HL Deb 10 April 2003 vol 647 cc335-8

11.7 a.m.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote asked Her Majesty's Government:

What further action they intend to take to improve co-ordination across departments in light of the National Audit Office's report, Developing Effective Services for Older People.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, we welcome this publication by the National Audit Office, which provides a very fair report on government achievements in the field of policy on older people. We are pleased that it acknowledges the effort we have put in towards better co-ordination across government. It notes, in particular, our successes, such as setting up a Cabinet Sub-Committee on Older People, appointing a Cabinet Champion for Older People, designating the Department for Work and Pensions to take the lead on older people's issues, and establishing the Pension Service to provide a dedicated benefits service for pensioners. However, that does not leave room for complacency. We acknowledge that still more could be done. We accept all the National Audit Office's recommendations.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote

My Lords, I certainly congratulate the Government on the important initiatives that are currently under way for improving the access of older people to services that they need. However, in accepting all the recommendations of the National Audit Office, does the Minister nevertheless agree that there remains a lack of departmental coordination and feedback for those consulted in some areas? With the number of old people likely to grow from approximately 10.5 million today to 16 million by 2040, does the Minister accept the need for policies to be planned across all government departments to meet that challenge? Can he say when the older people's strategy, long promised by the Department for Work and Pensions, is to be published and whether it will, in particular, identify one department to be responsible for the co-ordination of these services?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, although I accept the recommendations of the National Audit Office, I believe that to some extent it was scratching around for things to criticise. It is such a favourable report that it is difficult to read it in the way I fear the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, has been doing. However, there is a substantive point about the promise we made to produce a strategy for older people. We have not done so. I think, frankly, that the priority lies in communication with older people themselves. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, said feedback—and she is quite right—such as updating the publications, which are now a little out of date, should be addressed to people themselves. The time for White Papers, cross-cutting reviews and strategies may be past. It is better to communicate directly.

Lord Higgins

My Lords, there is a need for greater co-ordination. But, having been the Member of Parliament for the constituency with the oldest population in the country, I may perhaps have some understanding of the needs of older people, which is a matter mentioned in the report. Is it not the case—and does not the Minister's rather obvious embarrassment about the sycophantic nature of this report reflect the fact—that many older pensioners really do not want to be patronised? The idea of a Cabinet Champion for Older People and reports which bear titles such as Winning the Generation Game are likely to be mixed with a reaction veering from cynicism to nausea.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, as one old person to another, in a House with quite a number of older people, I have some sympathy with that. Nevertheless, it is a fact that a large number of departments provide services for older people. It is necessary that someone should get a grip on it all. It is necessary to have a Cabinet committee, not for the sake of holding more committee meetings, but so that each department is signed up to the work done by the lead department, which is the Department for Work and Pensions.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, does the Minister agree that with rapidly improving medical standards, growing standards of living and so forth, older people are rapidly becoming younger people?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, yes, I think so. It is certainly true that there are more older people than people under 16 in this country for the first time in history.

Baroness Greengross

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the ageing of society generally and the huge increase in longevity, which is somewhat different, means that this is a global as well as a national issue? Should the Government really take not only a wider and better co-ordinated view of policy, but also a longer-term policy, perhaps by renaming the Cabinet sub-committee "Ageing: older people and longevity", because forward planning is of extreme importance and should be long term?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, certainly, it is an international issue. I would not call it an international problem. Of course, as people get older—as the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, rightly said—their capacities survive for longer. Therefore, it is possible that people could work longer if they wanted. Many of us are rather in favour of that. So it is not a problem internationally; it is increasing the number of people who have a full working life and then the number of people who have an opportunity to enjoy it afterwards.

Baroness Barker

My Lords, I declare an interest as an employee of Age Concern England. Does the Minister accept the criticism in the report that the national service framework for older people is the only one that has been introduced without any funding? Will there be further research to measure whether the co-ordination at national level is reflected locally; and whether that has resulted in real outputs for older people or whether it has just been a series of yet more short-term initiatives?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, we have accepted all the recommendations. I cannot find that particular one in the list, so I think that I can give the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, the assurance she seeks. Of course, an important issue is contact with older people when they want to be contacted and only when they want to be contacted. That is a local issue, as she rightly says.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, can the Minister respond in particular with regard to those elderly who become frail? I am not talking about the vast majority of us who are lucky enough to enjoy good health. I believe that one of the big problems that still exists is in the tie-up between home care and health and hospitals. Locally as well as nationally, there is still grave concern in ensuring that the services needed by a person returning home from hospital are co-ordinated properly. It is an area that needs addressing.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Indeed, my Lords. The House has spent many happy hours debating the subject on the Community Care (Delayed Discharges etc.) Bill. I am pleased to record that at the conclusion of that debate there seemed to be a much greater degree of agreement around the Chamber about the Bill than there had been at the beginning. I think that shows the Government's recognition of and concern about this problem.

The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, will have noticed that in yesterday's Budget the Chancellor announced that there would be no removal of the basic state pension for pensioners who are in hospital for up to 52 weeks, which will undoubtedly help.

Lord Harrison

My Lords, has my noble friend consulted the Prime Minister on this issue, who, according to SAGA magazine, next month officially becomes old?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, if the Prime Minister thinks that 50 is old, then he expects less of himself than the rest of us. We think that the Prime Minister will go on in his prime for a very long time.

Forward to