Previous Section Index Home Page

Does my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) accept that, for people who are dying in poverty because of the inaction of this Government, 12 years is far too long to wait?

Mr. Waterson: Well, 45,000 homes a year for 12 years-hon. Members can do the maths. People have had to sell their main asset, which was built up painfully over a working life, because the Government have dithered and delayed. To go back to the intervention of the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Geraldine Smith), let me point out that of the main parties ours was the only one that had a specific policy on long-term care in their election manifesto. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Christopher Fraser) and the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale that we will have one in our next manifesto.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): That is an extraordinary statement. The hon. Gentleman knows full well that we had a policy on social care at the last election, so will he correct his false statement?

Mr. Waterson: I think that I said "the main parties". I believe that the hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley) described the policy to which the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland) refers as dishonest in a debate in Westminster Hall, on the record. Perhaps they would like to sort that out between themselves.

Jeremy Wright (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con) rose-

Mr. Waterson: I will take one more intervention, and then I will make a bit of progress.

Jeremy Wright: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Does he agree that there may well be some merit in the Government's argument that the subject cannot be rushed? It involves the need for cross-party consensus. However, does he also agree that the real question is what has happened in Government between
15 July 2009 : Column 371
the publication of the Wanless review in 2006 and the publication this week of a series of options for further discussion? What have the Government done between those two dates?

Mr. Waterson: My hon. Friend is right; it is a bit of a mystery.

Age Concern and Help the Aged have commented on the Green Paper, saying:

I entirely agree.

I want to raise a specific issue to do with benefits for people with disabilities. The Green Paper makes various suggestions about using non-means-tested disability benefits-such as disability living allowance and attendance allowance-to help fund the means-tested social care system. That would represent a huge shift in the principles that underlie the system of disability benefits, and would be of great concern to many disability organisations and disabled people. If media reports are to be believed, the Secretaries of State for Work and Pensions and for Health were arguing about the point right up to the last moment before the Green Paper was published. It seems that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions lost that battle in Government, but that will not be good news for disabled people.

The Green Paper could not be clearer: there is no guarantee of extra Government funding to meet the yawning gap in provision. People may well end up being forced into a compulsory insurance scheme and, at the end of it, a nationalised system of care. Yet still the relentless destruction of hard-won family assets goes on, the lottery of care continues, and older people and their families remain fearful about what will happen to them when they are frail and needy. What older people need in these difficult times is more help from the Government, not less. Dot Gibson, the general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, said:

I shall take this opportunity to explode some of the myths that Labour have been peddling about Conservative policies, especially in connection with the Norwich by-election. Labour is saying that we would cut pension credit, but that is dishonest as we have never said that we would cut either pensions or pension credit. Labour is saying that we would scrap free TV licences, but that is dishonest as we have no plans to do so.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury) (Con): Another Labour lie.

Mr. Waterson: Labour is also claiming that we would scrap free bus passes for the elderly, but we have no such plans and it is dishonest-

Mr. O'Brien: Another Labour lie.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Comments are being made from a sedentary position. May I remind Members about the conduct of parliamentary debates?

15 July 2009 : Column 372

Mr. Waterson: We have no such plans, and it is dishonest to claim otherwise. Labour claims that we would scrap the winter fuel allowance. We have no such plans, and it is dishonest to claim otherwise. I hope that that is clear.

Mr. Graham Stuart: I think that my hon. Friend has just exposed how this dying Government are behaving. They are using elderly people and the services that they rely on as a political football, and they are doing so in a dishonest fashion. [ Interruption. ] Labour Members may laugh, but dishonest and untruthful allegations about another party's policies, when so many people rely on the benefits involved, is absolutely wrong.

Mr. Waterson: I agree. It is beneath contempt to raise fears, especially among the elderly, but that is a sign of the Government's desperation.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): I was in the House when the Conservatives were in government for 18 years. Will the hon. Gentleman bear it in mind that his party strenuously opposed the winter fuel allowance and the free TV licence at every stage? They also opposed my private Member's Bill, and they said no whenever we said that the elderly should be helped with heating.

Mr. Waterson: Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I am talking about the here and now-the pensioners who are suffering and being told blatant untruths, here and now.

I shall draw my remarks to a conclusion. Thanks to huge advances in health care, nutrition and living conditions, old age need no longer be a time of anxiety and frailty. Most of us are living longer and healthier lives. As someone said recently, 70 is the new 50 and 50 is the new 30 but, thanks to this Government, many older people have little to celebrate.

Our older citizens are the innocent victims of this recession made in Downing Street. They deserve help in these difficult times. They need a Government who are on their side, not a Government who have destroyed the value of their savings, laid waste their pensions and failed to provide a proper safety net for when they can no longer cope. They need a new Government who are prepared to tackle those issues with fresh energy and fresh ideas. They need change. I commend the motion to the House. [ Interruption. ]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The Question is as on the Order Paper- [ Interruption. ] Order. Can those on both Front Benches come to order? Can we please have this debate conducted in the proper manner?

I call the Minister to move the amendment in the name of the Government.

4.49 pm

The Minister for Pensions and the Ageing Society (Angela Eagle): I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and add:

We have heard quite a peroration today, but to say that it was policy-light would be the understatement of what is admittedly a young century. There was quite an extraordinary lack of content: a lot of bluster and noise, but absolutely no clue to, or content on, the Opposition's approach to these difficult and complex issues.

The Prime Minister laid out the Government's agenda for the future in "Building Britain's Future", and on Monday we published our strategy, "Building a Society for All Ages", which explained how the Government will provide flexible retirement opportunities for older people and enable those who wish to remain in work to do so. We will ban unjustifiable age discrimination as part of the Equality Bill, and on that point I might ask Opposition Front Benchers why they voted against the Bill's Second Reading.

We also announced that we are bringing forward the review of the default retirement age, and if the review shows that the policy is no longer justified we will take steps to remove it. We have laid the foundations for a better future for older people, focusing on planning and saving for later life, and we are committed to doing more.

Malcolm Wicks: On the default retirement age, does the Minister agree that, in the coming years, with longer life expectancy, the idea that one retirement age should apply to all is bound to be thrown into the dustbin of British social history? Would it not be sensible if the Government came forward now and said that that was their position? It is a sensible position, and it will soon happen.

Angela Eagle: It is quite clear that the approaches to social policy that Beveridge developed, essentially, when our life expectancy was much shorter and a man could look forward to barely one year of life in retirement, involved a different society from the one in which we will routinely enjoy 20 to 25 years of retirement. It is quite clear also that we have to evolve our structures, our system and the meaning of retirement, so that there is a flexible approach, rather than a cliff edge off which one falls. That is the clear way forward, but we are committed to looking at the review and the evidence. It is important that we take evidence from employers who
15 July 2009 : Column 374
are worried about the situation, and those who do not wish to see their chances of employment disappear the day after their 65th birthday.

Jeremy Wright: As part of the review, could we reflect what is one of my frustrations and, perhaps, one of the Minister's? In such debates, we always refer to older people as a drain on the nation's resources, not as contributors to them. May we please reflect the fact that older people make a huge contribution to the child care needs of a variety of families and to the charitable sector, and recognise at all times that they are net contributors as well as drawers on the nation's resources?

Angela Eagle: I am more than happy to agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Gentleman. I do not think that we, certainly on the Government Benches, refer to older people as a burden. It is quite clear that they offer a great opportunity for economic development and for handing on many of their life experiences to the younger generation, and that there is a great deal of opportunity in developing older businesses. Opposition Front Benchers rather sneered at the idea that grandparents fit in as a sandwich generation, often caring for younger people as well as for older relatives, but it is a key social policy issue that needs to be developed, not sneered at.

I was disappointed with the sneering approach of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) to that issue. The Budget announcement about crediting in national insurance contributions for grandparents with caring responsibilities is a breakthrough policy. I expect that we will see more such measures, so that we can establish that grandparents have an important and central role in our social policy.

Christopher Fraser: Does the hon. Lady accept that, as I mentioned earlier, there is cynicism among elderly people on the doorsteps of Norwich, North? They are saying on a daily basis that there is too little, too late; the Government have ignored them for too long, and there is suddenly a bit of action when a by-election comes up. Does she accept that they have had enough and that that will be reflected in next week's result?

Angela Eagle: My experience of meeting older people in many areas around the country is not that they reflect the approach that the hon. Gentleman wishes for in respect of next week's by-election. Time will tell.

Mr. Graham Stuart: Can the Minister tell us whether the Prime Minister plans to visit Norwich, just as he did Glenrothes? Perhaps he will explain the Government's policies to older people there.

Angela Eagle: When Conservative Members see a woman, they often think that she is a secretary. I have to tell the House that I am not the Prime Minister's secretary, so I do not know about his intentions in respect of visiting the constituency.

We have laid the foundations for a better future for older people, focusing on planning and saving for later life. We are committed to doing more. We are not just taking action to deliver help now for Britain's pensioners, but planning for generations to come and encouraging others to do the same.

15 July 2009 : Column 375

Yesterday, we published "Shaping the future of care together", a Green Paper that considers how care and support services can be personalised, placing choice and control at the heart of the system. Under a new national care system, everybody with a care need will have at least some of their care costs paid for by the state. There will be a national entitlement and an end to the postcode lottery.

Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): The hon. Lady mentioned personalising care. A problem that has been around for a long time-and one, I have to say, that I picked up on while on the streets of Norwich, North only this week-relates to when people have a package of care. Elderly people do not want to find that they have to be put to bed at half-past 6 or 7 o'clock. Their care is not personalised; they are often in the hands of agencies, funded through social services, that do not personalise care packages, but treat elderly people as numbers.

Angela Eagle: That is why we are working with the process set out in our document "Putting people first", which is about personalising care. It is absolutely clear that we should be transforming services for older people by having them at the centre, making choices about how their care is delivered, rather than having one-size-fits-all care policies under which there is a compulsory bed time in a person's own home according to what suits whoever comes to give the care. That is why yesterday's Green Paper put such choice and personalisation right at the centre of the transformation that we want to see. We have already spent £500 million on developing the first examples of that kind of personalisation. That approach is transforming how local authorities are planning to deliver their care packages to their clients in future.

Dr. Ladyman: I am sure that my hon. Friend has not forgotten-perhaps the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Angela Browning) has-that this Government made it compulsory for councils to offer a direct payment instead of providing care directly; every one of those people in Norwich could ask for the cash instead of the care service, and organise their care themselves. Equally, the Government gave councils the money to put a charge on people's homes so that they did not have to sell their homes during their lifetimes, and their care could be paid for after their deaths.

Angela Eagle: It is important that the approaches that are being developed now become the norm in time. We are in the middle of an approach that moves away from the old mass care packages that are delivered for the convenience of the organisation that is delivering them rather than for the convenience and comfort of the people receiving them. That is a major theme that this Government have begun to develop and to fund.

Mr. Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood) (Con): I would be grateful if the hon. Lady corrected the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) on the timing of the introduction of direct payments. I refer her to page 33 of the document that she published yesterday, which features an entirely accurate time line saying:

with an arrow pointing at the year 1996. I invite her to remember who were the Government at that time.

Next Section Index Home Page