I beg to move,
That this House notes the concerns of the Grey Pride campaign; and calls on the Government to consider appointing a member of the Cabinet to be the Minister for Older People, to give a political voice to the older generation, to oversee the co-ordination of services which affect older people, and to focus on tackling the social and economic challenges of demographic change.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for selecting the motion for debate. I am pleased that the new Committee agreed with the previous Committee that the issue of co-ordinating policy for older people is worthy of time on the Floor of the House.
I should also thank at the start of my speech the 140,000 people who signed Anchor’s Grey Pride petition calling for a Minister for older people to be appointed. Unusually, it was not an online petition, and signatures were gathered from care home residents across the UK. I was approached by Anchor, a not-for-profit care home provider, as the Conservative chairman of the all-party group on ageing and older people, to help Anchor to present that petition at Downing street, and I was pleased to do so because I think the value of such an appointment is readily apparent.
The term “older people” is used often, but is likely to be used without much thought, even by those of us who purport to be their advocates. On a recent fact-finding mission to my local hospital’s physiotherapy department, I met an elderly gentleman exercising his leg. “Hello,” I said, “What’s your name?” “Donald” he replied. “Do you mind me asking how old you are Donald?” I asked. “I’m 83,” he said. “What happened to you?” I asked. “I broke my hip, my thigh and my shin bones,” he replied. As I thought of him trying to navigate a slippery pavement in his slippers, I ventured, “Gosh, that must have been a terrible fall.” “It was a parachuting accident,” was the matter-of-fact response. That shut me up.
Say, “older people” and the image that comes to mind is probably one of someone in gentle dotage plucking a Werther’s Original from his cardigan pocket and proffering it to a beaming grandchild, but what about the skilled manual worker who has been made redundant in his early 50s and is in need of a drastic career change to carry on working? What about the grey entrepreneur who has a cracking business idea but faces far more hurdles to get credit than a younger man would? What about the 80-year-old who is isolated in his own home, miles away from his family; or the couple who care for each other until one is ill but who cannot access the support they need because ad hoc domiciliary care is not an option?
I am pleased to hear my hon. Friend mention carers. In England and Wales, there are 1 million carers who are over 60 and 40,000 who are over 85. Does she believe that a Minister for older people would be able to act as a champion for those carers?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that issue. We recently had carers week and I know she is a great champion for all carers in her constituency.
There is huge and diverse range of older people. We now have the first generation of older people living with HIV, who worry whether they will find a care home with staff and residents who understand their needs. Evidently, older people are a diverse bunch with needs and problems that fall within the remit of many Departments—just like everyone else then—but too often policy is focused on the needs of the stereotypical old person. Too often, policy is made with the fit, the able-bodied, the internet-savvy and the average user in mind. Older people can be at the margins of those groups and are peculiarly exposed to the dangers of unintended consequences. There have been too many missed opportunities and unforeseen outcomes that have robbed the Treasury of income, the taxpayer of value for money and older people of life-enhancing opportunities.
There are many Ministers across Government with responsibilities that touch on some aspect of older people’s lives, but with only a narrow focus on one policy area. That is why someone in government must be responsible for the interests of older people. It would be no good if it were a Minister of State from the Department for Work and Pensions—I apologise to the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb)—or from the Department of Health, because they would be susceptible to the silo thinking we must avoid.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this is an issue not just for central Government but for local government? Does she agree with the findings in the Select Committee on Health’s report on social care that we need a single joint commissioner for health, social care and housing as we move forward into health reform?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I hope to give some practical examples of where I think that will have an effect.
The ministerial position should not be a new one; it should be an additional responsibility, and given to a member of the Cabinet. Hon. Members can see that I am not trying to insert an extra card with my name on it into the pack ahead of a reshuffle.
At the Cabinet table, Secretaries of State are jealous of their remit, ready to explain when another policy trespasses on their departmental interest. If there was someone with responsibility for older people, the implications for them of each policy presented to Cabinet could be considered. We have had forums, tsars, taskforces and champions but we are still a long way from where we need to be. We need to try something new. An older person is likely to get a better standard of care on a hospital ward if there is one nurse on the shift with particular responsibility for that patient. Someone who has responsibility and is accountable will speak up to protect the interests of those in their care.
In the days leading up to the debate, it was suggested to me that older people are doing rather well at the moment. The Government have introduced the triple lock on pensions, guaranteeing that the state pension will increase by the greatest of earnings, prices or 2.5%. Pensioners enjoy free bus travel and winter fuel payments, and the over-75s get a free TV licence. The DWP has done well, so it is not a shock that the Department is responding to the debate, and I am delighted about that. Against those arguments, however, we have to consider the disproportionate impact of cost of living increases on older people. Saga has shown that between 2007 and 2012, retail prices index cost of living increases affected the whole population by 16.5%, but for 50 to 64-year-olds, the figure was 19.1%; for 65 to 75-year-olds, it was 22.4%; and for the over-75s, it was 22.2%.
We would do well to consider the many reports on health and social care that do not paint a rosy picture. The Equality and Human Rights Commission report on domiciliary care, the Care Quality Commission report on hospital care, the Centre for Social Justice report on quality of life in isolation and today’s CQC report on medication management beg to differ from the optimistic view. There is huge unmet need. In my city, Portsmouth, the local authority has budgeted for an extra 200 social care clients over the next five years, due to an ageing population, but today 1,000 people in the city have dementia and no access to any services. Major policy issues such as pension reform, which I am pleased the Government have tackled, and social care reform, which we still have to tackle—I am pleased that we are to do so—have been left for too long.
We need to do better. There is an argument for additional responsibility for a Cabinet member, but such an initiative will be judged on the practical differences it makes. What might they look like? A YouGov survey on the attitudes of people over retirement age found that 14% of people aged over 60 live more than 100 miles away from their most significant family members, excluding their partner. Six per cent have to travel between 50 and 100 miles to family, 8% between 25 and 50 miles, and 12% saw or heard from their family less than once a month. Isolation and inactivity were recognised by the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology as accelerating
“physical and psychological declines, creating a negative spiral towards premature, preventable ill health and dependency.”
How are those issues reflected in transport policy? In my area, Southern Trains has recently introduced on the Portsmouth to Brighton route—a journey of 80 minutes —rolling stock that has no toilets. In rail franchise agreements, there is no mention of comfort standards or the provision of toilets, so old age pensioners could have to travel in crippling discomfort. The impact of the subsidy on train fares for old age pensioners is blunted, because it does not matter if the ticket is free when the mode of transportation is unusable. Older people are left with a poorer quality of life because there is another obstacle for them to overcome to stay in a job that involves a commute, and inactivity leads to demands on the health and social care budget. Transport Ministers may be sympathetic, but the Department refuses to act. A Minister for older people could intervene.
Let us look at the Treasury. In July 2011, the Office of Tax Simplification was asked to review the system for pensioner taxation. The interim report, published earlier this year, identified pay-as-you-earn on the state pension as an area to explore. People would not be taxed more, but would pensioners have to fill out self-assessment forms? Would they cope? Would they simply end up paying more tax through inability to process the forms? Plans have been mooted to combine income tax and national insurance contributions. Old-age pensioners do not pay such contributions, so will there be a different tax rate for them, or will pensioners be taxed more?
Quantitative easing and low interest rates are right for the economy as a whole, but they are not good for older people who annuitise their pensions and live off their savings. Quantitative easing has reduced gilt yields, on which annuities are based. The level of that annuity is then locked in. Should not offset measures be considered? What about an extra individual savings account allowance? More thought is needed if fairness is to be upheld.
Looking at work, economic analysts SQW found that older people benefit the economy by £175.9 billion, including £34 billion in social care and £10 billion in volunteering. Projections show that by 2030, those figures will be £291.1 billion, £52 billion and £15 billion respectively. That affirms what Saga has found about the willingness of older people to participate, in and out of work. Retirement is not a retreat from the world. Turning Point has asserted that integrated work to enable older people to stay independent for longer could produce savings of between £1.20 and £2.65 for every £1 spent from the public purse. Saga’s research suggests that 71% of over-50s would like to work part-time after 65, and 7% already work past the age of 70. The Office for National Statistics confirms that 1.4 million pensioners already work.
The demographic shift requires us to work longer, and we are willing and able to do so, but have businesses and industry really caught up? The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development suggests that 14% of managers do not believe that their organisations are ready for an older work force. The Government have responded to that need and willingness by abolishing the compulsory retirement age and increasing the state pension age, but those excellent policies have not been accompanied by moves really to help employers manage their older workers and recruit new ones. At the close of 2011, 189,000 over-50s had been unemployed for more than one year. Of unemployed over-50s, 43% are long-term unemployed, compared with 26% of unemployed 18 to 24-year-olds and 35% of unemployed 25 to 49-year-olds. Training is often denied to workers nearing state pension age, as is promotion. Flexible working, phased retirement and mentoring schemes are few and far between. We need to do more to help older workers and to encourage employers to take them on.
In social care, we could certainly make better use of what we already have. As chairman of the all-party group on ageing and older people, I often hear care home providers boasting about their wonderful new home—its facilities, hairdressers, spas and shops. Those care homes’ doors are often closed to the local community, yet a few streets away there will be an elderly woman who is still independent, but whose quality of life suffers for want of a social life and bathing facilities. How many bathing facilities lie unused in our hospitals, homes and hospices?
Another example of missed opportunity is that most local authorities do not direct self-funders inquiring about care home options to financial advice. Instead, they wait until those people have spent their savings and are a burden on the state. Schemes that enable people to offset the cost of their care and keep their property assets intact by renting their home to the local authority, thus easing pressure on housing waiting lists, are not widespread, despite the headache that such initiatives would cure.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is another anomaly in that a person who works and cares for their partner receives carer’s allowance, but as soon as they retire, although they continue to care full time for that partner, they have to choose either their state pension or their carer’s allowance? That is a direct incentive for caring retired spouses to call on the state for help, although it would be far better for their loved one if they continued to care for them, with a bit of state support.
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct, and I know that she has made that and many other suggestions to the Chancellor and highlighted the administrative savings, as well as the improvements to the individual’s quality of life, that would result.
Finally, let us look at Government communications. On taking office, the Government froze their £540 million advertising budget, and over the following nine months, they cut £130 million from it. Every time we mail an older person about approaching retirement or a free television licence and we do not accompany that mail with a flu-jab leaflet, information on the winter warmth scheme, or anything else that we want to send them that week, we are wasting that remaining budget.
Those are just a few examples of the way in which better focus in the Cabinet on older people’s issues could lead to improvements in the quality of life for older people and save us money. Who might be the person for that important job? It should not be the Secretary of State for Health or the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, because the heavy duties that they already have in relation to older people could militate against the panoptical approach that is required. There is an obvious parallel with the Home Secretary’s additional remit for women and equalities; a similar duty for older people may sit well there. Such are the financial possibilities of the reform that perhaps the youngest and emphatically least grey member of the Cabinet, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, should take on the role.
The Deputy Prime Minister, it appears, was at a loss as to what to do with himself in quiet hours at the Cabinet Office, and took to doodling constitutional wrecking balls on the back of fag packets. He is now very busy indeed encouraging us to abolish the House of Lords, where many older people are to be found doing great work for this country. If he turned his attention away from that constitutionally destructive policy towards this economically and socially constructive proposal, we would be much better off. There would be many candidates for the job and, given the massive gains to be made in the quality of life for older people as a result of effective and efficient government, as well as a better return on investment, one would think that there would be a long queue to do the job.
Further evidence of the need for a co-ordinating role is shown by how difficult it was to agree the responsibility to respond to this debate. I congratulate the Minister of State on stepping forward, on the work that his Department has done to protect the interests of older people, and on his initiative better to understand their needs through the UK advisory forum on ageing. I hope that he will take away from this debate the ideas and aspirations that contributors will discuss, and consider how we might do a better job of spotting the opportunities and understanding the ambitions of this generation. There is no better mark of the values of a nation than the way in which it treats its older generation. This Government, I am proud to say, are going to address the issue of long-term care, which will have far-reaching implications, and there is no better time to ensure policy on older people is well co-ordinated across Whitehall.
It is perhaps appropriate that our debate takes place on the day on which, at long last, Bomber Command has received the recognition that it deserves for its immense achievement and sacrifice. I hope that the Arctic convoy veterans, too, will soon achieve the recognition that they deserve. Many of us are wondering why something so needed, right and obvious should take so long to do. Quite.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I did not want to interrupt the hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), but as of four minutes ago, the fifth written ministerial statement on the Order Paper, from the Secretary of State for Education, on educational reform, had not appeared in the Vote Office, despite its contacting the Department to remind it that it said that it would issue that statement today. Is it not a discourtesy to the House, Madam Deputy Speaker, that nearly six hours after the House began to sit, the statement has still not arrived? After all, the Department is quick to leak stories to the Daily Mail, but it is slow to provide written ministerial statements that it has promised to the House.
Mr Brennan, you will be aware of Mr Speaker’s ruling in this matter. He has indicated in this Session—and, indeed, it was indicated in the previous Session—that written ministerial statements should arrive promptly on the day for which notice has been given. That does not stretch on a Thursday to 4.30 in the afternoon, so I will make inquiries as to when we expect to receive the statement to which you refer. I am sure that Ministers will ensure that it flies here as quickly as possible, because you are clearly keen to read it immediately.
If there are no further points of order, perhaps we can move on. I call Julie Hilling.
I am extremely pleased to speak in the debate and delighted to follow the hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt). I thank her for leading our request to the Backbench Business Committee for the debate.
Last August I was invited to visit Ryelands court in my constituency. Ryelands is an Anchor Homes development providing flats for older people in Westhoughton. They asked me to sign their petition for a Minister for older people and I was delighted to join the 137,000 other people who thought this was a good idea. As only 34% of 65 to 74-year-olds and 31% of people over 75 feel that they are able to influence decisions affecting their local area, and when 1.8 million pensioners are living in poverty—that is 16% of people over state pension age—I absolutely agree with the campaign for a Minister for older people.
Labour has already recognised the need for such a position with the appointment of my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall) as the shadow Minister for care and older people, with a seat in the shadow Cabinet. I very much hope this debate will encourage the Government to appoint a Cabinet member to champion the needs and aspirations of older people, with clear cross-departmental accountability for the services that they receive. One might ask why we need for a Minister for older people. Should it not be the responsibility of everyone? My experience of working with the issues of equality and discrimination over many years has taught me that as soon as we mainstream an issue and make it everybody’s responsibility, we lose focus and end up with nobody doing anything.
If we wonder why we should concentrate on older people, let me provide some statistics. Because of the baby-boomer generation of the 1950s and 1960s, the number of people over the age of 65 is likely to rise by 49% to more than 16 million in the next 20 years. Fortunately for the planet, but unfortunately for those of us who will be retiring, the growth in the younger population has not matched the longevity of older people and therefore many fewer people will be paying into the system. By 2020 more jobs are expected to be created than entrants to the work force, which is likely to mean that there will be considerable demand for older workers. However, there is significant age discrimination in our society. Policy Exchange did a blind study, applying for 1,200 jobs posing as both an older and a younger worker. The 51-year-old got fewer than half the number of positive responses that the 25-year-old received. Even though there are clear laws to prevent it, there is definitely a culture of bias against older workers.
We have also seen horrifying reports of the violation of older people’s right in the care system and in hospitals, including people being refused treatment on the basis of their chronological age, not on the basis of their fitness for treatment. We too often see older people as problems, not as equal members of society with the same hopes and fears as everyone else. Services to older people are not just about care, but about health, pensions, housing, transport, education and leisure, and we badly need someone around the Cabinet table championing their issues and making sure that there are no unintended consequences of policy.
Of course, the needs of older people can change very rapidly. Many hon. Members will have heard me talk on previous occasions about my mother’s journey. Twelve months and 10 days ago my mum was an incredibly active 86-year-old, still teaching three yoga classes a week, practising reflexology, driving her car, totally independent. Then, out of the blue, she suffered a very severe stroke. Overnight she went from an older person paying into the system to a recipient of care. During the past year Mum spent some time in acute care and a couple of months in a rehabilitation hospital, then she was back in acute care, and went into respite care for nearly eight months. She had fantastic physiotherapy and two months ago she made it back to her flat. Because the care home rarely sees anyone walking out on their own two feet, the staff laid out a red carpet for her. In fact, it was a pink blanket, but it was the same as a red carpet.
Mum now has carers four times a day, visits from the community matron, regular visits to the hospital, and is paying for physiotherapy. Whether it is because of her basic fitness when she had the stroke, or just because of her extreme determination—she is a very determined woman—she is continuing to make wonderful progress. The care that she received has varied from the excellent to the appalling, and if she did not have a family battling with her the whole way, I hate to think what may have occurred. She lost all dignity on this journey. The first day a young man wiped her bottom, she was so ashamed, but after 10 months she became used to depending on help—help that from the majority has been excellent, but a few of those who have cared for her should really think about a change in career. She is also £20,000 poorer and still worries about paying for her care. There are other costs. We have just booked to go on a cruise this summer, but it took me all day to find an insurance company prepared to insure her and, in the end, there was only one—thank you, Saga—at a cost of £750.
My mother’s story is not unusual. Families every day are facing the decision of whether or not to move their loved ones into a care home, wondering whether they can afford it and what will happen when the money runs out. We need someone at the Cabinet table battling for the Dilnot report or for another solution. Mum has been very lucky. Since the cuts to the Supporting People funds and local authority budgets, many people no longer receive any support in their homes. The £259 million Supporting People fund, which kept older people in sheltered housing, provided a net financial benefit of £1.1 billion by reducing the need for residential and nursing care, hospital admissions and home care. That money is gone. What a false economy.
As the hon. Member for Portsmouth North said, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has reported that isolation and inactivity accelerate physical and psychological decline, creating a negative spiral towards premature and preventable ill health and dependency. We now have a society in which often we live very far away from our loved ones: 14% of people over 60 live more than 100 miles from their most significant family member, and 12% of older people see family members less than once a month. The decline in adult education and the cuts to the voluntary sector leave more and more older people isolated in their homes.
Last month I visited Belong village in Atherton, a purpose-built and not-for-profit residential complex catering for people who need 24/7 care and also those who live independently in flats on the same complex. There are activities, a restaurant, exercise and much more, and it is open to the local community to come in and take part in those activities. We need to look at more examples like that and build homes that are fit for older people.
Hopefully, we will all become older people—in some people’s eyes many of us already are. Older people have specific needs that need to be championed. We need the Equality Act 2010 provision outlawing age discrimination in relation to goods and services to be implemented now, at a time when we have an ageing population who most need it. I hope that the Government listen to us, and the other 137,000 people, and appoint a Minister for older people as soon as possible.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) on leading the charge to secure this debate and all the other work she does on behalf of older people. It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling), whose mother I have had the privilege of meeting—she is indeed very fortunate to have such a daughter.
Before entering Parliament I was a local councillor in Kensington and Chelsea and served as older people’s champion for the borough. What I learned in that role has reinforced my support for the campaign, led by Anchor housing and supported by so many charities and housing organisations, for a clear voice at ministerial level for older people.
We already have Ministers with specific responsibility for women, children and people with disabilities. The Minister for Women is also the Minister for Equalities but, although that includes older people with regard to discrimination in the workplace, the Equalities brief is focused primarily on ethnic minorities and gay and transgendered people. If those five demographic groups are represented at ministerial level, why are older people not? Surely such different treatment implies some discrimination.
The arguments for having a Minister for older people go further than the fact that other demographic groups are represented at ministerial level. There are a specific set of interests and challenges associated with our ageing population that require the voice and insights of older people to be heard and taken into account across Government.
What would the role of an older people’s Minister involve? I have learned, from my own experience of a similar role locally, that older people’s interests are commonly perceived to lie in health, benefits and pensions, but that is a misperception, because older people have interests across a far wider spectrum of policy, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North said, in areas such as transport their experiences are totally different, on account of their age, from those of younger people.
One policy area that is of prime importance today is the voluntary sector, and research by HSBC has found that the economic value of volunteering among people over 60 years old is £4 billion. My constituency has a remarkable voluntary and charitable sector, which relies hugely on the energy and dedication of large numbers of people who have already retired from paid employment, so an older person’s Minister should champion that aspect of their lives. They are not a cost to, and a burden on, society; they are contributors to society.
The requirements of a Minister go well beyond the role of champion, however. A Minister should do battle for the cause, and that involves questioning and challenging the effects of policy on older constituents. I have a few examples from the past and present.
The social care budget for the five years to 2010 was almost static, meaning that the same budget had to stretch to cover more and more older people, and that local authorities were no longer able to fund care for people in moderate need. They started to restrict care to people in critical need, and that is going to have implications for the future which an older people’s Minister would have been able to spot and to anticipate.
There is still plenty to challenge on behalf of older people, and, as the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb) is here to answer our debate, I congratulate him on securing the best ever deal, as announced this year, for pensioners, but he will know that existing pensioners are concerned about proposals for a flat-rate individual pension for new pensioners from 2015.
If the new pension were set at £140 a week, it would provide a couple who both drew their pension with an income of more than £14,000 a year. Currently, a couple in receipt of the basic state pension and the additional state pension receive an income of more than £11,000, however, so the difference between what I understand to be the new flat rate, £140, payable to both members of the couple and the amount paid to existing pensioners in a couple will be almost £3,000 a year. I welcome the desirability of a new system in terms of simplicity and the restoration of incentives to save, but I ask the Minister to address the sense of unfairness building up among the currently retired population.
There is also a need to challenge the “never had it so good” mentality that has built up among think tanks and interest groups, one example of which the Institute for Fiscal Studies published recently. There are affluent pensioners, and some are asset-rich and income-poor, but there is also considerable pensioner poverty. The scandalous deaths of older people each winter, owing to fuel poverty and numbering more than 20,000 in the most recent year for which figures are available, shame our society.
I have covered the importance of a Minister for older people as champion, advocate and challenger of policy, but the final critical aspect of the role would be to act as a critical friend to the older population; the job could not simply be to promote older people’s economic interests in a silo, as if the wider economy were not an issue. That is why I spoke up for the measure, announced in the Budget, to reduce the special tax threshold that is allowed for pensioners.
One of the toughest jobs of the Minister for older people would be to manage the expectations of our older population now and of the general population as they approach old age. The Government have taken difficult decisions to raise the retirement age and to put public sector pensions on a more sustainable footing, but we will in time have to go further. It is a year since the Dilnot commission reported on the funding of long-term care. I understand that there is no new money to fund Dilnot’s recommendations, and a new Minister will have to level with families and older people about what is affordable and what will have to be financed by individuals, families and private insurance schemes in future. I personally subscribe to much of what is in the commission’s proposals as regards standardising eligibility criteria, making care packages more portable around the country, and setting out standards that individuals and carers can expect.
I am pleased that the Government are going to bring forth a Bill in this Parliament to address these matters, and more, but I hope that if they accept the need for an older people’s Minister, that person would start to lay out what it is reasonable to expect and not to expect from the taxpayer towards implementing Dilnot’s fundamental recommendations on the funding of long- term care.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Margot James). I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), who made an intelligent and wide-ranging speech that helpfully set the parameters for this debate.
First, I want to talk about the treatment of the Arctic convoy veterans, which is a disgrace to our nation. My constituent, Mac McNeill, who was a boy when he volunteered to join what was unfortunately classified as the “non-Royal Navy”, experienced the most horrendous hardships during that period of his life and saw many of his friends and comrades die. He pointed out to me the irony of his having a chestful of medals from the Soviet Union—the Russian Federation—but very little by way of recognition from our own society. In that respect, I heartily agree with the hon. Member for Portsmouth North.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is aware that the Prime Minister has instigated a review that is due to report imminently; I gave evidence to it, as did many other hon. Members. I therefore hope that the situation will be rectified very shortly.
I strongly join the hon. Lady in hoping that that is the case. It is a matter not only of justice but of recognising the contribution that our fellow citizens made at a time of national need and crisis.
Secondly, we need to think about how we classify the needs of the elderly. The hon. Member for Portsmouth North rightly drew our attention to her 83-year-old constituent who is fit and active enough to jump out of planes—something that many of us in this Chamber would not want to do, at less than 83 years of age. I can think of people who would not necessarily be classified as elderly but have the same needs. Somebody said to me today that, ironically, dementia is not a working-class condition. That may be an extension of the reality, but there is some truth in it, because those who die younger suffer less from the conditions that are associated with age. Areas such as the one that I represent unfortunately have that social categorisation.
Someone recently drew my attention to a home where victims of stroke were given care, including a man in his fifties who was mentally very fit and active but physically severely taken down by the stroke that he had had. He found that he was treated wrongly in the same way as more elderly residents, but in his case it was more challenging because he knew what was going on. It is wrong that what he described could happen to anybody, but particularly wrong that it happened to somebody in their fifties. He knew that he was not being given his medication properly, but when he complained the staff treated him as though he were foolish, doddery and incapable of remembering, yet of course he had his memory and knew that he was being badly treated.
There is a real and proper concept of responsibility in issues to do with the elderly. Perhaps the Justice Secretary is the right person to take this on; I suspect that he has a natural feel for these issues.
We need to be careful that we do not silo what we mean by care for the elderly, because it covers a huge range of issues. It is important that we recognise that among the elderly are people like the elderly woman in my constituency who is well into her hundreds, but still helps those who are frailer than her, although considerably her junior, by taking them cups of tea and such like. When I asked her one day whether she was going to play bingo with the other old people she said, “No, no, I am going to walk down to the local commercial bingo hall—the prizes are better.” She does not need many of the things that would be classified as being for the elderly. It is important that we accept the point made by the hon. Member for Portsmouth North that it is the concept that we need, rather than an overly rigid classification of the elderly.
In my few remaining moments, I want to talk about something that troubles me and that I think will trouble all Members of the House. Every one of us would say that the recent case of the abuse of young children in Rochdale was an outrage and that the full force of the law ought to be used against those who brutally use and abuse our young children. We ought to have exactly the same sense of outrage at the abuse of the vulnerable and elderly. The stroke victim to whom I referred a few moments ago would be in that category. We are a considerable way off that.
I say to the Minister gently that the Care Quality Commission may have its merits, but the jury is out on what it has been doing. I heard on the radio this morning about its report on the giving of medicines. The comment was made—I paraphrase, but I do not think unfairly—that 80% of the time it is going well. Eighty per cent. of the time is not good enough when dealing with individuals. One hundred per cent. of the time is good enough. Ninety-nine per cent. is not good enough because it means that some people are not getting the medication that they need.
When there is abuse of the elderly, such as in the Winterbourne View case, we have to look to the criminal justice system. We need a much more robust system of whistleblowing, whereby those who feel that they are not being listened to can have their voice heard and can have matters fast-tracked. I concede that in many cases inspection is the right way to deal with such problems, but in the worst cases, the full force of the criminal law must be brought in to prevent the abuse. If we are not prepared to say that those who abuse our elderly will end up with criminal sanctions, we will have failed.
Last night, a debate was started about whether the criminal law has a role to play in dealing with Barclays bank. If we are prepared to talk about the role of the criminal law in dealing with financial irregularities, we should certainly be able to talk about its role when the vulnerable and elderly are treated in the most appalling way. Everybody would agree with that statement, but we must fast-track the process for those who are subjected to threats or to care that is inappropriate. There must be a system of gradation by which we begin to improve where improvement is possible and to clamp down on the very worst features.
I will finish as I began: by congratulating the hon. Member for Portsmouth North. This is a genuinely important debate. There are many other concerns for the elderly that we could raise and she has raised many important issues.
I will make one final point, which is slightly partisan, but is nevertheless important. The Prime Minister opened up a debate this week about how we treat people within the welfare system. He said that he would honour the pledge on the winter fuel payment and free transport for the elderly for the life of this Parliament. We could do with some clarification of what that means for after the next election. I understand that the Minister can answer for only one half of the coalition, but we need to have that debate. If we are to see changes in this area, they ought to be debated by society in general. If we are talking about the quality of life of the elderly, and not simply about the economic functioning of the elderly, we have to recognise that things such as access to transport and people’s ability to maintain their role as full members of society depend on a form of social contract. That is why a champion for the elderly would be an important step forward.
When I saw the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) and her mother in a wheelchair on the Terrace on the day of the flotilla, I had no idea what the circumstances were. I have now found out that it was the first outing for her mother. All I would say after the hon. Lady’s moving speech is that her mother can be extremely proud of her daughter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) made a splendid speech—her remarks about the other place will live with me for some little while. I congratulate her on securing the debate, and the Backbench Business Committee, of which I am unashamedly a member, on having the good sense to grant it.
There is some disappointment with the motion. I had rather hoped we would be given the opportunity to make our pitch to become Minister for the elderly, but my hon. Friend cleverly says in the motion that the responsibility will go to a current member of the Government. I should also tell my hon. Friend that the longer she is here, the more she will struggle to find anything original to say. She will not be surprised that, over the years, a number of colleagues have made similar suggestions. However, I want her to be in a position to celebrate after the debate, and after, perhaps, we hear from No. 10 of the appointment of a Minister with responsibility for older people.
As my own dear mother starts her second century, I have some experience in these matters. There seems to be a fashion—I think it was started by my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon)—for colleagues to go around with broken arms, wrists and knees, and hip replacements. Everyone seems to be on crutches or in wheelchairs. Only when people associate with those who need wheelchair assistance do they stop saying, “What a wretched nuisance” when they see someone trying to get by on a Zimmer frame or in a wheelchair. They instead say, “How can we raise the money for a lift for elderly people?” Only when those things touch people do they realise how valuable they are, as the hon. Member for Bolton West rightly reminded the House. I congratulate Anchor, which is a wonderful organisation, on getting 140,000 people to sign an online petition. That is a great triumph.
Many people would say that as people move on and become older, they return to childhood. I do not mean that judgmentally. When we are very young, we are totally dependent on others, which is eventually what happens in later life. There is a further link between young and old: they are the times of life when people are best placed to impart wisdom. Older people’s roles as grandparents and great-grandparents should be recognised—that vital glue across generations holds our society together.
There is a crucial difference between the old and the young in this country: younger generations are heavily catered for in politics through the Department for Education, but far less support is available for those classified as older people. We used to hear about joined-up Government and Departments working together. No doubt the Minister will contradict me, but I need to be convinced that that is happening currently. For the sake of joined-up Government, however, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North—my younger hon. Friend—on introducing the motion to give a Minister responsibility for older people.
According to Age UK Essex, there are fewer under-18s in the UK than over-65s. The total number in this age group stands at 10.3 million. Each year, 650,000 more people turn 65, and one-fifth of the population is of pensionable age. What is more, with ever-better health care, life styles and support, more people are living longer. On average, people in Southend live to 80. We all welcome that change, of course, but we want people to grow old with dignity. According to projections from Age UK, the number of people aged 60-plus will increase by 50% over the next 25 years, while in 2083 one in three people will be over 60. So we are clearly faced with a serious problem.
My constituency has the most senior citizens in the country. Every year, we have a tea party—we have been in the Guinness book of records three times and are having another one this year to break the world record again. It is wonderful: as they leave the tea party, they always say, “See you next year.” According to recent statistics outlined by Age UK, 36.1% of Southend’s population is classified as “old”. More than 24,000 people are aged between 65 and 84, while more than 5,000 are over 85. The trend in Essex is clear: over the next 15 years, we can expect a 39% increase in the number of over-65s.
All I am saying is that this is happening, and we cannot bury our heads in the sand. In earlier years, we have had big arguments about people having to sell their homes—it was all wrong in terms of people’s inheritance and so on. It will be a brave political party—I know we have a coalition at the moment—that faces up to the terrible question of how we fund the future care of an ageing population. When I go around the excellent care homes in my constituency, it is heartbreaking to be told, “There are never any visitors for some of our residents, but when it comes to the funeral, they all turn up to see what they’ve been left.” These are real issues that we need to face up to.
There is a wide variety of issues affecting older people, and services need to be co-ordinated. From pensions, and health and social care, to fuel poverty and housing, each individual will have problems unique to them, and in most instances these problems will span several Departments. Essex Age UK has researched what sort of support older people would like, and its conclusions included: mobility, managing personal affairs, transport, better access to information and recreational opportunities. Older people need to be stimulated. It is no good everyone sitting in a lounge with no stimulation. If we stimulate older people, their quality of life improves.
Would my hon. Friend add to his excellent list the role for technology in helping to improve the lives of older people? In my area, Devon and Cornwall, more than 250 older people go missing every year, many of them with dementia. Many technological advances can be used to give older people much greater confidence to go out, knowing they can be found quickly and easily, and to reduce distress. Also, many technological improvements can keep older people in touch, give them a link with younger people and improve their IT skills.
I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend, who is right to mention dementia. Fortunately, in our area, through the generosity of a local resident, Ivan Heath, we will shortly be opening Peaceful Place to care for people with dementia. My goodness that is an issue we must increasingly face up to, given our ageing population. She is also right to talk about the assistance that improved technology can provide.
The Dilnot commission, agreed to in the coalition agreement, has now reported, with some controversy. I have been involved in this issue for some time, and in 2000 I was fortunate to come fourth in the ballot for private Members’ Bills, so I am associated with the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000, which sought to eliminate fuel poverty, and the more that colleagues can do to advertise the help available to older people, the better. There is much they can claim.
In conclusion, there is a good precedent for creating a Minister for older people within the current Government. We have a Minister for nearly every walk of life—for children, for disabled people, for women and equalities—so why can we not have one for older people? Such a position might even warrant a promotion. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) who does a splendid job as Home Secretary is concurrently the Minister for Women and Equalities, managing both roles equally well. A dual role could easily be managed by one of my right hon. or hon. Friends. It is important to note this has been done internationally—in Ireland, Canada and New Zealand, for example. Ministers for older people have been appointed in those countries.
We should do everything we possibly can to ensure that people in old age are treated with as much respect and dignity as possible. They have worked all their lives, experienced a huge number of scenarios and situations and contributed to this country in countless ways. If it were not for the sacrifices of older people in the first and second world wars, we would not have our Parliament today. We have a duty to support them. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North again, as this debate represents a significant step in the right direction. I fully expect a Minister to announce from the Dispatch Box at the end of the debate that the Government will indeed appoint a Minister for older people.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess), who made a fantastic speech, highlighting the human challenges that many older people face and rightly arguing that people who have worked hard for our country deserve to be properly looked after in their retirement.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) for initiating this debate. She was absolutely right to say that we need a more integrated approach to elderly care nationally and locally. She was also right to highlight the importance of housing as part of that integrated approach. I am somewhat reassured that this Government have already taken great strides in the right direction properly to support and recognise the needs of older people. I am somewhat more reassured than my hon. Friend about the Government’s plans to reform the upper House. I look forward to speaking in support of those plans in the debate that will take place shortly.
Before the general election, Age UK set an important test on the key challenges facing elderly care in this Parliament. It is worth highlighting what those challenges were and measuring what the Government have done to meet them. We can be greatly reassured that the Government are already well on the way to dealing with many of the issues older people face today.
First, Age UK set out the problem of forced retirement, which it said must be ended by scrapping the default retirement age. The Government have clearly done that in their first few months. Older people should be allowed to work while they are able to work. The default retirement age discriminated against the valuable contribution older people can make and continue to make to the workplace. This Government should be proud—I am proud to be part of them—of scrapping that discrimination against older people. Government Members can all be proud of that.
The second test set by Age UK was that radical reform of the care and support system should be taken forward as an urgent priority. I am pleased to note the consensual approach across the House today, which, wherever possible, is an important part of that. I am greatly encouraged by the fact that the Minister with responsibility for adult care and social care will respond later this year to the Dilnot commission’s funding proposals and assess how we can better look after older people and better integrate care at the local level so that we can provide greater dignity in elderly care. We have heard a lot today about abuses and indignities and about variability in the care system, which was brought home to us very effectively by the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling). It is important that the Government continue to support older people and improve the social care system.
The third test that Age UK set for the incoming Government before the election was that they should prevent the current system from collapsing, and introduce proper safeguards that would guarantee joined-up, integrated care through health-related spending. The Government have already committed themselves to investing £3.8 billion in the NHS to provide the necessary integration between the NHS and social care. My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North rightly said that more joined-up care was needed at a local level. Only if that additional £3.8 billion is filtered into local NHS providers—hospitals and primary care providers—will we be able to secure the joined-up, integrated care, involving adult social services and health care providers, that we need so badly in order to focus on preventive care for older people.
Age UK’s fourth challenge was that the commitment to link the basic state pension with earnings must be honoured by 2012, and pension payments must be increased over time as and when that became affordable. The Government have already achieved that as well. The triple lock on pensions will ensure that, for the first time, older people will receive a meaningful increase in the basic state pension every year. That will help them to meet the rising cost of living, especially in these difficult economic times. The commitment in this year’s Budget to increase the basic state pension to £140 a week is a commitment of which the Government can be proud, and we know that it will become a reality in the future.
The fifth and final test was that NHS resources must be redirected towards community health services that sustain a good quality of life by preventing and treating common health conditions. As I have said, the Government have made a clear commitment to invest £3.8 billion in the NHS to support interaction with local social care services, but, in addition, a major element of their health care reforms was the establishment of health and wellbeing boards. For the first time, primary care practitioners, secondary care clinicians, nurses, housing providers such as Anchor—all the key players who are so essential to providing that joined-up, integrated care for older people—will be brought together.
As has already been said today, it can no longer be considered acceptable for older people to fall and break their hips because of poor housing conditions and poor lighting in their homes, and for the NHS to have to deal with the consequences. The challenge must be to provide more integrated care and better preventive care, and we will do so by ensuring that all the key players work together properly. The establishment of local health and wellbeing boards was a step in the right direction towards the provision of the joined-up, integrated care that we want, which will save the NHS money, but, more important, will provide dignity in elderly care.
Already, two years into the current Parliament, the Government have passed all five of the tests set for them by Age UK. We look forward to the proposals for meaningful reform of the social care system and proper funding that the Government will present later in the year, but I am reassured that they are already making great strides in relation to elderly care. What they are doing for older people has already surpassed what has been done by many Governments in the past.
Although I consider the appointment of an older people’s Minister to be a laudable notion, I think that the Government are doing very well already.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) on securing this important debate, and I am glad to have an opportunity to raise the views of Blackpool here in the Chamber. Blackpool is in many respects a pensioners’ capital. We have just hosted the National Pensioners Convention, at which the Minister with responsibility for adult and social care, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow), was due to speak. Unfortunately, however, he had to return to the Chamber to reply to an Opposition day debate. The NPC replaced him at the Winter Gardens with a cabbage. I am not sure what fruit or vegetable the pensions Minister might like to be represented by; he might tell us when he delivers his winding-up speech. I should warn him, however, that the banana has already been taken by the right hon. Member for South Shields (David Miliband), so it is off the menu.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) told us that his constituency had the most pensioners. I am trying to compete with him in that regard. As with most coastal towns, both Blackpool and Southend have large populations of retirees.
Modesty forbids me from commenting, so we will draw a veil over that.
My constituency has the most people who live in a household with someone with a long-term medical condition, so carers policy perhaps matters more there than in any other seat. I am therefore as aware as any Member about some of the issues raised today.
In order to access carer’s allowance, people have to apply for pension credit, to which they may not be entitled. People might know that that application will be rejected, but they still have to apply in order to access carer’s allowance—an obvious anomaly in accessing benefits. Although we all know that many pensioners do not claim everything that they are entitled to, they are still not getting what they should be getting.
I know from my postbag and my surgeries that there would be no shortage of work for a Minister for older people. Almost every Government Department has some policy issue that matters more to older people than to any other group.
The Service Personnel and Veterans Agency is located in my constituency. I will spend the next three days attending various Blackpool veterans week events, because I know that matters, not least to my older constituents. My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North talked about the Arctic convoys medal, too.
Buses are another key issue, as in my constituency they are used predominantly by elderly residents. There are also complicated matters such as the past presence test, about which we are arguing with the European Union, as well as eligibility for benefits when abroad, and what happens when people return. There is a long list of such issues—and I have not yet mentioned long-term care for the elderly and the Dilnot report.
I am something of a nostalgia specialist. I like to look back at the first post-war Labour Government, and try to do so with a degree of fondness because they knew how to use royal commissions as a policy-making tool. They managed to secure all-party support, and produced some of our greatest welfare reforms. Sadly, the last Labour Government turned their back on royal commissions as a policy tool. I remember the royal commission on long-term care. It was a gargantuan exercise—voluminous, colourful, pretty—yet it was utterly ineffective because nothing ever happened after it. The journey to secure reform of long-term care has been long, arduous and, hitherto, fruitless, yet I retain some optimism that the current Government might find enough coins down the back of the sofa to get things right this time; I have my fingers crossed.
As well as the range of issues Members on both sides of the House have raised today, it should be stated that we face a demographic challenge, which we must overcome. It is time that we thought about setting up a royal commission on the consequences for this country of having an ageing population. It would cover a much wider remit than trying to solve a specific policy problem. It would assess what the challenges are and what they mean for every Government Department.
A key issue in this regard is the consequences of having a population that is—to put it crudely, perhaps—dying more slowly. We no longer die rapidly from heart attacks or other such conditions that might hit us in our prime. Now, the decline is much slower and gradual, and it is much more expensive for the taxpayer in providing appropriate care. That deserves some analysis.
The specific proposal to have a Cabinet Minister in this area is an interesting one. This question is not so much about policy towards the elderly, but about government architecture: how do we make things happen in government? As many have pointed out, we have Ministers for the disabled and for children. Both positions are at Minister of State level and both cross more than one Department. We also have a Minister for pensions—the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb), whom I am delighted to see on the Front Bench today—and a Minister for adult social care. Perhaps they could arm-wrestle each other for the title of being the Minister for older people. That Minister could sit across both the relevant Departments and perhaps could have the same effect that the Ministers for children and for the disabled are having. I do not think that someone needs to be in the Cabinet to achieve things. There is a grave danger of our being more concerned about the name and where this person sits than about what they can actually achieve. We have had a history of tsars—an entire palace of Romanovs was produced by the previous Government—all of varying effectiveness, which was often not related at all to where they sat or where their home was. What matters is what someone does.
It is worth looking at what is done abroad, because there are some instructive lessons. I do not normally take the French as a model of how to behave in any situation in life, but they have often had a ministry of solidarity between the generations, as they put it. That is an interesting concept. We often battle in this country, with some saying that the young are getting too many resources and others saying that the elderly are. That French Department tried to resolve the two, to bring them together and to work out how intergenerational solidarity is actually created. To be honest, I do not know whether it worked terribly well, but it is an interesting idea that is worth thinking about.
Australia has a Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, who is No. 2 in the health Department. So the Australians do have a Minister for older people, although some might quibble about the linking of those two things. In Ireland, Áine Brady, a Fianna Fáil Minister in the previous Government, was Minister for Older People and Health Promotion. Sadly that particular Government left office—it was not sad for the Irish people, as this is democracy—and the current Government decided not to retain that title.
I note that the Labour party has a Front-Bench spokesman on this specific issue. I can go as far as to welcome that, but I note that in opposition we had a shadow Minister for coastal towns and that role did not survive the transfer to office. It is far easier in opposition for people to create the architecture around what they want to campaign on, rather than around the architecture of the Government buildings that they then have to slot into. So that provides a good example, too.
The example I pray in aid in particular is that of New Zealand, which does have a Minister for older people, sited in its Ministry of Health. New Zealand also has an office for senior citizens, situated in its Ministry of Social Development. That is a particularly interesting combination. Before Conservative Front Benchers start to worry that I am proposing yet another quango, I can tell them that they need not fear as nothing could be further from my mind. None the less, what both Ireland and New Zealand had in common was that they had first developed what they called a “positive ageing strategy”. So before they appointed the Minister, they ensured that the Minister had something to do. One of my concerns is that if we have a general Minister whose objective is to proof all policies so that older people do not experience a disbenefit, we will end up getting a bit fluffy and soggy. I would far rather have a set of very specific areas that affect older people that the Government should be focusing on; these would be certain policy areas that should be driven through.
As much as I love the Deputy Prime Minister—I adore him, I swear I do—I know that he is burdened by trying to cope with the problems of social mobility, which are being discussed in Westminster Hall at the moment. I am not sure that I would wish to give him older people to deal with as well, because he has to fit in trips to Rio; one man cannot do everything, surely. Rather than simply nominating one Cabinet Minister and tacking older people on to the end of their responsibilities, I would far prefer it if we created a new role that had a very specific remit, that had a positive ageing strategy behind it and that had only a handful of specific policy proposals to see through. In this country, we do not define the remit of a Government Department closely enough. We have aspirations, but often they read to me as waffle. A good example is HS2. One of the Department for Transport’s goals is to introduce HS2, which is fine, but it never says why that is particularly important. It states the goal, not the reasons for it. I would far rather we had a much narrower focus.
I welcome the debate and think it is an opportunity to put dignity at the forefront of everything we do in government. Sometimes, I am disappointed that Ministers do not always have dignity at the forefront of their minds in every decision they take. We should not need a new Minister to achieve that, but if that is what it takes then so be it. Once again, I congratulate the hon. Member for Portsmouth North on securing this important debate.
I start by thanking the Backbench Business Committee for enabling this important debate to take place, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) on securing it. I know that she has been very committed to the issue and I am delighted that we have discussed it today. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling), the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Margot James), my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Tony Lloyd), and the hon. Members for Southend West (Mr Amess), for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) and for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) for their speeches.
In particular, I thank Anchor for the superb Grey Pride campaign it has run and the 137,000 people who signed its petition, which made today’s debate possible. As hon. Members might know, the Leader of the Opposition created the post of shadow Minister for older people in the shadow Cabinet in October last year, and I feel privileged and honoured to have been appointed to the position. I hope the Government will follow suit and appoint their own Minister for older people in the Cabinet, and I will use my speech today to explain why.
My first point is obvious, but none the less important: older people are not an homogenous group. They have different views, needs and expectations, just as people in any other age group do. We would not treat everyone aged nought to 50 as a single group, yet this is exactly what we do for people aged 50 to 70, 80, 90, 100 or even beyond. Our discussions and debates about older people tend to be based on one image or stereotype, usually that of a very elderly person, frequently frail or dependent and in need of care and support. The need to develop a better, fairer system of care is a huge challenge and one that I will return to later, but the reality is that most people in their 50s and 60s are not frail or dependent and they want never to be so. Rightly, many do not regard themselves as old at all—my mum and dad certainly do not. Many older people are still in paid work, and local businesses and the economy benefit hugely from their skills, experience and incomes. They play a part in their local community, in voluntary groups or as councillors, and they help with local public services and in churches and faith groups. They also help to look after their grandchildren, and sometimes their own elderly parents; an increasing number do both.
Before I came to the Chamber, I was at a very interesting event organised by Grandparents Plus where I was told that 28% of grandparents have parents still living. They are a sandwich generation, helping out with the kids as well as helping their own parents. We have what I would call the young old as well as the older old, and the young old want to try new things, especially when they have retired, to develop new skills and to travel to different places. They want to enjoy their lives. They want to have fun, if they have time to do so after all the other things they are doing.
The aspirations of today’s over-60s are in many ways quite different from those of previous generations. My parents have quite different expectations from their parents of the kind of life they want. My expectations, those of my niece and those of the one in three babies born this year who will live to be 100 years old will be very different in the future too.
If older people are not an homogenous group, if they have different views, needs and expectations, why have a Minister for older people? The first reason is that despite all their differences, one thing that the young old and older old frequently say is that they too often feel invisible to politicians, businesses, public services and the media. That is a key reason behind the Grey Pride campaign: to ensure that the needs and views of older people are heard and understood at the highest level, so that we can change attitudes about older people, challenge the stereotypes and put older people at the forefront of British political debate. Of course, a Minister for older people could not do that on their own: local businesses, councils, public services, voluntary groups and the media all have a vital role to play, but the Government can and must take action. The previous Labour Government’s Equality Act 2010 will be crucial in helping to turn the tide on some of the age discrimination we see, including in goods and services, but Governments must also take positive steps to ensure that older people’s needs and concerns are actively promoted in every area.
That leads me to the second reason why we need a Minister for older people: to ensure that all Departments understand the issues facing older people and that work is properly co-ordinated across Government. Many hon. Members have discussed the different Departments that need to understand the views, feelings and expectations of older people. Let me repeat some of those and add some more.
I am listening to the hon. Lady with great interest and I congratulate her on her role. Does she think that because for 13 years the previous Government did not have someone in this role, they failed older people?
I think we made big improvements for older people, but far more needs to be done. One of the biggest challenges—transforming the care system for older people—requires action across Government. It is not something that a Minister for older people could do on their own. They would need the Treasury, No. 10, the Department for Work and Pensions and other Departments to be closely involved. It is a matter of having someone who can help to co-ordinate action across Government and provide a stronger voice at Cabinet level. That is the role a Minister for older people would perform.
Let us consider some of the other areas in which we need to make sure that older people’s needs and concerns are heard. Take education policy, which some might not think would be relevant. We need to understand that as people live longer and need to work for longer, lifelong learning is essential to help them to develop new and different skills. In family-friendly working, we need to understand that a quarter of all grandparents— 3.5 million in total—are still working as well as helping to look after their grandchildren.
Several hon. Members have mentioned housing policy. We must ensure that there is a range of good-quality options for people as they get older, so that they are not given a choice between living in their own home or a care home; there should be various stages in between. Transport policy is also very important. I am sure that many hon. Members find that bus services are a big issue in their constituency. Making sure that services are linked up is a big challenge. Our energy policy must also take into account the needs of older people, many of whom have very high energy and heating bills, particularly if they have long-term health conditions.
Having a Minister for older people in Cabinet would help to ensure that all Departments were more aware of the issues and concerns I have raised, but the final and most important reason why we need the role is that, as a society and a country, we need to face up to the major economic and social challenges of demographic change. That is a key issue behind Grey Pride’s campaign and is highlighted in the motion. Many hon. Members have spoken about pensions, and I am sure the Minister will speak about them too, but I will focus on care and support.
That must be one of top priorities for the Minister for older people because it is one of the biggest challenges facing Britain today. That is why one of the options would be to have the Minister for older people in the Department of Health, because the key to transforming the care system is in transforming the NHS. Social care budgets have been under increasing pressure for many years, but the care system has now reached breaking point. Adult social care makes up around 40% of local council budgets—up to 60% in some areas—and it is their biggest discretionary spend. When the Government are cutting local council budgets by a third, it is inevitable that services for older people will suffer. Figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government show that more than £1 billion has been cut from local council budgets for older people’s social care since the coalition Government came to power. The result is that councils are raising their eligibility criteria: 80% now provide care only for those with substantial or critical needs, up from 50% only four years ago.
I did say that social care budgets had been under increasing pressure for many years, but local councils are now facing cuts of a third in their overall budget. Adult social care is their biggest discretionary spend, so they face real challenges and are moving their criteria from modest to only substantial and critical need.
Preventive services have all but disappeared in many areas. Fewer older people get free care; more end up having to go into hospital, or are unnecessarily stuck in hospital or more expensive residential care. Charges are increasing across the country and vary hugely depending on where people live. It is not just older people who are suffering, but their families. Carers suffer ill health and some have to give up work because the right services are not available. There are costs to the taxpayer if they are not in work and contributing financially. There are also increased benefit bills.
The fundamental problem, and another reason why a Minister for older people is important, is that our welfare state was established in a very different age. In 1948, average life expectancy was 66 for men and 71 for women; now, it is more than 78 for men and 82 for women. Some health conditions that are now common amongst older people, such as dementia, were almost unknown back then, and many disabled children died at a young age. Social expectations were very different. Disabled adults had fewer rights, and people automatically assumed that women would stay at home to care for their families.
I am going to be supportive. The hon. Lady is making some good points. Does she agree that not only the welfare state was set up for a previous era, but also the NHS? It is a crisis-management system built around acute hospitals, and the challenge has to be to deliver more care in the community.
I thank the hon. Gentleman. I meant welfare state in its broadest sense, including the NHS. That is the big challenge for us. We have to make a fundamental shift in the focus of services—out of hospitals, into the community and towards prevention and early intervention to help keep people as fit and healthy as possible for as long as possible. Services need to be more joined up and personalised to meet individual needs.
The previous Government made big improvements. We backed integrated care, including care trusts such as the one I recently visited in Torbay, which has made huge progress. We invested £230 million in extra care housing projects, which have made a big difference in older people’s health and physical condition, and we introduced personal budgets and direct payments. I hope that this Government will build on many of those developments in their long awaited White Paper, but we shall not be able to tackle the care crisis unless we reform care funding.
Several Members have talked about the Dilnot commission, which represents the best opportunity in a generation to reform the way care is funded. It is an opportunity that politicians in all parties must grasp with both hands. We tried to get cross-party agreement on social care funding at the last election. We did not succeed, but we are determined to try again now. That is why my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition initiated cross-party talks when Dilnot’s recommendations were published.
I am concerned about the fact that the Government have backtracked on their promise to legislate in this parliamentary Session for new legal and social frameworks for social care. The Queen’s Speech included only a draft Bill on reforming social care law. The Opposition want legislation on a new system for funding social care in this Parliament, and we are pressing for that in the cross-party talks, but that can only come about if there is commitment at the highest level—not just from a Minister or shadow Minister for older people, but from No. 10, No. 11 and other members of the Cabinet.
Our ageing population is something that we should celebrate. Older people make a huge contribution to their families and our society; I see that in my constituents’ lives, and in mine—as often as I get to see my parents. However, our society has barely begun to understand the implications of this vast demographic change. A Minister for older people would make a big difference, but it is incumbent on all politicians—local and national—across the spectrum to understand that we must work together to deliver a better, more dignified life for people, so that they can live a long, fulfilling life, and have more life to their years, as well as more years to their life.
There were just eight contributions—but eight high-quality ones, from Members on both sides of the Chamber—to this debate on an important issue. The unanimous view of all those who took part was that we should congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), who introduced the topic in a very effective way. I also congratulate her on the work of the all-party group on ageing and older people, which she chairs, and I congratulate the Backbench Business Committee—some of its eminent members are here today—on making sure that we had the time to discuss the crucial issue of how we best ensure that older people have an effective political voice. That would be the united perspective.
We have heard diverse views. We heard a suggestion that the Minister for older people should be an additional role for the Home Secretary. We heard it suggested that it should be the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, or perhaps another Cabinet Minister. My hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) suggested that the Government were doing pretty well without a Minister for older people, although the post might be a welcome addition.
I assure the House, from my now extensive experience—two years—in government, that the idea that the views and priorities of older people are not in every room, in every discussion, is not something that I have ever encountered. To give just one example, the Department for Work and Pensions had to make some very difficult decisions as part of the comprehensive spending review, but if we look at the areas where savings were made—at the reduction in the growth in the budget for disability living allowance for people of working age; at the local housing allowance; at the employment and support allowance; at child benefit, tax credit, and social housing; and at the benefits cap—virtually without exception, those changes apply wholly or predominantly to those of working age. The benefits of those above pension age were protected, almost exclusively. As we have heard from a number of hon. Members, crucially, the basic state pension has been enhanced through the restoration of the earnings link and the triple lock. I assure hon. Members in all parts of the House that the political priorities of pensioners and older people more broadly—as we all know, they are the people who turn out and vote—are very much in the Government’s mind at all times.
My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North suggested that there had been some discussion about who should reply to the debate, and she is correct. Part of the reason is that so many Ministers have a keen interest in the concerns of older people. There were many potential candidates, but I fought them off. I want to respond to some of her particular points, and in doing so, reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess), who was sceptical—I was shocked by this—that there is still joined-up government when it comes to older people. As I run through my response to some of the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North, I hope that it will be apparent that I am giving a litany of examples of joined-up government.
My hon. Friend raised the very important issue of loneliness. A number of people mentioned nobody visiting the care home, but everyone coming to the funeral for the reading of the will. That was a powerful point. There is a powerful cross-departmental partnership between the DWP and the Department of Health. The Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow), the Minister responsible for care services, has pioneered work on loneliness. We have worked with the Campaign to End Loneliness. There was a summit on 15 March that I attended, which my hon. Friend chaired, on how Government and local government can act effectively on loneliness. Something that has emerged from it is the importance of equipment for local authorities that want to tackle loneliness in their area, including “how to” guides, websites and so on. We take the issue very seriously: too often, we talk about care, transport, health or pensions, but the fundamental issue of whether someone sees anyone from day to day and whether anyone cares whether they are there or not is a vital one, and I am grateful to all the hon. Members who mentioned it.
Something that has come out of our work is the age action alliance, which brings together more than 200 organisations, including Government Departments, private sector bodies, charities and voluntary groups. The alliance operates under the umbrella of Age UK, and is supported by the Department for Work and Pensions. It tackles a range of issues affecting older people in a joined-up way across sectors. Loneliness is one of the key themes that it is looking at.
My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North mentioned taxation and older people. Let me say on the record that if tax and national insurance were brought together in a single operation, national insurance would not, I can assure her, be applied to pensions. There is no proposal to bring pensioners into that higher combined tax rate. In an example of joint working, the DWP and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs are working together on the recommendations from the Office of Tax Simplification. I can assure her that, as Pensions Minister, I will scrutinise exceptionally closely any suggestion that tax might be withdrawn at source from the state pension.
My hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich raised the abolition of the default retirement age, and the position of older workers more generally. As I mentioned in oral questions this morning, that is something of which the coalition Government can be resolutely proud. There were years of talk about abolishing mandatory or forced retirement, but we have done something about it. There is still more to be done: employer attitudes to older people still need work, which is why the DWP and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills work jointly on that. In fact, BIS-led legislation has been introduced. We have worked with employers and business organisations on the “Age Positive” initiative to challenge outdated assumptions about older workers and to encourage improvements in the employment and retention of older workers as part of a mixed-age work force.
Older workers are good business. I said this morning in the House that research evidence from McDonalds has found that McDonalds restaurants that employ over-60s have on average higher customer satisfaction than those that do not do so. Some people might find that surprising, but it is an example of enlightened employers who get it, and who do well as a result. We shall certainly spread the word.
My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North raised the issue of someone who goes into a care home and wants to be able to get something from the value of their home. I think she referred to the Redbridge “FreeSpace” pilot, and spoke about it very positively. I can assure her that my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Local Government has encouraged other local authorities to look seriously at that innovative project, and is trying to promote it, as she suggests.
My hon. Friend suggested that we do more to communicate with people and that it was important to piggyback messages. I agree, which is why the DWP is working with the Department of Energy and Climate Change on a pilot scheme to promote the green deal. When we write to people about winter fuel payments, we take a target sample of 1.2 million letters, and those recipients will receive a separate flyer in the envelope promoting the green deal to encourage them to take up energy efficiency schemes. My hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Margot James) mentioned excess winter deaths which, she is absolutely right, remain a scandal. It is not so much about giving people an extra pound to pay an exorbitant fuel bill but about trying to make sure that their home is properly insulated. She will know, as I do, that in Scandinavia, excess winter deaths are almost unknown, not because it is warmer—it obviously is not—but because people have properly insulated homes. We must make sure that there is more action across government on that issue.
The hon. Member for Manchester Central (Tony Lloyd) raised an important issue, and mentioned the very recent report on hospital care and the management of medicines. His home city is recognised as a World Health Organisation centre of excellence for the way in which it approaches older people—he will be aware of that—and that is something that has come out of cross-government working. He is right that the issue of medicines management in care and nursing homes is important, which is why early last year, the Department of Health agreed to fund a project to improve medicines management in residential care. The project is driven by the sector and led by the national care forum. The goal is to design and test a set of practical tools to help care-home staff, doctors, pharmacists and nurses to provide safer care and reduce the incidence of medication errors and what are known euphemistically as “near misses” in care and nursing homes. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that issue, which the Government take seriously.
Coming back to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge about excess winter deaths, she will be aware that in December 2011 the Department of Health published a cold weather plan for England and identified up to £20 million for 2011-12 to support local authorities to reduce levels of deaths and morbidity during cold weather. It is designed so that local government —again, a partnership approach—working with voluntary and community sector partners can address the risk factors of cold weather for vulnerable older people. I accept my hon. Friend’s point that we need to do more work on the issue.
We heard some powerful contributions, including a very moving one from the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling). It sounds as though her mother is rather well known. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West mentioned that he had met her on the Terrace, on an outing to see the flotilla, as I understand it, so she is becoming quite a celebrity. The hon. Lady spoke powerfully about both the excellence and, shall we say, the lack of excellence in the care that her mother had received. There is indeed too much variability in the quality of care. The hon. Lady also talked, rightly, about wrong attitudes to older people, which others mentioned as well. That is something we need to challenge, which we are trying to do in Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich mentioned Age UK’s five tests for a Government taking office, and he was generous enough to point to a number of things that the Government have already delivered on and others on which we are trying to make further progress. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) mentioned that it was important that what happens is not fluffy or soggy. I want to assure him that there is a lot of unfluffy and unsoggy work going on, and to highlight the UK Advisory Forum on Ageing, which was set up just before the last election. It meets quarterly. I attend every meeting. The Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam who has responsibility for care services, is a regular attender as well.
We co-chair the forum and it is attended by about 30 representatives of advisory forums for older people from the regions of England, the Welsh Commissioner, the Northern Ireland Commissioner, organisations that are not great fans of the Government, such as the National Pensioners Convention, Age UK and others. We come face to face with these groups once a quarter. I have attended every meeting since the election, and that group sets its own agenda and decides what it wants to talk about. One possible fruit of this debate might be that that work, which has been extremely effective, might be expanded and might bring in other Government Departments more systematically and perhaps other Ministers. That might be a response to some of the concerns that have been expressed.
I should mention that the Home Office is finally—in the sense that these things have been talked about for many years—bringing forward legislation to ban discrimination in goods and services for older people, which is long overdue and very welcome.
I was interested to see that Age UK had commented ahead of our debate. Its position on the proposal for a Cabinet Minister with separate responsibility was, perhaps, more nuanced than we might have expected. Although Age UK obviously welcomed the debate, it said that the appointment of a Minister would not be a panacea, which I do not think anybody suggested. It also suggested that it might create risks as well as opportunities. For example, it says that there is the potential that other Departments might decide that they are no longer responsible for thinking about older people. It says that there is a further potential risk of confusion over the responsibilities of the Minister for older people vis-à-vis those of other Ministers.
I was interested to hear my Labour shadow, the hon. Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall), say that the important issues all related to care, and that what we need is a Minister in Cabinet responsible for those issues. The Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam, who I am pleased has been able to join us at this point in the debate, is doing an excellent job. We do not need two Ministers doing the same job. The hon. Lady said that the issues needed to be discussed at the highest level in Government. I can absolutely give her the assurance that on a regular basis the very issues that she identifies are discussed round the Cabinet table with the principal players of the Government.
What I said was that, although a Minister for older people would make a big difference, responsibility must lie at the highest levels of Government—with the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and other members of the Cabinet. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman put that on the record.
I am sure the House would expect the Prime Minister to take a very close interest in these matters.
Age UK says that a weak and ineffective post of Minister for older people could do more harm than good. None of my ministerial colleagues are weak or ineffective, so that is not something we need to worry about. It is clear that all Cabinet Ministers, even the Chief Secretary, have a pretty full inbox at present. It was generous of my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North to give him an extra role. I will have a chat to him about it. The worry would be that if an additional role is given to an already stretched Minister, either it becomes marginal and is not done properly, or it ends up being duplicated. That is the challenge for us.
Responding on behalf of the Government to this important debate, I very much welcome the terms in which the whole debate has been conducted. We are united in the view that older people need a proper voice right at the heart and right at the top of Government. We need to think very hard about how we deliver that.
I welcome the terms of the motion, which proposes that the Government should consider—we certainly should—whether that role would best be done by a Cabinet Minister with additional responsibilities. My proposition is that one response might be for the UK Advisory Forum on Ageing to have a more cross-government role. There are plenty more things we could do, but I stress that there are plenty of cross-government and co-ordinated things already being done. I hope that I have been able to give the House some reassurance on that point.
I can confirm that the Government are very happy to support the motion and look forward to further discussions, because I have a feeling that, if we do not make sure that older people have a proper voice right at the heart and at the top of Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North will not let us hear the last of it.
I want to thank all Members who have taken part in this afternoon’s debate. I know that the Thursday afternoon shift is a tough one, so their constituents can be in no doubt about the importance they place on the issue or their commitment to improving the lives of older people and the services we provide to them.
The challenges we have discussed are great, but I am very encouraged by the breadth of support across the House and the quality of contributions that have been made this afternoon. I thank the shadow Minister and the Minister for their contributions. There is good work going on in Government and in all sorts of organisations across the country. The Department for Work and Pensions, in particular, is doing some very interesting things and has made great progress. I hope that the Minister will forgive us if we are being greedy, but we want more, and I was pleased to hear about his plans for the future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) told us that he has been here before, and I am not so naive as to think that we will have a Minister for older people in post by tomorrow, whether that is a stand-alone post or a role attached to a Cabinet post, but I will be greatly comforted in my disappointment if the Minister takes up the issues we have raised this afternoon, as I am sure he will, and continues to improve cross-government working for the benefit of older people.
Finally, I would like once again to thank Anchor and the Grey Pride campaign for their achievements, especially all those care home residents who signed the petition. The objective was to have a debate in the Chamber, which we have done, but they have also started a debate outside the Chamber and I am sure that good will come of it.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House notes the concerns of the Grey Pride campaign; and calls on the Government to consider appointing a member of the Cabinet to be the Minister for Older People, to give a political voice to the older generation, to oversee the co-ordination of services which affect older people, and to focus on tackling the social and economic challenges of demographic change.