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Volume 705: debated on Tuesday 11 November 2008

My honourable friend the Minister of State, Department of Health (Phil Hope) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Government’s response to the consultation on reform of discrimination law, published on 21 July 2008, gave a commitment that the Government would make a Statement after the parliamentary recess setting out a defined programme of work to tackle age discrimination in the health and social care sectors and to help service providers prepare for legislation.

This programme of work will address age equality issues in health and social care. It will inform the implementation of the Equality Bill, planned for next Session, which, subject to parliamentary approval, will ban harmful discrimination on grounds of age against people aged 18 and over, and will also consider non-legislative measures to tackle age discrimination.

The work will be underpinned by the following principles:

age discrimination and unfair treatment based on age have no place in a fair society, which values all its members;

personalisation means that individuals’ needs for health and social care should be on the basis of their individual condition and circumstances, not general assumptions about their age;

services should be differentiated by age only where this is objectively justifiable; and

services for all people should be subject to achieving overall value for money in the use of public funds.

We plan to take the following action:

we shall seek views of stakeholders, including professions and service commissioners and providers via the departmental National Stakeholder Forum, the Social Partnership and the Third Sector Sounding Board, by running a learning event by the end of November 2008. This will raise awareness with a view to setting up an advisory group shortly afterwards;

we shall establish an advisory group, to include key stakeholders with an interest in using, providing or commissioning services, training those who provide care, and monitoring action on age equality. The group will have a remit to produce advice to the Government, which is to include:

identifying where age discrimination may occur in health and social care;

setting parameters for obtaining evidence of current policies, practice and service organisation which does or may result in age discrimination;

consideration of possible exceptions to a ban on unjustifiable age discrimination;

consideration of what action the department and others may need to take to remove unjustifiable age discrimination in the provision, organisation and experience of health and social care; and

consideration of costs, risks and benefits of differentiation of services for different age groups, to inform a compulsory impact assessment.

Departmental officials will support the advisory group, which will be extended and supported by:

a reference group of interested organisations and networks to get widest input and debate;

sub-groups for specific areas; for instance, mental health and social care could start work on implementation plans in advance of other areas of healthcare for which evidence is not yet available; and

a technical analysts’ sub-group that will give advice on evidence gathering and analysis.

We will publish a summary of the group’s discussions and any advice it produces on the department’s website and will encourage wider participation in its discussions through stakeholder engagement.

We expect that the advisory group’s work will take 18 months to complete. It will start in December 2008. An early task will be to establish provisional milestones for the phases of work, including on the key services and sectors. Emerging evidence from the work will be used as it becomes available to inform the ongoing development of policy and priorities on the provision and commissioning of health and social care, and this will contribute to discussion on action to address age equality in health and social care.

The advisory group will draw on existing departmental stakeholder networks, and new ones, such as National Voices, as they become available.

The Government will undertake consultation on possible exceptions to the ban on harmful age discrimination—in health and social care—taking account of the findings of the advisory group when it has completed its work.