HL Deb 04 March 1988 vol 494 cc359-61

11.7 a.m.

Lord Rippon of Hexham asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their policy towards the future provision of sheltered accommodation for the elderly by local housing authorities.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, our policy is to encourage local authorities to take an informed and sympathetic approach to the needs of the elderly, having due regard to the resources available. Sheltered housing is just one of many ways in which local authorities can help. Most elderly people want to go on living in their own homes for as long as possible and can be helped to do so through, for example, home improvements, adaptations and repairs.

Lord Rippon of Hexham

My Lords, I welcome that encouraging Answer from my noble friend. Will he agree that as this is National Housing Week it is appropriate that we should pay tribute to the outstanding work done by local housing authorities? May I say how glad I am that he has confirmed that local housing authorities will still have an important role to play in an activity that I hope will be extended to the handicapped and mentally disabled who also need sheltered accommodation?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, the Government are happy to acknowledge the contribution made by local authorities in providing sheltered accommodation for the elderly. We believe that councils should identify the best way of meeting the needs and that they should work also with the voluntary and private sector. We have urged them to concentrate resources on those in greatest need, including elderly people on low incomes. We give assistance also with home improvement grants and insulation grants.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, is the Minister aware that his Answer is not correct? Is it not the case that the number of properties built for this purpose has diminished despite an increasing demand for them? Is this not due to the fact that the housing investment programme has been seriously cut this year once again? Why is the Minister so optimistic that there will be an increased building programme when it is smaller—and that includes sheltered housing accommodation—than last year?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, in 1979 there were some 271,000 units. There are now some 413,000. That represents an increase of some 50 per cent. if my mathematics are correct.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, will the noble Lord acknowledge a growing increase in the number of people who are retired and who can be called old age pensioners? Does he agree that many of them have difficulty finding accommodation? That fact ought to be taken on board, particularly as over the next 10 years the figure will increase dramatically. Secondly, will the Minister be prepared to consult with the housing section of the Royal British Legion which does fantastic work in providing accommodation for older people? It could use a little help now and then. The combination of the ministries and the Royal British Legion could make a massive contribution to the problem.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, on the first part of the noble Lord's question, the figure I mentioned in my previous answer shows that we are all aware that there will be an increase and that the figure will keep increasing. I should like to draw to his attention the fact that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State introduced yesterday increased grant rates for a pilot mixed funding programme which is a vital area. We have lifted that grant from 30 per cent. to 50 per cent. in lower cost areas such as the North and Midlands, and from 50 per cent. to 75 per cent. in higher cost areas such as the South-East. I shall certainly bring the noble Lord's remarks concerning the Royal British Legion to the attention of my right honourable friend.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, does the noble Lord's Answer mean that the Government have abandoned any attempt to force the right-to-buy provisions on sheltered housing for the elderly? As I recall, that has been a matter of great controversy in this House and in another place. The Government seem determined to reduce the stock of sheltered housing for the elderly held by local authorities.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, we have protected councils' ability to go on meeting special housing needs by excluding sheltered housing for elderly or disabled people from tenants' choice, just as we excluded it from right to buy. There is no need for them to lose their existing specialised stock.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, is it not the case that that happened because the Government were voted down in this House? I asked whether the Government recognise the justice of the decision of the House. Are they going to abandon any further attempts to reduce the housing stock for the elderly?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is repeating back to me what I first gave him as my answer.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a complex interrelationship between sheltered housing, the social services and health services for the elderly? Is it not time that we started to co-ordinate these matters so that each authority or each body responsible for funding is not busily trying to move the expense on to the next body?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, the department has gone to some lengths to try to provide local authorities with specialist packs of advice and a video in order that that can happen.

Lord Morris

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that Her Majesty's Government's emphasis on adapting people's own homes should be greatly welcomed? Does he further agree that the act of moving elderly and infirm people can in itself be the cause of death?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, the Government have always taken the view that we should encourage all elderly people to stay in their own homes if they wish to do so.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, if the Government are truly anxious for people to stay in their own homes, will they please bear in mind, when it comes to the funding of alarms to enable them to do so, that such homes are not always particularly suitable for the elderly but that they, nevertheless, wish to remain in them?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I have taken note of the noble Lady's question. I am afraid I shall have to write to her in that regard.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, the Question on the Order Paper refers to the elderly. Can the Minister say at what age people are officially regarded, for this purpose, as being elderly?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I think that the answer to the noble Lord's question is that it is very much up to the individual concerned.