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Sheltered Housing

Volume 464: debated on Tuesday 16 October 2007

16. What assessment she has made of the level of satisfaction amongst older sheltered housing residents with floating support under supporting people. (158165)

Local communities know their areas best. That is why all decisions about how services are funded and monitored, including on satisfaction, are made at local level. It is central Government’s role to provide support and funding, and that is precisely what we are doing. My Department is providing £1.7 billion to local authorities for the supporting people fund this year. That money allows 800,000 older people to live independently, and more older people are getting the help that they need. Between 2006 and 2007, the number of older people getting housing support went up by nearly 20,000.

Does the Secretary of State accept that according to Age Concern many older people believe that the move to floating support has resulted in a second-class and fragmented service?

No, I do not accept that. Being able to be flexible in the way that supporting people funds are used means that we can use the money to best effect, so that it is not only people in sheltered housing who can get support but, increasingly, people in their own homes. As I said, we are helping 800,000 older people to live independently. The important thing is that the support is not tied to bricks and mortar; it is about assessing people’s real needs and having the flexibility locally to meet those needs. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman wants many more older people to be helped irrespective of their tenure.

But does my right hon. Friend accept that the process has added a level of complexity to the way in which most sheltered housing schemes work? They are tenanted and rented through local authorities or housing associations and the biggest problem is that the supporting people budget has not been the most stable one. Will she look at it again to ensure that older people have the security that they want and the stability of funding that they should expect?

Yes. Stability in funding is important, and I am sure my hon. Friend accepts that the amount of money that has gone into the fund has been very significant in recent years—£1.7 billion. The important thing is that local authorities should take into account the views of not just older people but the whole range of vulnerable people helped by the funding to ensure that services are tailored to the needs of those people. Built into the framework there is an absolute emphasis on making sure that the services are suitable for the often complex needs that supporting people funds are designed to meet.

I am surprised that the Secretary of State sounds so happy. Is it not the case that supporting people budgets have been slashed in recent years, largely because the Government underestimated the cost of provision, leaving councils to pick up the bill? The costs to councils of social care and support of the elderly are soaring, made worse by the NHS cuts that have shunted costs directly on to council bills. The Local Government Association issued a cross-party warning last week that council tax will be above the rate of inflation for the next three years. Does the Secretary of State share that assessment? Does she agree with it or is she still in denial?

Far from being in denial, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will accept that in many cases excellent Labour councils are providing more services. I am sure that the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Leech) is aware that his council in Manchester is a four-star local authority providing excellent services, with an excellent direction of travel. It is providing services to more older people this year than in the past. I have to tell the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) that, unfortunately, Conservative councils such as Hammersmith and Fulham and Suffolk county council have implemented significant cuts in support for older people. The contrast is absolutely obvious.