HC Deb 26 January 1993 vol 217 cc859-61
5. Mr. Steinberg

To ask the Secretary of State for Health when she last met the Association of Directors of Social Services to discuss the implementation of the changes in community care.

Mr. Yeo

I last met the president and secretary of the Association of Directors of Social Services on Monday 21 December.

Mr. Steinberg

The Minister will be aware that Durham county council has already had to close eight old people's homes because of Government policies. Is he also aware that, due to those policies, it is now possible that it will have to close even more and that homes in the private sector might have to be closed? Bearing in mind the fact that the Government argue for choice for elderly people, will the Minister explain how the closure of all those homes will provide choice for elderly people in my constituency?

Mr. Yeo

The hon. Gentleman could not be further from the mark. Frankly, I am astonished that he even raises the point. In his county of Durham, the personal social services standard spending assessment for next year is £54 million, which is more than 18 per cent. above what the county is spending this year. Unless the Labour council in Durham calls in Lambeth borough council for advice, there is no conceivable possibility of any cuts in Durham having anything to do with the resourcing of the policy or with the Government's attitude.

The Government are giving all social services clients the right, backed by a statutory direction, to choose where they want to go. In the light of what the hon. Gentleman says, I am not surprised that people may not be choosing Durham county council homes. The fact is that Durham could spend a further £8 million and still be within its SSA. On top of that, it is getting a special transitional grant of £7.4 million to fund community care.

Mrs. Roe

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government have fully honoured their commitment to funding community care? Is it not now up to the local authorities, which will give the lead in these services, to establish their priorities, accept the challenge and make the decision to use those resources effectively and efficiently?

Mr. Yeo

My hon. Friend is right. In many areas, local authorities already recognise the wisdom of the concept of the policy and the fact that they have been resourced most generously to deliver it. I am confident that a high standard of community care will be available to people, especially in the areas in which there is good co-operation between the social services department and the health authority.

Mr. Hinchliffe

Bearing in mind that we are now a mere nine weeks to the day from the April community care changes, is it not totally unacceptable that disabled people and local authorities still do not know how the successor to the independent living fund will operate? Is the Minister aware that within the past week I have received two totally contradictory parliamentary answers, one from him and one from the Department of Social Security, as to whether there will be a ceiling after April on the cost of help towards independent living? Will the Minister tell me straight whether there is to be a care cost cap?

Mr. Yeo

The hon. Gentleman presumably knows that we have included in the ring-fenced money for community care a further £26 million to enable local authorities to make their contribution to the successor arrangements for the independent living fund. I am happy to make it clear that there will be no ceiling on the amount that local authorities can use to provide services for clients, whether they would formerly have been clients of the independent living fund or not. It will be for the local authority to decide how much local authority money is to be used to provide services.

Sir John Hannam

Now that the independent living fund will no longer make cash payments in cases of severe handicap, will my hon. Friend adopt the Disabled Persons (Services) Bill, promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), which is also called for by the Association of Directors of Social Services and by all the local authority associations, and which seeks to reintroduce the practice whereby local authorities could make direct cash payments in deserving cases to severely disabled people.

Mr. Yeo

My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. I am aware that there is a lot of support in a number of quarters outside the House for giving local authorities the power to make cash payments which could then be used by individuals to purchase services on their own behalf. The Government are not ready at this stage to take that on board. We believe that it is the function of the social security system to make cash payments to individuals.

The cornerstone of our community care reforms is the empowerment of the individual. Instead of the present arrangement whereby people automatically claim income support payments from the Department of Social Security, there will be individual assessment of people's needs, taking into account their wishes, the wishes of their families and of their carers—[Interruption.] The Opposition are not interested in the policy, but my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) is interested, and he is a well-known authority on the subject —[HON. MEMBERS: "Address the Chair."] I believe—

Madam Speaker

Order. I say to the entire House, Back-Bench Members as well as Ministers, that I want to have direct questions and very speedy answers to them so that we may move down the Order Paper and so that I may call other hon. Members who have substantive questions.

Mr. Yeo

The policy that we shall implement in April will incorporate a number of features that will be of great advantage to individuals.