HC Deb 29 July 1980 vol 989 cc1267-8
3. Mr. Sainsbury

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is the average cost per hour of providing a home help; and what are the highest and lowest figures.

Sir George Young

According to information published by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, the average for England and Wales in 1978-79 was £1 . 75, the highest £2 . 42, and the lowest £1 . 26.

Mr. Sainsbury

Do not those figures show a surprisingly high average hourly cost for this vital domiciliary service? Does my hon. Friend agree that they may reflect too high a proportion of administration and overheads and that it might be advantageous to decentralise the service, perhaps involving the voluntary sector in its administration?

Sir G. Young

We have no plans to denationalise the home help service. However, I am sure that my hon. Friends and I would welcome experiments in the provision of home helps by the voluntary sector if it felt that it could provide the service as effectively. I hope that local authorities will consider having a contract with the voluntary sector to harness extra resources. On overheads, my own view is that that cost represents good value for money, but I hope that in their search for economies local authorities will see whether they can trim the overhead costs of this valuable service.

Mr. Carter-Jones

Even taking into account the high cost of home helps, does not the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be better to remove the supplementary barrier which has been imposed by the Government and to allow a large number of frail, elderly people to continue to receive this service, thereby keeping them out of hospitals, long-stay homes and local authority institutions?

Sir G. Young

I assume that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the possibility of recipients being charged for this service. The Department's long-standing advice to local authorities, dating from 1971, is that no charge should cause a recipient to seek supplementary benefit or an addition to supplementary benefit.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Is the Minister aware that many of the constituents of the Secretary of State are now being charged for their home helps, although they live on supplementary benefit? He has just said that it is the Government's policy that such people should not be charged for their home helps. What action is the right hon. Gentleman taking over the defiance of that policy by his own political cronies in Redbridge? Is not their decision a brutal attack on the poor?

Sir G. Young

No, because in cases of extreme hardship there is provision in the London borough of Redbridge for reassessment if such clients claim that they cannot meet the charges. I understand that in those cases the charge is totally waived.