HC Deb 22 May 1989 vol 153 cc660-2
2. Mr. Eastham

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when he last reviewed the payment limits for residential homes.

The Minister for Social Security (Mr. Nicholas Scott)

We reviewed the limits last October and announced significant increases, which took effect last month.

Mr. Eastham

Is the Minister aware that there is growing concern particularly among charitable organisations which want to offer high quality provision but are unable to do so due to inadequate funding, which they believe is not being met by the Government? The feeling that local authority provision of residential care is inadequately funded is causing anxiety and worry to many families, and there is growing suspicion that some of the private organisations which have been set up are becoming money-making bodies. Will the Minister apply his mind to those problems?

Mr. Scott

Of course, we watch all of this carefully. It is worth reminding the House that when the Government came to office we were spending some £10 million per year on such support; 10 years later, the figure has increased to £1 billion per year.

About two out of three people in this type of accommodation are able to pay their fees from the support that they receive. The level of support set must take account of the interests of the taxpayer and not fuel the market. It was never designed to pay every fee that is charged in every area. I think that we achieved about the right balance in the upratings last month.

Mr. McCrindle

I recognise that substantial sums are being expended in this area of social security, but does my hon. Friend agree that in the process of building up that substantial figure public expenditure on the provision of accommodation for elderly people has been able to be curbed quite considerably? When my hon. Friend comes to review further requests for still greater assistance, will he bear in mind that in many ways it is rather a good investment as it may mean that local authorities do not have to expend quite so much as would otherwise be necessary?

Mr. Scott

I am sure that the system of national limits that we introduced in 1985 is a much better way of combining the interests of the taxpayer and the need to keep public expenditure under some sort of proper control with meeting the needs of those who require this kind of accommodation. As my hon. Friend will know, we are considering all these matters in the light of the Griffiths report on community care and the need to make proper judgments between the need for institutional care and domiciliary support.

Mr. Frank Field

When do the Government intend to respond to the Griffiths report?

Mr. Scott

My right hon. Friend and hon. Friends in the Department of Health have that matter at the top of their agenda—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman will know better than almost anyone in the House how complicated the subject is, and how important it is that those who have to make judgments between domiciliary care and residential care are able to do so, as far as possible, in a financially neutral climate. The Government are addressing the matter as one of great urgency and I hope to be able to make an announcement in the not too distant future.

Mr. Soames

I welcome what my hon. Friend has said about increased resources, but is he aware that there are great disparities in the cost of residential homes between the north and the south due to the difficult situation in the labour market in my constituency and elsewhere in the south-east? Does my hon. Friend agree that in this area of the public provision, as in so many others, there should be some form of regional fixing of income and allowances to assist those who find life extremely difficult?

Mr. Scott

My hon. Friend knows that at present only London has a special enhancement of the rates that are paid, but I am conscious that the geographical spread, in a sense, goes wider than that. That is one of the matters that we shall have to bear in mind when we come to consider the Griffiths report.

Mr. Fearn

Has the Minister had any discussions with the National Care Homes Association or with Age Concern? I presume that he has seen the report from Age Concern that many elderly people who have been in residential homes for some time are now being asked to quit.

Mr. Scott

If the hon. Gentleman has evidence relating to the many cases of which he speaks, I hope that he will make it available to me or to my colleagues in the Department of Health. We are constantly in touch with the providers and the time is coming when we shall need to take a fresh look at these matters in the context of the Griffiths report.

Mr. Anthony Coombs

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the only monitoring of care standards or staff qualifications at small homes with fewer than four residents, which do not have to be registered under the Registered Homes Act 1984, is on initial application and that there is no statutory requirement for continuous monitoring? Will the Department support the Department of Health in its review of the remit of the Registered Homes Act to bring smaller homes under statutory monitoring?

Mr. Scott

When these measures were first introduced there was a need to balance bureaucratic intrusion and complexity with the need to achieve proper standards. I know that my colleagues in the Department of Health are concerned and they will have my full support in any action that they choose to take.

Mrs. Beckett

If the Minister is in touch with the care providers, what response does he intend to make to the now almost universal call, particularly from charities, for an urgent review of benefit rates in this year—1989—to avert an otherwise threatened financial collapse? Does he realise that many people, particularly the most dependent elderly people, are very fearful about the difficulty that they face in meeting the gap between rising costs and static benefit rates? Is the Minister aware that in many cases their children are also pensioners and cannot help them? When do the Government intend to do something about that?

Mr. Scott

I have no evidence whatever of any imminent collapse in provision in that area. Many people can look to other sources of income, including support from their families, and so on. It was never intended that the rates should meet the fee which is charged anywhere in the country, at whatever level it is set. If we did that, we should be making the market in that area, and it would not be sensible for us to do that. We listen very carefully to the providers, but I see no prospect of any enhancement of the rates in the current year.