HC Deb 10 July 1984 vol 63 cc864-6
5. Mr. Ron Davies

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is his policy on the sponsorship by his Department of residents in residential care homes for the elderly.

The Minister for Social Security (Dr. Rhodes Boyson)

Our policy is that elderly people eligible for supplementary benefit should be able to receive appropriate residential care if they need it.

Mr. Davies

Why does the Minister not acknowledge that essentially his policy is one of using public funds to encourage and subsidise the private sector, which is primarily motivated by the need to make a profit? If the Minister is interested in the standards of residential care for the elderly, why does he not make his views known to the Department of the Environment, so that it will exempt part 3 accommodation from local government expenditure cuts, and encourage the public sector, where care is the principal motivation?

Dr. Boyson

The Department helps elderly people requiring assistance and supplementary assistance, whether in local authority or private homes. We welcome the extension of both.

With regard to the subject of standards, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, we have introduced provisions, now consolidated in the Registered Homes Act 1984, to strengthen regulatory and inspection procedures. We plan to bring them into effect later in the year.

Mr. Couchman

Is my hon. Friend aware that the operation of social security benefits for patients in hospitals for the mentally handicapped is acting as a constraint on those patients being returned to the community? Will he undertake to consider that problem?

Dr. Boyson

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Wigley

Does the Minister accept that many elderly people are looking for care in private homes because they cannot get into local authority homes and that that arises from the numbers of geriatric patients in local authority homes? Is not the answer for the Department to put more resources into psycho-geriatric care to relieve local authority homes and thereby enable people who want to go into them to find places?

Dr. Boyson

In addition to those mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, one factor involved is that there are 650,000 more people beyond the ages of 60 to 65 than there were four years ago. Therefore, there is bound to be additional pressure on both private and local authority homes.

Mr. Alexander

Are there not many people in hospital at present who would not be there if they had people outside to care for them? Would there not be a cost saving if more resources were allocated to residential care or, for example, to day centres, such as the one built in Newark entirely by voluntary subscription?

Dr. Boyson

We desire, as a Government, to encourage the voluntary sector. If people prefer to remain in their homes with additional help, we shall also favour that in any way that we can.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

Is not the massive growth of private residential care privatisation by stealth under the present Government, and is it not quite deliberate? Despite the Minister's claims about increased controls, will they not be inadequate, since there will not be enough staff to guarantee those controls? Are we not likely to see a deterioration in the standards of care for the elderly? As the problems for the individual increase, people will tend to come back into the local authority sector, which, because of the penny-pinching attitude of the Government, will not be able to cope.

Dr. Boyson

There are about 31 per cent. more people in residential care in 1983 than there were in 1982. The number is increasing in both the private and local authority sectors.

Only about 16 or 17 per cent. of people in the private sector are funded by Government money. The rest pay for themselves. There is no doubt that there is a demand in the community for the facilities provided by the private sector.

As for the provisions of the Act, there are the beginnings of controls, which we recognise to be necessary, because there were certain abuses. We are putting these provisions into effect later this year. If they prove to be unsatisfactory, we shall look at the position again.

Mr. Kennedy

Does the Minister accept that great damage is caused to the morale of all those in the caring services by the repeated willingness of Ministers to come to the Dispatch Box and herald every possible development and extension of private residential care?

Dr. Boyson

We meet the local authority representatives regularly, and local authority homes are considered in the same way. Recently we wrote to the local authority associations inviting them to participate in a joint working group aimed at improving collaboration between the local authorities and the Department in this area. We are not just pushing on with a sector that is private. We are equally concerned about the local authority side.

Mr. Meacher

Is the Minister aware that, by allowing private nursing homes to pick up inflated boarding allowances from social security, he is, in effect, using taxpayers' money to promote private hotel development for the elderly? Is he further aware that DHSS offices often pay out more than £100 a week in boarding fees for elderly persons who have not been selected on the basis of need and who do not need constant care? In effect, he is subsidising with public money private homes which are run for profit and which often do not have adequate standards of care.

Dr. Boyson

Opposition Members remind us regularly of the Social Security Advisory Committee. It was that committee which advised the Government last year to put up the limit. If we had not done so, we could not have found places for patients. We cannot agree with the committee about one matter and disagree with it about another. What is more, there is no compulsion to pay the top figure. There is a figure in every area which differs according to the demand in the area. On one side, we are concerned for the elderly people going into these homes. On the other side, we are concerned to preserve the public purse. I am delighted that for the first time we have the support of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher).