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10.26 pm

Mr. Don Foster (Bath): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether you are aware that it is anticipated that tomorrow morning the "Today" programme and a number of national newspapers will be commenting on a report on planning by the Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions. I understand that there is to be a press conference at 10.30 am, but that the report is embargoed until midnight tonight. Will you advise me and other Members where it may be possible for us to obtain a copy of the report by midnight?

Mr. Speaker: I inform the hon. Gentleman that it is up to Select Committees to enforce their own embargoes, but he has put this complaint on the record and I hope that note will be taken.

2 Jul 2002 : Column 197


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Social Security

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),


Question agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(9) (European Standing Committees),

Third Country Nationals

Question agreed to.


Motion made,

Hon. Members: Object.

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Further Education Funding

10.27 pm

Mr. Patrick Hall (Bedford): I am pleased to present this petition of more than 800 signatures of staff and students at Bedford college of further education, organised by the Bedford college branch of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education.

I add my personal support for the petition and my thanks to the staff, students and governors of Bedford college for their hard work and for the important part that they play in the social and economic life of Bedford and Kempston.

The branch:

To lie upon the Table.

Electric Dog Collars

10.29 pm

Mr. Bob Laxton (Derby, North): I wish to present to the House a petition of 312 residents of Derby. The petition states:

To lie upon the Table

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2 Jul 2002 : Column 199

Elderly Care (Devon)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Pearson.]

10.30 pm

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge): First, I declare an interest: my wife is an employee of Devon county social services department.

There is all-party support for the debate. I requested it because on 10 January a delegation of all four party leaders in Devon came to meet all the Devon Members. They explained that there was a funding crisis in social services, and in detailed and fairly graphic terms they described the effect that it was having on elderly people in the county.

Before going into the details, I shall sketch the broader picture. At the end of last year, directors of social services from across the country met and produced a document that stated their estimate that £1 billion of funding was required for social services departments. Since then, the Government have given two tranches of money totalling some £700 million, which still leaves social services departments across the country short of at least £300 million. However, months have passed since that estimate was made; costs have increased, and the Chancellor has levied national insurance charges on employers that add to those costs.

Recent research published last month by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation states that there is a shortfall in social services funding, and estimates that £1 billion is now needed to counter the shortfall in fees for care homes.

Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay): That report suggested that the £1 billion funding should be provided and linked to care homes and nursing homes meeting the new required standards, so that the new required standards and new money going into the system would be achieved at the same time. Should not the Government now consider that proposal?

Richard Younger-Ross: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point—I could not have put it better myself.

Last year, 75 per cent. of social services departments overspent, but for the elderly of Devon, the picture is bleaker still. The pot for social services departments is too small, but Devon does not even get a fair share from that pot. The standard spending assessment per head of population for the south-west is the lowest in the UK: it is about £114 per head short of the UK average, and more than £200 less than the SSA for some other parts of the country. Devon now has the fourth lowest SSA of the 15 local authorities comprising the south-west.

The House should not be lulled into thinking that "glorious Devon" does not get as much money as other parts of the country because it is so nice there. That picture postcard image of the county is inaccurate. There is real poverty and deprivation in Devon. Between those combes and vales, from the moors to the sea, are people who live in poverty and find it hard to make ends meet. The two counties of Cornwall and Devon have the highest levels of poverty of any county area in the country.

Why is there so much overspend among social services departments? Among those departments that have overspent, 65 per cent. of the overspend is on child

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services. That is certainly so in the south-west, and it is diverting resources that are required for elderly people. In a report published by the 15 directors of social services last year, they said that they were all having to divert money from elderly services to meet their legal requirements on child services.

I raised that point with the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Salford (Ms Blears), in the social care debate in January, and she stated that that was not right and that there would be an investigation. I hope that the Minister responding to this debate can say how far that investigation has gone and what his Department is doing to look at that problem. County councils spend between 50 and 100 per cent. over their SSAs. In the south-west, £79 million is spent over the SSA—some £10 million above the budget, because costs have continued to rise.

All that represents a triple whammy for elderly people: social services departments across the country receive inadequate funds; there is a low standard spending assessment for Devon and the south-west; and there is a diversion of funds to child services to meet legal requirements such as child protection. The result is misery for elderly people in the county of Devon: it is 572 bed losses and the closure of 32 care homes in the past year.

Is it any wonder that, when I visited my local hospital in Teignmouth recently, I found elderly people who were fit and able to go to a care or nursing home for whom a place could not be found? The term used for that is bed blocking, but this is bed locking. Effectively, lack of funding is chaining those people to a hospital bed, in which they do not wish to be and which is desperately needed by others in the national health service.

Today we can see the sad result of such home closures. It has been reported in the national press that one lady who was over 100 years old decided to go on a hunger strike because she had been forced to move from the care home where she lived, and as a result she died.

The outcome is not always as dramatic, but when a home closes and elderly people are forced to move, they can be put under considerable stress. When a local authority decides that it needs to close homes, and it manages the closures, scales down the facilities and speaks to people, it causes some, minimal, stress. However, what does it do to elderly people and their stress levels when a home is going bankrupt, when they can see that around them and when the certainty about how long they can stay disappears? There is no question but that that can lead to illness and premature death.

What do we do? I ask the Minister to consider how we can find adequate funding for social services departments across the country. Bluntly, there is not enough money being put into social care and social services at the moment. The situation is even worse when one considers the Government's refusal to fund all the social care provision required, such as the personal care that people need when in homes. Scotland has led the way, as it said yesterday that personal care would be funded, although I am sure that the Minister will say that money is being diverted from something else. A lot of money is available to the Government and I urge them to look at giving some of it to the elderly. They should comply with the full details of the report, which says that personal care ought to be funded.

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We need a fair deal for Devon and the south-west. I appreciate that the Government are looking at reviewing SSAs, but please can they make sure that the south-west does not lose out again? There is poverty, as I have described, and there are problems that cannot be ignored.

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