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19 Mar 2009 : Column 334

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, far from imposing additional burdens, we are making it easier for small businesses to apply for relief. Indeed, since April 2007, instead of having to apply for relief each year, small businesses can make applications that cover more than one year. More recent changes mean that they can apply for relief as soon as the property is there, rather than having to wait for the next financial year. I think that the noble Baroness is talking about the Private Member’s Bill introduced by Peter Luff in another place. We supported the Bill in principle, but the timing is difficult. Automation might well be a help, but it brings implications and impacts that we need to understand and we would need to put aside a raft of other things that we would do to help small businesses.

Asylum Seekers


11.28 am

Asked By Lord Avebury

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, the Government’s support policies are such that no person who has sought protection need be destitute while they have a valid reason to be here. Accommodation and subsistence are available to avoid destitution until an asylum seeker has had their claim fully considered, including appeals. Beyond that stage, there is support to avoid destitution for families, vulnerable people and those with a genuine barrier to going home immediately.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, does the Minister acknowledge that this report demonstrates that there are in fact tens of thousands of people, largely those who are classed as legacy cases, who are in this inhumane position of being destitute as a result either of their claims not being considered or being put on the shelf for many years, because no one quite knows how to deal with the huge backlog that accumulated under the previous system? In these circumstances could the Government not get on with the consultation that they have signalled to all the refugee agencies about supporting failed asylum seekers and legacy cases? Meanwhile, would they consider extending Section 95 support to families who are in this desperate position?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, first I should say that we do not actually recognise this 500,000 figure referred to by Pafras, which is quite a small group which we have not engaged with yet. In fact, it would have been very useful if it had engaged with us and maybe talked with us, as we do with many other organisations already, before this report came out. I imagine that the 500,000 figure relates, as the noble Lord mentioned, to the figure of about 450,000 that

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the then Home Secretary in 2006 referred to as a backlog. It was wrong that that backlog built up, we have put huge effort into addressing it, more than 155,000 of those people have been dealt with, there are case officers dealing with each block, and we are clearing the backlog at a rate of 10,000 a month and really addressing that area.

As I have said, our policies are absolutely such that no person who has sought protection need be destitute. We are engaged in dialogue, we need to do that, but we are quite clear that we must maintain a distinction between people who are seeking asylum and those who are coming here for economic reasons. We believe that balanced migration is absolutely crucial for this country. Immigrants have brought huge value to it, but we cannot just allow economic migrants to come here on any scale that they would like to.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, how does the Minister respond to the withering criticism in the 10th report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights? It stated:

“We have been persuaded by the evidence that the Government has indeed been practising a deliberate policy of destitution of this highly vulnerable group”,

and concluded that:

“The system of asylum seeker support is a confusing mess”.

Would he not do well to listen to the constructive suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that we should have a more humane, more efficient, less expensive way of approaching this problem by leaving asylum seekers on Section 95 support, which is about 70 per cent of income support, until they are removed or integrated into society?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, we are in dialogue with a number of people. We need to continue that. We plan to introduce proposals to reform asylum support under the draft simplification Bill, and a consultation document will be going out shortly. However, when a decision has been made that a person does not require international protection and there is no remaining right of appeal or obstacle to their return, we expect unsuccessful asylum seekers to return voluntarily to their country of origin. Indeed, we are very generous in the package that we give them to assist them to do that. We work with the International Organization for Migration, we pay for asylum seekers’ flights back and we give them a package of up to £4,000 to enable them to resettle and to start their lives again in that country. I think that as a nation we are actually amazingly generous in that way, and we have to be very careful; this is a wonderful country and I should think that there are probably millions of people around the world who for economic reasons would rather live here—and we have to have some sort of control on this.

Lord Morris of Handsworth: My Lords, is the Minister aware that a large number of children are separated from their families as part of the immigration process? A lot of these children will be thrust into destitution as a result of the Border Agency’s decision to withdraw funding. Will the Minister look again at the decision and enable organisations such as the Refugee Council to continue to support these children?

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Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I am not aware of the Border Agency separating children. I cannot imagine that that is done specifically by the Border Agency, because we are very clear in our responsibilities towards children; but I certainly will look into that and come back to the noble Lord with an answer.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds: My Lords, does the Minister share the concern of many of us for the psychological health of destitute asylum seekers and the views of the Royal College of Psychiatrists that the health of asylum seekers worsens on contact with the UK asylum system? What does he propose to do about it?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate raises an important point. From my contact with the UK Border Agency, I can say that we have a group of very dedicated people who are trying their best to look after the cases with which they deal. Post the new asylum model in April 2007, a person is allocated to every single one of them and they do their best to look after them. I am aware of all the pressures but I go back to what I said: we have to have a proper way of managing this situation and I think that this is a sensible way of doing so. I have said before on the Floor of the House that each individual case is a real and personal tragedy, and it is. Clearly these people do not want to go back to where they came from, but a large number of them came here as economic migrants and we cannot afford to allow this country to be open to all those who would like to come here as economic migrants.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, as it was a previous Home Secretary of this Government, David Blunkett, who managed to get the French Government to close the Sangatte centre at Calais because of the number of asylum seekers trying to get into this country—many of whom did, and they contribute to the number already mentioned—can the Minister tell us why the Government are now about to co-operate in the reprovision of a similar centre or centres?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I am not aware of the full detail of that, so perhaps I may get back to the noble Baroness in writing. When I was in Calais, I was very aware of the huge number of people who want to get into this country. That goes back to my previous point: this is a wonderful country, so no wonder they all want to get over here. There were many hundreds of them by the fences and so on whom we had to stop getting in and we have been very successful in ensuring that they do not cross the Channel. They are in France or elsewhere in Europe and they should stay there if that is where they have got to and where they want to be, but somehow they seem to want to come over here.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, does the Minister accept—

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, I know that the noble Lord is trying to get in, but I am sorry: we have hit 30 minutes.

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Business of the House

Timing of Debates

11.36 am

Moved By Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

Motion agreed.

Business of the House

Motion on Standing Orders

Moved By Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

Motion agreed.

Systematics and Taxonomy (S&T Reports)

Motion to refer to Grand Committee

11.37 am

Moved By Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

Motion agreed.

European Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2009

Local Government (Structural Changes) (Miscellaneous Amendments and Other Provision) Order 2009

Cornwall (Electoral Arrangements and Consequential Amendments) Order 2009

Motions to refer to Grand Committee

Moved By Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

Motions agreed.

19 Mar 2009 : Column 338

National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Housing) Order 2009

Order of Commitment Discharged

Moved By Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

Motion agreed.

Care Services: Older Adults and Disabled People


11.37 am

Moved By Baroness Fookes

Baroness Fookes: My Lords, in moving this Motion, I am reminded of a conversation that I once had with the late Enoch Powell, who explained that he never made an important point during the first two or three minutes of his speech so that those who were rushing in to hear him would get its full effect. When I pointed out that it might be the reverse in my case, with people rushing out—we see the proof of it now—he replied, with impeccable logic, “The principle remains the same”. None the less, I feel constrained to move swiftly to this very important subject.

The statistics are quite frightening. We now have about 11 million people of pensionable age, and that figure is likely to rise considerably in the next 20 years, with those over the age of 80 becoming even more prominent. We have about 2 million blind or partially sighted people to care for. Some 7,000 people—I mean 700,000; would that it were 7,000—are suffering from various forms of dementia. Again, we are told that in the absence of any medical cure, that number may well rise to 1 million within the next 20 years.

The amount spent is very great. On present arrangements, it is about £13 million, but that of course leaves aside payments made through the benefits system and the incalculable amount provided by carers, described formally as the “informal carers”, which means in practice that they are paid nothing for the work that they do. I would be interested if the Minister could give an indication of the monetary effect if all the informal carers suddenly disappeared. I think that it would be a frightening figure. All is not well in the system as it stands, caused partly by what I call a crucial and essential fault line in it—the division between health and social care and the payment of benefits. We are always being told that the NHS is free at the point of delivery while social care, delivered by the local authorities through their social services departments, is means tested. So the system is complex and unfair, and people do not know where they are with it. The most notorious effect is on those who have to go into a care home. It is a traumatic experience on its own, and one of the most crucial and terrible decisions someone

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has to make. It is made infinitely worse if they know that the value of their house has to be taken into account in deciding what level of care they receive.

It is also extraordinary that many of the people now entering care homes are suffering from Alzheimer’s or similar conditions which I understand—the medics will correct me if I am wrong—is a medical condition and a fault in the brain. Patients become confused, are liable to wander, suffer memory loss, and it then becomes social care for which they then have to pay. What is more, the regulations are not easy for people going into such care to understand. In the course of my researches I found a very interesting paper prepared by the House of Commons Library for MPs with constituents with these problems. It explained that the system and rules were complex and lengthy, and that it could give only a brief guide. That brief guide consists of 17 pages of close print. It is no wonder that people do not understand what it is.

Let us look at the eligibility criteria, which vary from local authority to local authority. Although some attempts have been made to standardise them, they can still be difficult for people, especially if they move from one local authority to another. We had a terrible example of that during the debate on the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, last week. Someone moved to another authority and not only did they not receive the same package, they received no package at all until it had been worked out anew what it should be. With the monetary problems that all councils now face, it is tempting to tighten up the criteria. If someone is no longer eligible, the authority can save money. We have evidence that this is happening, and it is effectively rationing by the back door, so all is not well.

We expected the Government by this time to give some clear guidance on the way forward for the system of care for older people and those with long-term disadvantages. They seemed to start brightly enough with the new Prime Minister saying that it was wrong for people to have to sell their homes to pay for care, and setting up a royal commission which reported some 10 years ago, but very little has happened since. There has been a bit of tinkering here and there and we were promised a Green Paper in spring 2009. Spring has arrived, so where is the Green Paper? Maybe the Minister can tell us when we may expect it. But, let us face it, even if she were to announce its contents this afternoon, a Green Paper is by its nature a discussion document, and one can expect some months of discussion before a legislative programme is put forward. However, as we are nearly at the end of this Parliament—it cannot go more than about 14 months at the most—in practice we will see nothing by way of a new deal this side of the general election.

In the absence of clear guidance from the Government, various organisations have put forward their own schemes, notably the King’s Fund, in the shape of the Wanless report which came out with some very interesting proposals, particularly on the financing of care. It very sensibly said that one cannot expect the state to do everything, but that we need a clear division of responsibility so that everyone knows where they stand. It put forward about four options, one of which Sir Derek Wanless particularly liked and called co-payments. I

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prefer another one, which he called limited liability, which is very similar to an option put forward by the Conservative Party, whereby the person concerned is means-tested for the first two, or perhaps three, years, and thereafter the state picks up the tab, so at least one knows that there is an end in sight in what can otherwise be a very alarming situation for the person concerned.

We need to look far more carefully at empowering people to help with their own way of caring. In the past, a person has been on the receiving end rather than being a partner. It is part of the “Does he take sugar?” syndrome. Noble Lords may remember the Radio 4 programme of that name about the needs of disabled people and the tendency for people to ask, “Does he take sugar?” when the person is sitting there and can quite well say, “Yes, I do,” or “No, I don’t”. That is something we need to build firmly into any new system. That is why I favour the idea of direct payments where, instead of the social services department deciding what should be done, the person or, more likely, the informal carer, will be given the possibility of deciding exactly what form the care should take. However, there are pitfalls, and where it has been tried out, it is plain that people need to be assisted with the administrative side. It is no good expecting them to take on responsibilities for payroll, national insurance and all that goes with them. It seems to work well where there is a third party to whom people can turn to carry that out for them. That is something I would like to see universally adopted.

Even more radical—but it comes up against my fault line, as I have described it— is the idea of bringing together all the various streams of funding into one package so that there is even greater freedom. However, that cannot happen while we have this divided responsibility. Local authorities which have tried to work this have seen that there is an absolute bar on carrying it out properly.

What of the carers who play such a crucial role? I feel very sorry for some of them, for many of them in fact, because they have often given up their own careers or have made them much less successful than they otherwise would have been. They have been tied night and day, and they have constant worries about what might happen if they are not able to carry out those responsibilities. Some of them must feel like an old banger of a car made to work day after day, doing unending mileage with minimal maintenance and certainly no servicing, until they end up as a virtual wreck. Before we do anything else, we need to look to helping carers. I believe that one of the things that would most help them would be respite care universally provided if they want it. It is very much easier to go on if you know that you can stop for a while. The other point is that unexpected emergencies will sometimes occur and put the carer in a very difficult position. Carers would like to know that there is an emergency aid post, as it were, to which they could go if unexpected circumstances make it impossible for them to care. Those two items alone would do much to improve the lot of those on whom we rely tremendously.

One further point comes from the idea of people being partners in their own care. We need to go beyond the minimal package to make sure that people

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can eat, dress and all the rest of it; we need to make sure that they can live fuller, more interesting lives. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, will remember that when we were considering the Mental Capacity Bill in Joint Committee, one of the most moving sights was that of people with a learning disability coming to give evidence before us themselves—not people speaking on behalf of them, but them speaking for themselves. One of the points that they made was how much simple things such as choosing their own breakfast or wearing their own clothes meant to them. I give that as a simple illustration, but it can be extended way beyond that to people with all kinds of disability. For example, people who move into a care home may miss terribly the pet which they have had for years. We could do far more in care homes if we allowed pets where people wanted them. That is a simple thing, it need not cost a great deal, but it would make all the difference in the world to the quality of lives.

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