learning disability services. Some people have particular needs and display particularly challenging behaviour, so recognising those needs and enabling local providers to develop specialist services for people with severely challenging behaviour is a priority for the £20 million capital element of the learning disability development fund.

The hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members also emphasised the need for national and local partnership to deliver the improvements that we want to achieve and suggested that levers are required to ensure its existence. I concur, which is why I am pleased that the flexibilities made available by the Health Act 1999 are being used to achieve better joint working between health and social services departments. The hon. Member for Romford referred to that. In fact, 23 of the 65 areas in which Health Act flexibilities are in place cover learning disability matters.

I strongly agree that that partnership must involve the voluntary sector and the hon. Member for Daventry is right that direct payments provide a way to ensure that. I referred to the Department's important partnership with Mencap to provide a telephone helpline, but partnership does not always come easy, which is why the Department's website already contains advice to partnership boards on developing partnership working. We shall issue further guidance after consulting.

The hon. Member for Daventry also made an important point about transitions. They do necessarily happen at a particular age or time. Everyone—even adults, but especially disabled children and young people—goes through a range of transitions, whether from home to school, from school to school, or from living at home to living independently. It is precisely because of those different transitions that we need to develop a person-centred approach to designing services, and to back that up the Department has published further guidance on person-centred planning to ensure that partnership boards have the understanding and expertise to make that a reality.

Several hon. Members rightly referred to carers. I am sure that all hon. Members would want to put on record their admiration for the work of carers. They ensure that the people in their care, especially learning-disabled people, have the opportunities that we would want them to have, so we have a responsibility to support carers. The Government's strategy on carers is taking that forward in a range of ways.

My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) and the hon. Members for Romford and for Daventry raised the issue of older carers who are concerned about their responsibilities for their sons and daughters with learning disabilities. In the revenue and capital expenditure of the development fund we give priority to supported living approaches, especially for people with learning disabilities whose carers are becoming elderly, because we recognise that that is a particular need.

The hon. Member for Daventry made a particular point about the regulatory impact assessment for care standards for younger adults. I understand that that has been placed in the Library. In wider terms, the provisions of the Care Standards Act 2000 on common national standards and improved quality of residential and domiciliary care will

1 Feb 2002 : Column 573

help learning-disabled people by ensuring that care is of a high standard and that users can feel confident that those standards put their interests at the very centre.

Several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes), raised the issue of housing. As I have already said, there is priority in capital spending for housing. Along with the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, we are developing the joint circular and guidance on commissioning the housing care and support services required to support housing choice. That has been delayed, but it was partly so that it could coincide with the important work on supporting people. It is vital that those policies are developed in tandem. The guidance will include a discussion of how local strategies should be developed to shift provision and offer more choice, how people with learning disabilities and carers can be involved in the planning and commissioning process, information about the costs of schemes and how capital and revenue funding can be secured, the differences between the options and practical examples that can be drawn on, and performance indicators to monitor progress.

Some of the resources for housing choice will come from the development fund, but there are other important sources. The majority of capital funding for new housing provision is through the Housing Corporation's approved development programme. It allocates resources to registered social landlords in line with the priorities identified by local authorities in their housing strategies and within the framework of Government legislation and housing policies. That is why it is important that the role we have given learning disability partnership boards, particularly to develop their housing strategies by 2003, feeds into the establishment of needs and priorities within the local authority housing strategy. We want them to benefit from other forms of housing support as well. We also want local authorities to map both current housing provision options and—because we want to promote choice and broaden scope—their future development.

I assure the hon. Member for Daventry that the local learning disability partnerships are all operating. As he said, the joint investment plans were due to arrive in social care regions yesterday, but in the circumstances I am afraid I cannot tell him precisely how many have been received. I can, however, assure him that the information will be passed to the Department as a matter of urgency, and that the plans will then be evaluated so that we can ensure that they cover many of the priorities raised today.

Another important lever for the securing of partnerships is the allocation of the development fund through pooled budgets, although health authorities will provide the route. The Local Government Association is currently conducting a survey of the partnerships, and I understand that the results so far are encouraging, but if the survey prompts any concern we will act to ensure that the partnerships work effectively. They are, after all, crucial to our ability to make a difference at local level.

Many Members mentioned advocacy, and in particular self-advocacy. In response to representations by the taskforce, we have provided additional funds for self-advocacy.

The hon. Member for Daventry raised the important question of how we would monitor and evaluate the difference that our policies would make. As I have said,

1 Feb 2002 : Column 574

we are developing and we will consult on performance indicators and statistics, and will take account of feedback and data from the helpline and the implementation support team. As the hon. Gentleman suggested, the social services inspectorate will make an assessment, and we will evaluate the joint investment plans. The £2 million research programme that the hon. Gentleman mentioned will enable us to focus on success in particular areas, and the Social Care Institute for Excellence, with its remit for identifying and sharing best practice, will play an important part. We will also carry out a national users survey.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the Government's plans to report to Parliament. I assure him that we will report. We are currently considering how we can ensure that our report includes the perspectives of users and carers.

Next Section

IndexHome Page