HC Deb 19 January 1987 vol 108 cc583-5
2. Mr. D. E. Thomas

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what progress his Department has made in coordinating services for the elderly following his consultation document "A Good Old Age" published in September 1985; and if he will make a statement.

19. Mr. Geraint Howells

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he is satisfied with the present arrangements for looking after the elderly in Wales; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Mark Robinson)

My right hon. Friend announced last Thursday that he has issued a circular inviting local authorities, health authorities and others to submit bids for a grant programme over an eight-year period which will encourage new developments in the care of elderly people in Wales on the lines described in "A Good Old Age".

Mr. Thomas

Will the hon. Gentleman spell out the effective level of co-operation between local and health authorities in Wales during the present cold spell? How many avoidable deaths occurred during this period because of a lack of effective community care?

Mr. Robinson

We have been monitoring the position closely during the cold weather and have no reason to believe that the emergency arrangements of health and local authorities are not working well. We have made additional funds available for voluntary organisations to deal with the short-term crisis for homeless people, and made £25,000 available to Shelter Wales.

Mr. Geraint Howells

Does the hon. Gentleman have other proposals to help the elderly if the weather becomes colder? Does he have any plans to increase the £5 weekly grant to £7 or £10 to help the elderly in the present situation?

Mr. Robinson

That is a matter not for me but for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Mr. Gwilym Jones

Does my hon. Friend agree that there has already been a significant contribution to "A Good Old Age" by the Government's quadrupling of spending on heating, including the severe weather payments scheme? Is this record not far superior to that of the Lib-Lab Government?

Mr. Robinson

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. In response to "A Good Old Age" we intend to make £1 million available in the current financial year, £2 million in 1988–89 and £4 million in 1989–90, and to extend the scheme for a further eight years. My hon. Friend may recall that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State initially announced in the Welsh Grand Committee a funding programme for three years of £5 million. Our programme over the first three years now amounts to £7 million.

Mr. Ron Davies

Does the Minister accept that a prerequisite of a reasonable level of service for the elderly is adequate heating? Does he also accept that last week clearly demonstrated that the Government's legislative provision was inadequate? If it had been adequate, there would have been no need for the Government to override their own procedures. What criteria will have to be fulfilled in terms of temperature and weather conditions generally to enable the existing legislative criteria to be set aside?

Mr. Robinson

I am again asked questions that are the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. A supplementary pensioner over 65 is receiving £8 a week for heating costs, amounting to £400 a year. For a pensioner over 85 the amount rises to £11 a week, or nearly £600 a year per householder. In addition, there is a £5 heating supplement. Taken together, this package is far more comprehensive than anything Labour had when in office.

Sir Raymond Gower

Will my hon. Friend take a special look at the circumstances of those, particularly retirement pensioners, who, in addition to their retirement pension, enjoy some small industrial pension or tiny secondary income which deprives them not only of supplementary benefit but of everything that goes with it—for example, rebates and heating allowances?

Mr. Robinson

I take note of what my hon. Friend has said. However, that again is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. I am sure that he. too, will take note of my hon. Friend's point.

Dr. Roger Thomas

During his busy week, will the Minister find time to read an Adjournment debate speech in which the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) catalogued the defects that are already showing up in legislation that was passed two years ago with regard to the registration of homes for the elderly? Does the Minister agree with his hon. Friend's conclusion that that legislation is now producing cruelty for the elderly and is fleecing them of their money?

Mr. Robinson

The hon. Gentleman raises matters that are not my responsibility. However, in the matter of residential homes for the elderly, there is a system of regulation which is controlled by the social services departments which register and inspect all private and voluntary homes under the Registered Homes Act 1984.

Mr. Best

The House will welcome my hon. Friend's statement that funding will be made available over the eight-year period. Has he any schemes to assist organisations to help elderly people to keep their houses in good repair?

Mr. Robinson

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments about that important initiative. On the matter of schemes to help improve the houses of the elderly that are in disrepair, we are putting up to £200,000 into home improvement agency services through organisations such as Care and Repair Ltd. in each of the next three years to help elderly people improve their homes so that they may live in comfort.

Mr. Barry Jones

Low income is the chief factor in the pensioners' fight against the cold, and the 40p award aroused contempt throughout Wales. Does the Minister understand that one way of improving services for the elderly is to ensure that there is less violence and intimidation on our housing estates? Why does the Minister not begin a much wider campaign for better safety locks and improved estate lighting? Does he agree that having more policemen on the beat would eliminate muggings of elderly people?

Mr. Robinson

The hon. Gentleman is treading on rather soft ground, because it was a Labour Government who failed to pay the Christmas bonus to pensioners in two of the last five years that they were in office. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, we have already launched our priority estates programme in Wales. It is having considerable success and has recently been expanded.