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Chris Grayling: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Ladyman: No. Let me establish my thesis, and then I will certainly give way.

Let us start with some of those myths: first, the notion that older people want to end up in care homes. They do not. More than 80 per cent. of them tell us that they want to remain independent and to live at home for as long as possible. The second myth is the so-called care home crisis. Yes, the number of care home places is falling year on year, but when will the Opposition understand that demand for those places is falling at an even faster rate?

Mr. Burns: The Minister says that 80 per cent. of old people want to remain in their homes, so 20 per cent. presumably do not want to do so. Given that only 4.6 per cent. of people between the ages of 75 and 84 live in residential homes, what happens to the other 15.4 per cent.?

Dr. Ladyman: If the hon. Gentleman is seriously telling me that he believes that older people want to end up in care homes and do not want to maintain their independence for as long as possible, he is, frankly, barking mad.

Chris Grayling: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Ladyman: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment.

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I do not dispute that the number of care home places is falling, but by no stretch of the imagination is that a crisis; it is an inevitable contraction of market capacity, following a reduction in demand. People simply do not want to be in care homes any longer, and the Government are giving them a real opportunity to stay in their own homes instead.

Chris Grayling rose—

Dr. Ladyman: As the hon. Gentleman is being persistent, I will let him make his point.

Chris Grayling: I thank the Minister for giving way, but he is absolutely out of touch with the realities in care homes. Does he not recognise that there are very many people suffering from the chronic conditions of old age—Parkinson's and Alzheimer's—for whom a place in a care home is not just an option, but a necessity? Many of those people are stuck in hospital beds, unable to get the care that they need. What the Minister describes is absolute poppycock. Those people need places; they need help and support; and the Government are letting them down.

Dr. Ladyman: The hon. Gentleman should not ask questions that he does not want to know the answer to. My mother has severe Parkinson's, and I can tell the House that she will do everything in her power to stay out of a care home. I believe that everyone else—the people that the Parkinson's Disease Society and the Alzheimer's Society represent—are all in the same position. Of course I accept that, eventually, some people will have to go into care homes, and the care home sector will remain an important part of the spectrum of choice that we want to offer.

Several hon. Members rose—

Dr. Ladyman: I will make a little progress before giving way to all those hon. Members who want to intervene.

We want to offer real choice. The Government no longer collect care home figures, so the best figures that we currently have available are those collected by Laing and Buisson—a respected and independent health care consultancy. As the hon. Member for West Chelmsford said, it says that 470,000 places are available in the United Kingdom today and that there is demand for just 460,000 of them. Of course, I acknowledge that there are more difficulties in some parts of the country than in others. Those local problems need to be addressed locally, but even the Tories ought to accept that that is in no way a national crisis. In a minute, I shall describe some of the ways that we are giving resources to local people to deal with local issues.

Several hon. Members rose—

Dr. Ladyman: I shall give way to one hon. Member and then I will make some progress.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Does he accept that the very

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report that he has just cited states that demand for care home places is expected to expand again from 2005 because of population ageing?

Dr. Ladyman: If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I will give some alternative views from other respected consultancies on that very figure, but I accept that Laing and Buisson believes that a further expansion in demand might take place. However, I remind the hon. Gentleman that the same report said that occupancy levels in care homes have only reached 91.3 per cent. and pointed out that that is still a relatively healthy proportion of capacity that is full.

If there is a crisis in the sector, why did Richard Nunn, director of surveyors, valuers and agents at Christie and Co., write in Caring Times last November:

Mr. Nunn is not the only person to say that. Another article says:

Its author describes the improved margins as being

Later in the article the author says:

Those are the words of the chairman of Univent plc, which is a nursing home and domiciliary care company. The chairman of the company is none other than the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), the shadow Secretary of State for Health.

Several hon. Members rose—

Dr. Ladyman: I shall give way to the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), who is my neighbour.

Mr. Brazier: The Minister told us that his main concern was with the elderly recipients of care rather than the industry. As a fellow Kentish Member, does he really think that it is fair that when bidding for places in Kent's overcrowded care homes sector, people from London receive funding rates that are more than twice the rates that Kent county council can afford for our elderly, especially given that he knows that our social services in Kent are overburdened in other ways, not least in the children's sector due to unaccompanied asylum seekers?

Dr. Ladyman: The hon. Gentleman and I clearly have different conversations with officers from Kent county council. They tell me that there is huge capacity in the care home market in Kent. Yes, they constantly tell me that they think that it is unfair that London councils receive more funding and can therefore afford to pay better prices in the north of the county, but I do not believe that there is anyone from London with a care home place in the hon. Gentleman's constituency—

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certainly very few people are placed in care homes in my constituency by London authorities. The situation about which he talks is simply not a factor.

In this House, the hon. Member for South Suffolk is keen to promote the idea of a care home crisis, but when he writes for the stock market and his investors, he is keen to promote the idea of a booming sector in which money can be made. The truth is that the number of care home places reached a peak in 1995–96, as the hon. Member for West Chelmsford said, and began to contract as the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 started to bite. The number of places has been falling continuously since, but demand is falling faster still. Supply and demand are now starting to come into balance in many areas, which is why the hon. Member for South Suffolk and other industry spokesmen see a strong future for providers. Laing and Buisson, for example, believes that the rate of closures has slowed down significantly over the past two years, but I do not believe that we are at the end of the process yet.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry) (Con) rose—

Dr. Ladyman: Let me make this point because it relates to an earlier intervention.

The personal social services research unit at London school of economics recently observed that if dependency rates fell by 1 per cent. per year, which is by no means unlikely, the number of older people cared for in care homes could remain roughly constant between 2000 and 2020 despite the rising numbers of older people. If that is combined with increasing choices and changing patterns of care, I believe that it is likely that the number of people requiring care home places could fall even further.

Mr. Boswell: When I asked the Prime Minister whether he was the only person in the country who could see no connection between the 25 per cent. decline in care home places offered in the south of my county and the ratio of delayed discharges, which was reported at column 299 Hansard on 20 March 2002, he said that there was, of course, a connection and took some credit for the fact that the Government were providing additional resources to create or free up more beds. If even the Prime Minister could see that point, does the Minister accept it?

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