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Mr. Dorrell: I begin a brief speech by congratulating the Minister on the way that he dealt with the Bill. He put the best gloss possible on it, as I have not the slightest doubt that the Bill was generated in No. 10 Downing street and imposed on his Department against its advice. I have been there, so I congratulate him on presenting a defence of what is, in policy terms, an indefensible measure.
I shall go through the three key arguments, which are in many ways similar to those set out by the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), to which I do not believe the Minister responded adequately during the debate, despite his polished performance. The first is the argument about the convention on
human rights. The policy justification that the Government have offered for the Bill does not stack up as a defence against the concern that they made explicit in the explanatory memorandum to the Bill. There remains a set of unanswered questions about the Bill.
My second set of concerns relate to the policy implications of the introduction of the group of people who will benefit from free social care. The Minister rightly said in his presentation that we should not let the best be the enemy of the good, that we must allow for incremental change and so on. I entirely agree with him about that, but it does not absolve the Government from the need to think about the policy implications of what they do today when projected forward to tomorrow.
Last July the Government said clearly that we could not afford a solution on personal care that landed the cost on the taxpayer. That is in the Green Paper in a rather convoluted form, and the Minister confirmed today that that remains the Government's view, yet as a consequence of the Bill, a group of people is created in the middle of the social care requirement for whom that outcome is what the Government are now seeking to legislate-tax-funded free social care-not, as the Minister said several times in loose wording, for the most vulnerable, but for the second most vulnerable group.
The most vulnerable are those with critical care needs, who need residential care. Those are still subject to means-testing under the Government's intended solution. Below them in the hierarchy of need is the group that has been identified by the Prime Minister as the people who should benefit from free social care. Then there is the whole of the rest of the social care group. It is a golden rule of policy that if a group of people is created in the middle of a much larger group, all of whom benefit from broadly the same type of care with constantly changing requirements, the result is a change in behaviour.
What the Government have done is create a group of people-a very small group, when seen in the context of all those who benefit from social care-to whom they have offered the promise of free social care, which is precisely the policy solution that the Government, quite rightly in my view, ruled out in their Green Paper. By doing that, if the Bill reaches the statute book and is actioned next October, they will have created a huge policy problem for the evolution of social care policy in a way that is consistent with the principles rightly set out in the Green Paper last summer.
Andy Burnham: I am listening carefully to the right hon. Gentleman and I have great respect for the work that he did as Secretary of State for Health. Does he acknowledge, however, that the group of people he is identifying, with whom the Bill deals, have already been paying for their care out of their own pockets as their condition has deteriorated over the years? For that reason, the Bill is consistent with the reforms in which individuals pay something towards their own care, but do not have to bear the whole cost, which can in some cases be catastrophically high, as we know. The right hon. Gentleman seems to have no appreciation that these are people who will already have paid out a large amount towards the cost of their own care.
Of course I have an appreciation of that, but I would like the Secretary of State to consider how he is going to explain to that same group of people who
have paid out under the current regime that they will get free personal care when they are in their own home, but, as their care needs become more exaggerated and they have to go into residential care, they will have to start paying again. How is he going to explain that to them? That will be the consequence of the policy prescription that he is introducing.
I have three concerns about the Bill, as I have said. The first is the human rights implication. The second is the implication for broader social care delivery of the introduction of free care for this group of people. The third echoes the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien) and the hon. Member for North Norfolk: where is the money coming from? The Government say that this will involve £500 million, but I do not believe that. I certainly do not believe that it will be £500 million when the behavioural impact has been taken into account.
At a time of huge competition for resources, the Department has been landed with bad policy by the Prime Minister, which will lead to resources being channelled to a particular group of people. Those people are very deserving-I do not deny that. I accept that they will benefit, and that they have contributed substantially to their care. They will suddenly receive that care free for as long as they do not need to be in residential care. Of course they will be significant beneficiaries, but seen in the context of the pressure on resources that the Government of this country-whoever they are-will have to address, over not just the next six to 12 months but the next five years, this seems to be bad policy which has been made on the hoof and will have all kinds of long-term negative consequences that have not been thought through. I entirely agree with the criticisms of the Bill that have been articulated by Lord Lipsey, and I rest my case on his presentation of the case.
Laura Moffatt: I do not care where the Bill was born or who dreamt it up; I am just extremely glad that I have stuck with it, right from the early days of the consultation paper when I considered these matters with my constituents. My constituents do not care either; they are just very pleased that we are able to be here today, giving the Bill a Third Reading. They believe that this is the right thing to do.
It is easy to over-complicate the Bill. It is also easy to spend a whole day doing down its aims and objectives. We know, however, that it will benefit a significant number of people. Most of us-certainly those of us, on both sides of the House, who have taken a serious, forensic interest in the Bill from the word go-will completely understand that we would love to move straight to a national care system. Anyone who has worked in the care system, as I have, will know that that is our objective. I have to say, however, that the one true thing that the Bill does is send a clear signal to our constituents that this Government are very keen to ensure that people receive the care that they need, free at the point of use, with the reassurance that they will be able to live their lives out in their homes if that is what they want. And that is what they want.
That the draft General and Specialist Medical Practice (Education, Training and Qualifications) Order 2010, which was laid before this House on 18 November, be approved. -( Mr. Blizzard .)
That the draft Double Taxation Relief and International Tax Enforcement (Luxembourg) Order 2009, which was laid before this House on 23 November, be approved. -( Mr. Blizzard .)
That the draft Double Taxation Relief and International Tax Enforcement (Qatar) Order 2009, which was laid before this House on 23 November, be approved. -( Mr. Blizzard .)
That the draft Double Taxation Relief and International Tax Enforcement (Libya) Order 2009, which was laid before this House on 23 November, be approved. -( Mr. Blizzard .)
That the draft Asian Development Bank (Further Payments to Capital Stock) Order 2009, which was laid before this House on 24 November, be approved. -( Mr. Blizzard .)
That the Major Accident Off-Site Emergency Plan (Management of Waste from Extractive Industries) (England and Wales) Regulations 2009 (S.I., 2009, No. 1927), dated 16 July 2009, be referred to a Delegated Legislation Committee. -( Mr. Blizzard .)
That, at the sitting on Thursday 14 January, notwithstanding Standing Order No. 20 (Time for taking private business) the Private Business set down by the Chairman of Ways and Means may be entered upon at any hour, and may then be proceeded with, though opposed, for three hours, after which the Speaker shall interrupt the business. -( Mr. Blizzard .)
Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): The many residents of Wirral, South, and people beyond, have contacted me to express their concern for the future of the much-loved butterfly park in New Ferry, which is threatened with closure. Our community is united in support of this invaluable local asset, which is also used by groups across the wider region.
The Petition of residents of Wirral South and others,
Declares that the Petitioners object to the threatened closure of New Ferry Butterfly Park.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to encourage Wirral Council and others to do all they can to secure the retention of the Butterfly Park.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
Mrs. Janet Dean (Burton) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise what I believe is an unfair and, indeed, immoral situation regarding how we treat students who become seriously ill during their studies.
Students who develop a serious illness, such as cancer, are currently expected to use their student loans to support themselves during their period of illness and treatment. I believe that this is unfair. It is distressing enough for such young people and their families to have to fight serious life-threatening illness, such as cancer, without having the need to abandon their university courses. They need the hope and expectation of returning to their studies when they recover. They want to maintain their place at university, and yet if they suspend, rather than abandon their courses, they are deemed to have income from their student loans. Students are not entitled to claim benefits for 28 weeks, and even after that period, their student loan is taken into account when calculating their benefits. They are deemed to have their student loan even if they do not draw it down. Ultimately, if the treatment is successful and the student recovers to return to university to complete their course, they will have four years of student loan to repay for a three-year degree course. That cannot be right.
This important issue was raised with me in November 2007 by my constituent, Mr. Ian Leech, on behalf of his 20-year-old daughter, Melissa, who had been diagnosed in August of that year with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Melissa was a student at Aston university and had been due to begin her third year of studies in September 2007. Mr. Leech contacted me because Melissa's application for income support had been refused because she was treated as if she was merely taking a gap year from university.
"generally, full-time students are not entitled to benefit for the duration of their course, including the vacations. This is because primary financial support for students comes from the educational maintenance system, which is designed for their needs, unlike the social security system".
"However if a student is sick for more than 28 weeks, they may be entitled to Income Support and/or Housing Benefit as a disabled student, as long as they satisfy the incapacity test, of course, any income, including a student grant and loan, will be taken into account when calculating benefit entitlement."
"If a person qualifies for DLA they are then classed as a disabled student which would give entitlement to Income Support as well as the Disability Premium".
I acknowledge that my hon. Friend was trying to be helpful, but of course unless someone is classified as terminally ill, there is a wait of three months for them to become eligible for disability living allowance.
I was most grateful for the meeting that I had with my hon. Friend, who recognised the problem and kindly wrote to Melissa in March 2008 saying that he was
aware of other people with similar problems. He promised to have discussions about how the system could be improved and wrote to me in May 2008:
"Officials are working on the detail of changing the deeming rules so that students who become seriously ill and have not drawn down their student loan are not penalised".
"Assuming there are no major legal obstacles, we hope to implement a change to the regulations later this year".
Sadly, Melissa lost her great battle and died in May 2008 supported by her caring mother, father and sister. Ian Leech has carried on his fight on behalf of other students in a similar position, and I should like to pay tribute to him for all his work in raising awareness of the condition and for his continued campaign to see fairness for students such as Melissa. His efforts in highlighting the plight of those with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma have been recognised in each of the last two years by the Lymphoma Association.
Mr. Leech recognises that the problem of student support is complicated and that there are grey areas. In July 2008, he put forward suggestions for income support to become available for the term following the diagnosis of serious illness. For example, if someone was diagnosed in November they would use the rest of their student loan for that term until December and then be eligible for income support. Mr. Leech recognised that there were complications in relation to payment for student accommodation, which is paid in advance in some cases, and in relation to loans for tuition fees paid in advance in the autumn. However, it would be possible for a pro rata proportion to be refunded by the university to the Student Loans Company if someone's studies were suspended.
I recognise that it is important to distinguish students who have a few weeks away from their studies because of ill health from those who have to take a year off because of serious ill health and treatment. If students are sick for a short time they can catch up with their studies without any extra cost to themselves, whereas those taking a year to recover from illness need to repay at least an extra year of student loan. It should not be too difficult to establish a system that enables medical evidence to be used to distinguish those with short-term illness from those who need to suspend their studies for a year.
Unfortunately, the hoped-for changes that my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington referred to in his letter to me in May 2008 have yet to be achieved. Some changes were made for students who abandon their course or are dismissed from it, but not for those who have to suspend it. Indeed, the changes made for those abandoning their course reflect the suggestions made by Mr. Leech. The Social Security (Students and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2008 mean that since August that year, when a student abandons or is dismissed from their course, the Department for Work and Pensions takes into account only the quarter that the loan is meant to cover-or if the loan is paid in two or more instalments in the quarter, the period of the quarter that the instalment is meant to cover-not the whole year.
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