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Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is iniquitous that we get less per capita for our elderly population than to other parts of the country? I cannot understand why their needs are deemed to be less than those of people elsewhere.

Richard Younger-Ross: I agree. It does not make sense that it costs more to look after an elderly person in one part of the country than in another. In fact, the reverse is the case. In rural Devon, where there are large spaces and communities are far apart, it is more expensive to look after elderly people and provide services.

The Government need to look not only at a long-term solution to the problem and but at what they can do now. There is a crisis and elderly people are suffering. I will not go so far as to beg or plead with the Minister, but I ask him to look at what can be done this year to provide emergency funding for social services departments in Devon and the south-west. Will he ask the Secretary of State to meet representatives of social services departments across the south-west who have got together and worked co-operatively? That is not party political point-scoring because those people serve on Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative councils, as well as those with no overall control. There is a consensus in the south-west that there is a crisis and a problem that needs to be put right. I urge the Minister to arrange that meeting and see what can be done to stop the elderly people of Devon and the south-west suffering any further.

10.43 pm

Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes): I congratulate the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) on securing one of the most important debates in the House for some time. I thank him for his generosity in allowing me to say a few words.

All parties must back our concern about the elderly in Devon. Our concern is genuine because more elderly people probably live in Devon than anywhere else in the country, yet social services do not get the resources that they need. I am not sure how the Government are going to deal with the problem. They will have to give more money to social services to care for elderly people in their own homes, which I favour, as provided for by the Community Care Act 1990, and provide more hot meals. At the moment, there are virtually no hot meals for the elderly in Devon. They get block deep-frozen meals, which last them a month. They have a special deep-freeze where they put that frozen food, and are supposed to live on it for a month. Nobody comes to see them, as people from the old meals on wheels did.

The home help service is no longer strong, and neither is the chiropody service or the shopping service. There are no services any longer, and elderly people understandably cannot look after themselves in their own homes, so they are forced into residential homes. However, 50,000 residential places have closed all over Britain. If we do

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not look after old people in their own homes by providing the support services, we must provide residential and nursing homes to look after them instead. That has not happened.

I am not necessarily asking the Minister for more money, although a little more would be useful—we all need more money. The main point is to make sure that the social services have the resources to provide the services that keep old people in their own homes. If we fail to do that, we force them into hospital because there are not the residential homes to look after them.

That is a serious indictment of the Government. The comments of the hon. Member for Teignbridge reflect the unanimous view of all the councils in the area that we face a crisis. The only reason that the crisis has not spilled into the street is that the hospitals are shoring up the gaps, but they can do that for only so long. The hon. Gentleman rightly asks that something be done about the matter.

Not only are there fewer residential homes, but the elderly have to sell their own homes and pay all the money over to the residential or nursing home, so they die impoverished, rather than passing their money on to their family. The matter transcends all parties and worries us deeply. I pay tribute again to the hon. Gentleman for raising an issue that is of great concern to everyone in Devon.

10.46 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. David Lammy): I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger- Ross) on securing the debate. I can see the strength of support in the south-west on the issue, as he is joined by so many colleagues from that area. I am pleased to say that I am going to Devon on Thursday, so I am sure that I shall be able to see part of the situation first-hand. I shall ensure that my office writes to hon. Members to alert them to where I am going.

In the time available, I want to make clear the investment that is going in and our provisions for elderly people in the community and in hospital. My officials have reported positively on the ways in which the authority plans to develop services for elderly people in Devon, and the work of its senior staff, where I understand that the hon. Gentleman has some personal interest, which he drew to our attention. Care of the elderly is a most important subject, and it is timely that we should discuss it now.

The Government are committed to improving access to health and social care services for older people and to ensuring that standards of both health and social services are as high as possible, and that variations in levels and quality of services throughout the country are minimised. To take this commitment forward, the national service framework for older people was published on 27 March 2001. The national service framework will help to tackle age discrimination, and will raise standards and reduce inconsistency in the health and social care of older people in England. That will be backed by huge investment.

The Government have made unprecedented investments in social services. Between 1996–97 and 2002–03, personal social services resources increased by more than 20 per cent. in real terms. That is an average real-terms increase of more than 3 per cent. a year. It compares with average annual real-terms growth of only

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0.1 per cent. per annum between 1992–93 and 1996–97 under the previous Government. That is important and it should be borne in mind.

We acknowledge the need for continuing investment in social services. PSS resources will increase by an average of 6 per cent. a year in real terms over the next three years. Those new resources will enable further significant improvements to be made to social care, including services for older people who need support so that they can continue to live in their own homes in the community. The hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) drew attention to provision in the home, which is a core part of the Government's policy. The task for the Government and local government in places such as Devon is to make the best possible use of those funds so that we can deliver the services that the public deserve.

I believe that Devon and other councils in the south-west have received a share of those substantial increases in resources. In 2002, Devon's PSS standard spending assessment—its Government allocation of general revenue funding—is £114.6 million. I think that the hon. Member for Teignbridge referred to a lower figure, so I want to be clear on the numbers. On a like-with-like comparison, the county's standard spending assessment has increased this year by 5.2 per cent., in comparison with the national average of 4.9 per cent. That follows increases of 4.1 per cent. for 2001–02 and 5 per cent. for the previous year. Furthermore, those year-on-year increases in general revenue funding are well above the rate of inflation.

Nick Harvey (North Devon): Is the Minister aware that in the last year in which places in residential homes for the elderly were paid for by the Department of Social Security, Devon had more than 16 per cent. of England's national spend? Currently, we have less than 4 per cent. of the national spend on elderly residential places, yet we still have the same number of elderly people in residential homes as we had under the old system. Does he understand the specific difficulties that Devon has had in coping with that enormous disparity?

Mr. Lammy: I understand that there are particular problems in Devon because of its size, its population make-up and its share of the SSA in comparison with other areas. None the less, there have been significant increases and the £114 million to which I referred is a lot of money, and I want to go on to speak about the review and the other particular issues if I can be allowed the time to do so. It is important when talking about provision for the elderly to recognise that other issues also affect capacity and that the Government are dealing with them. That relates to provision in some of the hospitals and modernisation. We have embarked on a very strong modernisation agenda and it has to bed down in Devon, as elsewhere, to ensure that some of the capacity issues are dealt with.

In addition to the general revenue funding, Devon has received large increases in the specific ring-fenced grants made available by the Department. In particular, its carers grant has increased this year by 22 per cent. to £1.1 million and its children's services grant has increased by 15 per cent. to £4 million. Those increases follow significant increases for last year—for example, they include a 40 per cent. increase in the carers grant and a 13 per cent. increase in the mental health grant.

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The hon. Gentleman was right to draw attention to the review that is under way. Of course, my colleagues in another Department are considering that review, and Devon, like all other local authorities, will make its submissions and views known. Indeed, Ministers in the south-west will continue to lobby on this very important issue. The difficulty with all formulae is that those at the margins can lose out. I recognise the serious concerns of Devon Members, which is why I am very pleased to be visiting the area, but it is wrong to say that money is not going in.

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