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Residential Care Homes

Volume 168: debated on Monday 5 March 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what representations he has received regarding state support for pensioners in residential care homes.

We have received a significant number of representations. Part of our response has been to provide an extra £100 million to increase all the national income support limits for people in residential care and nursing homes from this April. Current spending on income support payments to people in homes is now well in excess of £1 billion a year.

The House will be pleased to note the action already taken by the Government to close the gap between the cost of nursing homes—particularly following the welcome and substantial pay increase to nurses two years ago—and the cost to old people of living in those homes which is assisted by the Department of Social Security through income support.

Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that the Government's proposed top-up arrangements do not apply to existing residents in nursing homes? Will he therefore join my hon. Friends and myself in lobbying the Department of Health to extend that help to existing residents of nursing homes, not just to new entrants?

I hope that my hon. Friend welcomes the fact that under the new arrangement people under and over pension age will be helped. With regard to the existing cases, we continue to have discussions with our colleagues in the Department of Health, but I cannot comment further than that today.

Will the Minister confirm that almost half the residents in residential care do not have their fees paid in full, even though they are on income support? Will we have to wait for evictions from those homes before the Government change their policy?

No, I do not think so. Our commitment to improvement in residential care has been proved by the way in which we have allowed expenditure to increase from £10 million when we came to office to £1·1 billion now, by the continued growth in the population of those in residential and nursing homes and by the something like 10 per cent. per annum increase in the number of homes providing such care.

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to read the report of the Select Committee on Social Services which deals directly with the problem and makes a series of recommendations with which I will not detain the House now? Those recommendations require an early response before the Social Security Bill comes back to the Floor of the House.

We received the report only on Friday. I hope that my hon. Friend will recognise that we want to give it rather longer consideration than just the past few days. I recognise the concern and feeling about the subject, not least as a result of my two appearances before the Select Committee on Social Services, of which my hon. Friend is a member. We are considering the matter carefully, but I do not believe that the Government can simply write a blank cheque to meet any charges, however high.

Is the Minister aware of the increasing insistence of local authority leaders of all political persuasions that their lack of funds for community care is forcing more people into residential care who could live in the community with adequate local services and that the poll tax will compound their problems? Will he at least ensure that income support payments keep pace with the charges agreed by local authorities for new residents?

I am not sure whether I can agree that. We introduced the new arrangements for community care which are part of the legislation currently before the House precisely because we believed that there was a perverse incentive for people to go into residential care, even when it was not the most suitable place for them to be. Making extra sources available for local authorities to provide care in the community is the right way to ensure that judgments can be made in the interests of patients or clients.