HL Deb 11 July 2002 vol 637 cc818-20

3.15 p.m.

Lord Rix

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to implement the commitment made in the White Paper Valuing People: A New Strategy for Learning Disability for the 21st Century (Cm 5086, paragraph 7.16) to promote supported living for people with a learning disability living with older parents aged 70 and over.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath)

My Lords, the Government are committed to the implementation of the White Paper. They have issued Section 7 guidance and promoting supported living for people with a learning disability living with older carers is one of the priorities for both the revenue and capital elements of the £42 million learning disability development fund.

Lord Rix

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Can he confirm that the Department of Health and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister will issue joint guidance to local housing authorities and social services to ensure that they increase their efforts to provide such services and such housing for people with a learning disability who live at home with parents or a parent aged 70 or over? Will the Minister comment on how he feels that the joint guidance will be accepted? I should like to point out to your Lordships that, in view of the debate in another place yesterday, I use the word "joint" in its meaning of "togetherness".

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, this Government are always together. The Department of Health and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister hope to issue guidance very shortly. I believe that local authorities will find it helpful and supportive. The guidance will give a great deal of good advice on how they should develop their strategies. In doing so, we are particularly anxious that local authorities pick up the pressing need of older carers who have devoted their lives to their children with learning disabilities and worry about the future. We intend to monitor how local authorities take forward those plans and proposals.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, people with an appalling disability should be a priority group but they have been neglected. Is it not likely that the Government's guidance will also be neglected? Can my noble friend say whether Section 7 guidance is mandatory?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, so far as concerns Section 7 guidance, the courts have held that local authorities are required to follow the path charted by the Secretary of State's guidance. They have liberty to deviate from it where they judge, on admissible grounds, that there is a good reason to do so but they do not have the freedom to take a substantially different course. I believe that that makes the position absolutely clear. As my noble friend suggests, I acknowledge that the record of local authorities in this area has been very patchy. That is why local partnership boards will be required to produce housing strategies in the winter of 2002–03. Those will he informed by the local assessments of needs, which are being reviewed at present, and by the guidance that I have already mentioned.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is the Minister aware that village communities are the cheapest and happiest places for people with learning difficulties to live in? Anything that the Government can do to stimulate the creation of further village communities will do most to solve this problem.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I am aware of the noble Lord's deep concern about the value of village communities and his wish to ensure that such provision is available. He will know that the White Paper specified that village communities are one option which local partnership boards, comprising local authorities and other statutory agencies at local level, will take into account. I recognise that, for some people, village communities offer a genuine option. Equally, we expect the local partnership boards to consider other options as well, including supported living and other approaches that have been shown to work well.

Lord Addington

My Lords, what guidance do the Government intend to give to people in their fifties, for example, whose children with learning disabilities live with them? Can the Minister say something about future planning? Thankfully, the life expectancy of those with learning disabilities is being raised all the time. However, that means that over time the problem to which I refer will increase.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, that point was made in the recent report by Mencap, which criticises local authorities for dealing only with the problem of older carers when perhaps one carer has died or a crisis point is reached. Clearly, the more we plan in advance the better. The local partnership boards are now undertaking an assessment of those kinds of needs in order to be able to plan for the future.

Lord Morris of Manchester

My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House whether the Government will now be urgently reviewing the availability of local authority funded housing support places for this priority group, since at the present rate of progress— 227 places a year—it will take 30 years to meet the needs of people with a learning disability now living with parents aged 70 and above?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, the precise point of the Section 7 guidance is to ensure that local authorities within the partnership boards develop a local housing strategy. It is our expectation that in the light of their assessment of local needs of people with learning disabilities and their carers, local authorities will develop a housing strategy this winter, which we shall carefully review.

We are keen to emphasise to local authorities that while they need to look at special provisions, much of the availability of social housing could well prove to be attractive to people with learning disabilities. It is important that all options are considered.

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