HC Deb 18 June 1996 vol 279 cc668-9
3. Mr. Purchase

To ask the Secretary of State for Health when he last met representatives of local authorities to discuss the provision of care to the elderly people living in the community. [31696]

Mr. Bowis

I meet them on a wide range of formal and informal occasions and discuss with them an equally wide range of issues.

Mr. Purchase

Is the Minister aware of the considerable confusion that exists in local authorities and in other agencies, such as Age Concern and widows' associations, and the tremendous anxiety that many older people now feel about their future and about the Government's plans, which seem to be aimed at further commercialising and privatising the health services that older people have a right to rely on, having paid for them all their working lives?

Mr. Bowis

In that case, I am sure that, if the hon. Gentleman has discerned this concern, he will reassure those people by pointing out that 40 per cent. of NHS health care spending is spent on people over 65, despite the fact that they are only 16 per cent. of the population. I am sure that he will also have reassured them by pointing out that the present Government have enabled social services departments to spend £5.7 billion on their community care needs.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have noticed—although he does not appear to wish to notice it at this moment—the considerable increase in contact hours for people receiving care in their own home, up 42 per cent. in the past three years. Those are measures of success and care, and show that the Government do care about the future of the increasing numbers of elderly people in this nation—people who can rely on our policies, although, when it comes to the Opposition's policies, they will have to wait for a royal commission.

Dame Jill Knight

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the most important things that helps elderly people living in their own homes is the home help service? Is he aware that many local authority social services departments now state that doing the shopping should be top priority for home helps, but that the people they help need a reasonably clean home, whereas neighbours and relatives will often do the shopping? Can he do something about that?

Mr. Bowis

My hon. Friend is right to suggest that local authorities, which are responsible for arranging social care when that is needed, should listen carefully to the users of those services and their families to discover what type of services they should be purchasing on their behalf. I believe that the Community Care (Direct Payments) Bill, which is passing through the House, will also help people in the coming years as more and more people are able to benefit from that. It does, however, as the Audit Commission pointed out, depend also on the efficient use of the substantial resources that the taxpayer is providing for local government and social services in particular. It is no good, as Liverpool is doing, spending £500 a week on each person in its own care homes compared with the £198 a week that it spends on independent homes, and then wondering why there is not enough for other services.