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Local Government White Paper

Volume 451: debated on Tuesday 7 November 2006

19. What impact she expects the proposals in the local government White Paper to have on the care provided by local authorities for the elderly. (99689)

The local government White Paper “Strong and Prosperous Communities” will support the delivery of high-quality public services to all citizens including, of course, the elderly. The White Paper will help local authorities and their partners to provide integrated customer-focused health and social care services to the elderly.

Older people have been left off the political agenda for too long, particularly with regard to funding for care at the end of their lives. Due to poor guidance from the DCLG, formerly the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, local authorities can often interpret supporting people contracts in wildly different ways. Providers in the care home system tell me they need certainty and clarity. What will the Minister do in the future so that the Department gives clear and comprehensive guidance on this matter?

The hon. Lady answers a very important question. [Hon. Members: “Asks.”] Asks, sorry; I am answering it. Actually, she has answered it. The need for stability in funding has been recognised by the move from a two-year period to a three-year period of funding settlement from April 2008 onwards. She will be aware of the strategy document that we published in July on the supporting people framework which addresses the very point that she quite rightly raises.

May we have some basic standards laid down for local authorities to follow in their care for the elderly? Suffolk local authority’s supporting people commissioning body is currently taking away funding for community alarm systems when all the indications are that these are a good value-for-money means of supporting people to follow the body’s basic aim of preventing older and vulnerable people from getting into a bad way. I thought community alarm systems were part of the draft national strategy. Is not withdrawing them incompatible with the whole concept of supporting people?

The supporting people programme has helped some 814,000 elderly people and the provision of warden and alarm services is an important part of that. My hon. Friend will forgive me for not knowing the specific details that he raises, but there is consistent advice and guidance from my Department to local authorities.

Have not the Government been unfortunately successful in setting local authorities against local health trusts? Too often local authorities are asking elderly people to sell their homes for social care rather than for health care. There is confusion at local government level. Would the Minister like to clear up that confusion?

Yes, I would. That is precisely why the White Paper builds on the successful policy of local area agreements, on which there is consensus across local government, to allow better joining-up so that different public agencies—the council, the primary care trust and other agencies—work towards the same objectives and goals and not against each other.

The Association of Directors of Social Services puts the shortfall in funding for social care at £1.8 billion, and the Local Government Association reports that seven out of 10 councils are suffering from NHS cost-cutting pressures. Will the Minister now accept that there is a real crisis in social care and can he explain why this was completely overlooked in last week’s White Paper?

The hon. Lady’s comments sadden me, because she seems to fail to understand the difference between the need for health authorities to balance their books—which we all have to do in any walk of life—and the issue of cuts. Like local councils, the NHS has received extra funding year on year from this Government. Of course, that is not the same as the demands that are placed on councils, and I would be surprised if the Association of Directors of Social Services did not put forward demands for extra money, as it always has done. We listen to those demands carefully and work with the Local Government Association to identify cost pressures and, where possible, relieve them. The hon. Lady cannot paint a picture of reduced resources, as the opposite isthe case.