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Mr. Speaker: All I would say to the hon. Gentleman is that Members of Parliament have a long memory.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should be grateful if you could provide me with some guidance on the procedures of the Intelligence and Security Committee of the House. Is it the case that, once the Committee submits a report to the Prime Minister, he decides when that report is published?

Mr. Speaker: All I say to the hon. Gentleman is that, thankfully, that is not an issue for me; it is not a Committee of the House, so he will have to make his inquiries elsewhere.

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Opposition Day

[16th Allotted Day]

Fairness and Security in Old Age

Mr. Speaker: We now come to the first debate on the Opposition motions. I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

12.44 pm

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam): I beg to move,


Liberal Democrats have called this debate because we believe that the Government have failed to deliver fairness and security for older people in this country. It is convenient that we are debating this subject today, because many hundreds of our constituents from the National Pensioners Convention and many other pensioner organisations up and down the country are coming to this House to lobby Members of Parliament about their concerns. Their message and ours is that older people feel cheated by this Government—cheated out of their life savings to pay for their care, cheated out of a decent pension and cheated out of a reasonable standard of living by an unfair and ever-rising council tax.

A growing concern exists among older people that there is a crisis in our care system. Day after day, more and more care homes are closing their doors, but where are the extra home care services to make up the difference? As care homes close their doors, where are the provision in people's own homes and the staff to enable people to continue to live in their own homes?

Since the peak in 1996, some 74,000 care home places have been lost in this country. In the 15 months to April this year, a further 13,400 places have been lost. The prospects remain bleak. The number of new registrations of care homes is falling even faster than the number of closures is rising.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): To underline my hon. Friend's point, is he aware that in Cornwall so many care homes have been closed that people have had to be transferred into our hospitals, taking up beds that are then blocked for those who should be there?

Mr. Burstow: My hon. Friend makes an important point, to which I want to refer in a moment.

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As a consequence of that lack of care home capacity in our communities—and the lack of foresight on the part of this Government that has allowed a shortage of supply to arise in more and more places—growing numbers of people are getting stuck in hospitals when they are ready to go to a care home.

In the 15 months to April this year just 96 new homes were registered for care of the elderly in this country. I repeat: 96 in 15 months. Since 1997, the number of people receiving home care has fallen by 110,000: almost a quarter of home care places have been axed in this country since 1997. Social services departments have always been gatekeepers of services, but increasingly the elderly are finding the gateway to those services firmly locked, and opened to them only when they are at death's door or in desperate straits. More and more councils are rationing services. Who picks up the pieces? It is the relatives, the husbands, the wives, the parents, the children—all of them carers. They find themselves asked to carry on that caring role for longer and longer because adequate provision of social care services is not available to support them in that role, and indeed when they can no longer carry on in that role.

At the same time, the Government have driven through half-baked plans to put a price on the head of every elderly person who is stuck in a hospital bed. Of course we want older people to receive the right care in the right place at the right time, but this Government's obsession with targets and fines runs a risk of more and more elderly people getting the wrong care in the wrong place at the wrong time. As the number of people labelled as bed blockers falls—and it is falling—the number of people returning to hospital as emergencies is rising. The Department of Health's own figures show that there has been a 23 per cent. increase in the numbers of elderly people over the age of 75 returning to hospital within less than 28 days of being sent home. That is a startling figure. Indeed, the last available set of figures for the whole of a single year show that 140,000 people over the age of 75 are now being put through the misery of being discharged prematurely only to return to hospital within 28 days of that discharge. That makes no sense at all. The research that has been done on emergency readmissions shows that two in five could have been avoided. The NHS must do more on that, and the Government, by their fixation on delayed discharge, are overlooking that problem and failing to tackle it.

Mr. John Horam (Orpington): Both the hon. Gentleman and I are parliamentary representatives on the Greater London Forum for the Elderly, as he will be aware. As he also knows, the forum is having a community awareness week in October, in which it hopes to bring out clearly the problem of care homes in London, which is particularly acute. I would be glad if he made note of that.

Mr. Burstow: I certainly do make note of it, and in a minute I shall quote some examples from a report of the National Audit Office that demonstrate clearly that in London and the south-east we have gone beyond meltdown in the care home system. There is an excess of demand over supply when it comes to care home capacity. The NAO report states that


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Increasingly, because the capital is funded to a higher level than elsewhere for social services, it can afford to poach places outside London. Increasingly in Kent and other parts of the home counties, London councils are competing with local councils for care home beds, and they are able to outbid local councils, making life even more difficult for many others outside London.

The problem of demand outstripping supply is not confined to the capital and the south-east. It is becoming a widespread issue. It is not only a matter of a growing shortage of places, for there is also a shortage of staff. Again, the NAO warned the Government earlier this year, when it said:


The reality is that in too many places care home owners fear the day that a new supermarket opens because they know that it will have an impact upon their ability to continue to provide a quality of care for the residents in their home.

A shortage of places and staff means less choice for older people. It leaves families struggling to find a good care home on their doorstep. For many, the choice is simple: sending granny or granddad miles away or topping up what the council is willing to pay to get into what they hope will be a better home. Not only do the Government expect the elderly to spend their life savings and to sell their homes to pay for care. It seems that they are now content to stand idly by while the children of older people also pay for their parents to be in the right care home. No wonder these people feel that the system is unfair. No wonder so many of them feel insecure.

Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central): The hon. Gentleman knows that £4.5 billion of private money is spent on residential care, which is equivalent to 1.4p on income tax. Is his party saying that it would pay that private money? If the hon. Gentleman and his party are not going to fund it, he should shut up and move on to something else.


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