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UK: Ageing Population

Volume 744: debated on Tuesday 19 March 2013


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will publish their assessment of the implications of the ageing of the United Kingdom’s population and their response to those implications; and, if so, when.

We welcome the committee’s report on the ageing population that was published last week. We will consider its recommendations carefully and respond in due course. Effective reform of public services is critical if we are to meet the needs of an ageing population and ensure long-term sustainability. We have put in place an ambitious programme of reform across a wide range of government policy areas, including pensions, health, social care, housing and employment.

I thank the Minister for his reply. As the House may know, the committee found that our society and Government were woefully underprepared for this major social change. To focus the supplementary question on health, out of courtesy to my colleague, the report found a massive increase in demand and cost driven by the increase in long-term conditions. In the committee’s view, this posed perhaps the biggest challenge the NHS has ever had to face. Will the Secretary of State set out his assessment of these challenges and what he proposes to do about them?

My Lords, we know that to adapt and respond to future need, the health and care system needs to change. The conclusions of the noble Lord’s report correlated in many ways with our own analysis in this respect. The challenges that the report sets out create an opportunity for the NHS and local authorities to innovate and explore new ways of working together to meet the needs of their local populations better and to optimise the use of resources, which is of course critical. We think the NHS and local authorities are best placed to understand the opportunities that exist in their areas, and we are committed to supporting them in that regard.

My Lords, will my noble friend undertake to intercede with the usual channels so that your Lordships’ House can have an early and full debate on the report from the Select Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change, given the highly significant consequences that would flow if the committee, of which I was a member, even got it half right?

My Lords, I can say to my noble friend that I will certainly do that, because this is a very important report. I thank not only the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, but all members of the committee, who worked extremely hard to prepare a very well thought out set of conclusions.

My Lords, does the noble Earl agree that social care has been the poor relation for so many years and that we need integration as soon as possible with health and housing? To achieve that, would he commit to the Government mandating integration and earmark sufficient funds so that this care can be a reality as soon as possible for older people with chronic conditions?

My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Baroness. It is our ambition that people should receive high-quality, integrated, person-centred services that deliver the best outcomes to the service user. Making the service as a whole more efficient is the other benefit of integrating service. There is no single definitive model of integration. Some localities are further advanced than others in thinking about new ways of delivering it. We are developing the concept of pioneers to support the rapid dissemination and uptake of lessons learnt across the country, but we want to encourage local experimentation as much as we can to allow local areas to provide integrated care at scale and pace.

My Lords, there are several common themes between the report from the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, and his group, and that of the scrutiny committee of the draft Care and Support Bill, which was published today. One of those themes is the funding of personal care, which has to be shared between the individual and the state. As recommended by the Dilnot commission, will the Government invest in an awareness campaign to inform people of this situation and the importance of planning ahead?

I am sure my noble friend is right that there is a job of work to do to inform people about the new arrangements that we are bringing in to implement the Dilnot recommendations. My right honourable friend the Chancellor’s announcement at the weekend confirms that we will introduce a cap on care costs and extend the means test upper capital threshold at the earlier date than previously announced, namely on April 2016. The reason for the change in date is to bring it into line with changes to single-tier pensions. We will need to disseminate this information sooner than we would otherwise have done.

My Lords, when I was appointed the voice of older people in 2009, these issues were already well appreciated. It is now 2013. This is an excellent report from the House committee, which everyone recognises, but I am afraid that it joins many other reports on my shelf that have been published since 2009. Will the noble Earl please tell me why he thinks change is so slow?

My Lords, change is an increasing imperative, at least in my judgment, at local level. I talk not only to professionals in the health service but to local authorities, which will very soon be charged with looking in the round at the needs of patients and service users in their area. They know that with the financial constraints that are upon us, services need to change in order to remain sustainable and affordable. That will be a very strong driver to ensure that some of these very good recommendations are driven forward at pace.

My Lords, the Opposition warmly welcome the report. I am sure that it will be influential in the way we develop policies in the future. I was interested in the noble Earl’s response when he talked about public sector reform. Does he agree that the overwhelming message of the report is the need for a fully integrated health and social care system? Is he not as worried as I am that the changes in the NHS that he is introducing on 1 April will in fact lead to a disintegrated system in which, instead of co-operation and integration, competition will become the name of the game?

No, I do not agree with that. We have always said that competition is but one tool in the armoury of commissioners. It is not a panacea by any means. As for disaggregation, I see the opposite at local level. Health and social care, public health and patient organisations are getting together for the first time to break down silo barriers and the traditional divisions that have existed.