It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey) on securing the debate and on his powerful introduction, which included his personal experience.
Like other Members, I will contribute specifically on the issue of young carers. A couple of years ago, when I led a Westminster Hall debate on young carers, I was struck by the number of colleagues from this snapshot of 650 people who came along and shared their personal experience as young carers, including the right hon. Member. It was striking that so many had that experience. I cannot offer that. I simply became involved in the issue after meeting Sheffield Young Carers and being blown away by these extraordinary young people as they juggled all the huge challenges for everybody of their age with responsibilities for caring that would daunt many of us. They include young people such as Holly, who started caring when she was just nine or 10 for her mum and her sister. Her mum had an underactive thyroid and her sister had reflux in her right kidney. Holly said of her life:
“I don’t get much time to be a child or to spend time with friends. I don’t mind but it sometimes gets really frustrating if I can’t sit down for 5 minutes on my own. My life is different to young people who aren’t carers because I struggle a lot with life and have people to care for. They get to be kids and live their life. I still get to live my life but I have to be an adult and be very careful. The highs are that I get to spend lots of time with my mum and sister. The lows are that I have no other family around so it’s just us 3. It’s very painful for me and very emotional to have to watch my sister screaming in agony.”
Holly’s experience is reflected in that of too many young people across the country. Young carers’ average age is just 12 and their family income is at least £5,000 lower than others’; 68% are bullied at school, 26% are bullied and about their caring role, and 45%, unsurprisingly, report mental health problems. They achieve on average nine grades lower at GCSE than their peers, and they are four times more likely to drop out of further and higher education.
With all those challenges, the right support is vital. Clearly, we owe them nothing less. Reaching out to those we know is only one part of the challenge, because so many young carers are hidden from view and are not recognised in the places they can be best supported. As the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) said, the 2001 census identified 166,000 or so young carers, but research suggests that there are as many as 800,000 in England alone. The truth is that we do not know how many we are talking about, so the first step in supporting them is to identify them.
Just over three years ago, I secured a Prime Minister’s question and described the experience of some of the inspiring young people I have worked with through Sheffield Young Carers. I asked the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), whether she would meet them. To my surprise, and to her credit, she agreed, so I took eight young people down from Sheffield.
In advance of the meeting, I said to them, “Look, you need to sit down and work out what your priorities are.” What was impressive was that they did not choose issues relating to their immediate circumstances; they landed on the issue of support for others in their position who were not recognised. They put three main points to the Prime Minister: that schools should be required to have a young carers lead, just as for children with special educational needs and looked-after children, with a responsibility to identify and support young carers; that Ofsted should inspect schools on what they are doing to support young carers; and that GPs should be required to play a role in identifying young carers, and the Care Quality Commission should check that they hold a register of young cares in their practices.
We had a great discussion with the Prime Minister. In a press release after the meeting, No. 10 said that
“the Government will be undertaking a review to identify opportunities for improvement in these spaces.”
Arising from that, the Carers Trust published a useful toolkit on identification practice for young carers in England, but we need to go further. I appreciate that there is a responsibility on local authorities under the Children and Families Act 2014 to proactively identify young carers, but it is hard to see how they can comply with that duty without working in partnership with schools and GPs.
It is not just about identification. A designated lead in schools can tell children about the types of support that are available, be somebody to talk to, address the issues of flexibility with homework and lateness, get young carers to talk about shared experiences and ensure school staff can provide a support plan. GPs are also well placed to identify support. I hope the Minister will be able to tell us what progress has been made in giving schools and GPs that role in identifying and supporting young carers in the two years since the Government gave that commitment.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and I congratulate the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey) on securing the debate. His speaking about his personal experiences over many years was powerful; the House is often at its best when people share such experiences. I am sure many carers across the country will have heard what he said and been grateful to him for raising those points.
My main argument is that transforming support for families who care for elderly and disabled relatives must be at the heart of any plan for social care reform. This will be a critical test of whether the Prime Minister finally delivers on his promise to
“fix the crisis in social care”,
which he made two years ago on the steps of No. 10 Downing Street. That is vital for the 11.5 million unpaid family carers in England, who provide the vast majority of care and support in this country, but who are all too often relegated to the bottom of the list when it comes to attention, investment or reform.
This is vital, too, for the taxpayer, because if unpaid carers’ own physical and mental health suffer, or they can no longer provide support for the people they love, which means more people end up using more expensive NHS services, the cost to the public purse will be far greater. It is vital for our wider economy. If millions of people struggle to balance their work and caring responsibilities and end up having to give work up or reduce their hours because they cannot get the support they need, they will lose their income, employers will lose those people’s skills and the Treasury will lose taxes. We have never been able to afford that, let alone now, as we begin to emerge from the horrors of covid-19.
In this century of ageing, we cannot build a better future for our country without transforming social care, and unpaid family carers must be at the heart of our plans. Even before covid-19 struck, millions of family carers were struggling to look after the people they love most following a decade of cuts to local authority budgets. I will talk briefly about what I think are the two most important issues that have been raised with me in talking to carers across the country. I also want to thank Carers UK for organising so many events both before and during the pandemic, as well as in my constituency of Leicester West.
The first thing that many families say is what a battle it is to try to find your way around the system of the NHS and social care. My constituent David Towers is a self-employed carpenter. When his parents fell ill, he rang me to say, “Am I going wrong here, Liz? I don’t understand. I have to organise everything and tell my story time and again. I don’t know what my rights are. I don’t know any information. Is this how it is supposed to be?” I answered, no, that is not how it is supposed to be, but we do not have the changes in the system to pull things together.
The second issue is that of breaks. Even before the pandemic struck, almost half of family carers had not had a proper break from their caring for five years. The stress and the strain that that puts on people are huge. I vividly remember speaking to an unpaid family carer called Della during an event organised by Carers UK. Della was looking after her husband who had been very poorly. She told me she used to go for a half-hour swim in the mornings. That was all she wanted. It was her dream to have just half an hour. She was not asking for much—just that space and time for herself. Surely, in the 21st century, in one of the richest countries in the world, that is something we can deliver.
We know that the situation has got worse since the pandemic struck. People who were already family carers are doing even more hours, and an extra 4.5 million people have taken on new caring responsibilities. At one of my recent surgeries, an unpaid family carer said, “Liz, I am done. You cannot pour from an empty cup. I have nothing left to give.” She was looking after her mum, so she had no choice. For new carers, the pandemic has been hugely stressful. People have been very frightened of infecting the person they care about, and they have not known what support is out there. They get even fewer breaks, money is running out and they were almost completely absent from all the focus during the pandemic.
In Leicester, we have been working hard to address the problem. Over the past nine months, I have brought together our local hospital, ambulance service, primary care, the city council, mental health community services, voluntary groups such as CLASP—the Carers Centre and Age UK, and unpaid family carers. We have talked about how to improve the system. We are working together better to identify family carers, because most people do not consider themselves carers. They are a son, a daughter, a husband or a wife trying to look after the person they love. We want to make simple information more widely available and to have much better co-ordination of services.
We have a long way to go to make the system work, but I am very pleased that services such as East Midlands Ambulance Service have agreed to involve families in training paramedics so that paramedics can better identify carers, and that the city council has completely changed its language so that it does not talk about “carers”, because most people do not think they are a carer. However, services, voluntary organisations and families need a Government who back their efforts.
This Saturday, it will be two years since the Prime Minister stood on the steps of No. 10 Downing Street promising to
“fix the crisis in social care once and for all with a clear plan we have prepared to give every older person the dignity and security they deserve.”
Yet the plan is still nowhere to be seen. The papers are full of briefings that an announcement is imminent, but in reality—and as with so much else with the Government—all we get is chaos, confusion and broken promises.
First, we see that there will be a levy to fix the crisis in social care, then the levy is for the NHS backlog and to fix the crisis in social care. Now it is for the NHS backlog, social care and the NHS pay rise, and we hear from the papers that it is to be funded through an increase in national insurance contributions, which the former Chancellor, who is now Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, explicitly promised not to raise under a majority Conservative Government. The people who use care, the staff who deliver it and the unpaid family carers who rely on it deserve better, especially following the horrors of covid-19.
Will the Minister say when we are finally to see the Government’s plan? Are the Government considering raising NICs, in direct contradiction of the explicit promise they made before the last general election? Is the rise in NICs how they plan to pay for the NHS backlog and the NHS pay rise, leaving virtually nothing for social care? Does the Minister understand that while a cap on care costs is vital, that alone will not fix the crisis in social care? That is because it will do nothing for the third of social care users and half the social care budget represented by working-age adults with disabilities. It will do nothing for the 1.5 million elderly people who need help with getting up, getting washed and getting fed who cannot get that help. It will do nothing for the paid care workforce, and it will do nothing for unpaid family carers, who are the subject of today’s debate.
After a decade failing to transform social care, nothing less than a full plan will do. That is the test the Government will face when they finally come up with their plan, and that is the test of whether the Prime Minister fulfils the promise he made on the steps of No. 10 Downing Street. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
I thank the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) for the eloquent way he introduced this debate. I will try to be as brief as possible so that everyone can get in. I want to address my remarks to the Minister directly. She has heard why we are here. More than 100 of my constituents signed the petition, and quite a few of them, including myself, have had experience of motor neurone disease affecting either family or friends. It is a brutal, savage condition, but we meet people all the way along the road dealing with this dreadful condition, and they all work on the basis that there will be light at the end of the tunnel, and the light that we see now at the end of the tunnel is research.
Like others, I have been using the Government’s figure of £54 million investment without realising that only £5 million was directly targeted. The sense I get from people at the moment, and from the associations and charities that work in this field, is one of optimism that we could be close to a breakthrough in identifying how to predict, prevent, treat and cure this condition. The sense I get is that a little more money, distributed effectively and invested wisely, could tip us over the edge in tackling this condition.
I say to the Minister that the problem we face is fragmented funding sources and the lack of certainty and predictability about the scale of investment that will really help us to bring the science together and tackle the issue effectively. We will assist her in lobbying the Treasury. We are at that stage in the spending review process when departmental bids are going in and hard negotiations are well under way. We will help her in those negotiations, because not only do we believe that we are on the cusp of a breakthrough but it chimes with everything that has been said by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and successive Health Secretaries about how we need to invest in life sciences, link with the pharmaceutical industry, and in that way become world leaders.
In the context of the overall spending review, this is not a great deal of money to be asking for on such a critical issue, which affects so many of our constituents and their families in a heartbreaking way. We will support the Minister as much as we can in her submission on this matter. The £50 million that we are talking about over a five-year period is a drop in the ocean in comparison with some investments in other conditions. Many of us believe that we are clearly on the edge of something big that could, again, chime with what the Prime Minister has been saying about how we can be world leaders in the field of life sciences research.
I urge the Minister to take on board everything that has been said by this cross-party group of Members. Behind us, literally hundreds of thousands of people are looking to the Government for the small step forward that could provide us with such an immense breakthrough.
It is pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Cummins. I thank the 110,000 people who signed the petition, including 49 from my own constituency. I also thank the Motor Neurone Disease Association, the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation and MND Scotland for their tireless campaigning on this really important issue.
All hon. Members have spoken very powerfully and personally about the scale and impact of motor neurone disease, including on their constituents, friends and colleagues. While those who suffer from this disorder face a very fearful future at the moment, there is a real opportunity here and, if we seize it, we can transform people’s lives for the better. However, we have to deal with the significant and fundamental challenges in the existing research funding model, and we have to move beyond single centres and small collaborations to a large-scale, international, collaborative and co-ordinated approach. We know from experience that that is how fundamental change is achieved, and that is what we are calling for today.
I do not simply want to make the case that this funding should be provided and this model adopted for a moral reason—to stop appalling human suffering—although that is clear and unequivocal. Supporting this proposal should be a major part of how, after covid-19, we build back a better country that draws on our amazing nation’s world-class strengths in science and research, and that uses the potential of the NHS for clinical trials. Not only will doing so lead to the development of new drugs and treatments that will transform the lives of people with MND and their families and, potentially, those with dementia and other conditions, but it will help to create the high-quality, high-skilled jobs we need, so that we have an economy that is fit for the future.
This case is based on three areas. First, the economic case for funding investment in this sort of research is that if patients get earlier diagnosis and better treatment, and their condition is kept stable earlier on, that delivers better value for money. Treatments in the late stage of MND are up to nine times more expensive, so such investment will ultimately help to deliver better value for money. Secondly, we have real opportunities here for the UK research and pharmaceutical sector, because MND, as many hon. Members have said, is one of the fastest growing sectors in UK health and biomedical research. If that is the case, we should be trying to turbocharge that research and development and give it backing from the broad range of public, private and charitable research funding. That mixed economy approach is a huge strength of this country, and in MND we need to build on that. Thirdly, although everybody has rightly said that the debate is about having very specific funding for research into MND, we know that there may be very valuable results out of it for advances in the treatment of other degenerative disorders, such as dementia, which is a huge issue facing this country.
What now needs to happen? I do not need to repeat what hon. Members have said, but we need to bring this together into an MND research institute to implement rigorous clinical research programmes and sustainable MND trials programmes, linking up with the NHS, to provide infrastructure to accelerate treatments and bring them to market in a partnership between our research and industry, and support world-leading drug discoveries and development. If the Minister has not already, will she meet those involved in this sector from the medical research charities, universities and industries, and bring them together, alongside her colleagues from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Treasury—we need a cross-Government approach on this—to go through the proposal in detail and look at the value for money, as well as the patient outcomes that it would develop?
On the point that my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) rightly made, will the Minister also meet the Association of Medical Research Charities, if she has not already? During the pandemic, all medical research charities have seen their income slashed, and we really need a plan to get that research going again. As my hon. Friend said, the Association of Medical Research Charities has proposed a life sciences charity partnership fund, so that all the research done and the skills, knowledge, people and expertise do not go to waste because of the pandemic, and so that we get this back on track.
Let me end where I began. If we want to build back a better country after this pandemic, we need to think and work differently rather than in the same old ways. We are world leading in science, research and the pharmaceutical sector. Alongside our NHS, with the potential that leaves for clinical trials, it is a no-brainer that this is an area that we should focus on. I ask the Minister to raise her eyes, sights and mind to think about all the potential that this could bring for sufferers and their families, and for the life sciences, in which Britain leads and should continue to lead in future.
I despair. I literally just said that we are supposed to be examining the procurement of PPE and when the inquiry comes, and yet we go back to those allegations. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General will once again give the answers that were given previously. Stop it! Grow up! The reality is that we are dealing with an issue that has caused the deaths of millions of people across the world, including tens of thousands of people in this country. Today we need to explore where things went wrong—that is important —why the inquiry should wait and how it should take place.
By profession I am a mechanical engineer and, as somebody who flies around the world, I have an interest—a morbid interest, I suppose—in the programme “Air Crash Investigation”, which my wife will not watch under any circumstances, given her fear of flying. Aircraft safety has improved immensely in the past decades, and that is because there is a no-blame culture. That ties straight in with the report published this week by the Health and Social Care Committee on deaths in natal care and having a no-blame culture. We may want to get to the analysis of what went wrong and why it went wrong, but we cannot do that from a position of wondering, “Am I covering my political back? Am I covering my professional back? Can I have an honest conversation?”
We have to understand what went wrong. Things did go wrong. There cannot be a single person in the Chamber or indeed across the country who felt that everything went really well and was fine. Nobody says that. Nobody believes that. It is self-evidently not true that everything went fine. We do have to learn lessons, and it is important that we learn them though the matrix of what went wrong. As we have said, plenty of preparation was done for a flu pandemic, but that turned out not to be able to handle this pandemic. It is therefore important that we analyse the pressures caused by different diseases that can come forward. [Interruption.] I heard things from a sedentary position, but I did not notice what was said.
Ultimately, we have not had any sense of the SNP taking responsibility where they have responsibility—indeed, it was noticeable that the leader of the SNP just dismissed the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge), mocked it and tried to put the blame back on the UK Government. Quite simply, if people are really taking notice of this debate this afternoon, they will think that it needs to be a lot more mature and serious than it has been so far.
It is a pleasure to speak in this Opposition day debate, and I will address the motion—which I am not sure has anything to do with Scottish independence, which is what we heard about in the last speech. It calls on the Government to immediately commence the covid-19 public inquiry.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I am trying to remember whether I have done so previously, but I am delighted to do so this afternoon. I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), whom I will call my hon. Friend from Strangford. I know he was concerned beforehand, but I want to reassure him. I do not know whether it was because of my 19 months in Northern Ireland as Secretary of State or something else, but I understood every single word that he said throughout the whole of his contribution, and I agreed with much that he said.
It is perhaps unusual that I am contributing to a debate introduced by the hon. Member for Strangford, rather than the other way round, but I wanted to contribute because I have a number of retirement villages in my constituency that offer a fantastic service, a real alternative to independent living in later life. I want to talk about how they tackled covid in a way that was as kind as it could be. Let us be clear: there is nothing about the pandemic that I like. I do not particularly like the fact that we are in the Boothroyd Room rather than the Grand Committee Room for a Westminster Hall debate, even though I fought very hard as Chair of the Procedure Committee to get this room opened up because it can host hybrid proceedings.
I do not like not being with my family and friends and not being able to see people freely, and I do not like what has happened to the more elderly in our communities. In my constituency, loneliness and social isolation have been prevalent among the elderly during the pandemic, and I want to talk about the role that retirement villages have played. Also, I want to talk about the role that I think they can play in the future provision of health and social care.
By retirement villages, I mean places with independent living: campus-based community living, but each individual or couple living independently. People have their own home and their own furniture. It is equipped for them to live the way they want to live, but in a communal setting. There are shared communal facilities with club rooms, restaurants, hairdressers, gyms and spas, and sometimes even swimming pools in what we might call the more desirable accommodation. They offer an alternative way of life for those who are post their careers, an alternative that perhaps means they can have a longer independent life than they might have had if they had stayed in their own homes.
As I say, I have a number of retirement villages in Staffordshire Moorlands. We have an older-than-average population, demographically, by which I mean that proportionally, there are more people aged over 55 in my constituency than there are in others. We therefore have an awful lot of traditional retirement homes, traditional care homes, traditional home care services and the housing with care alternative—independent living. One that I have visited on a number of occasions is Bagnall Heights. For people travelling into the moorlands through Light Oaks, Bagnall is the first village that they see after leaving Stoke-on-Trent. In fact, Bagnall Heights could be called the gateway to Staffordshire Moorlands. It is owned by the Vincent family, David and Phil, and run by the fantastic Sue Clarke.
I have had many visits to Bagnall Heights, and I have always been made incredibly welcome. I have also always been incredibly challenged by the residents, who very much enjoy getting a politician in and grilling them. They have had a difficult time during covid, as has everybody. Sue Clarke contacted me thanks to the work of Councillor Sybil Ralphs MBE, who is leader of Staffordshire Moorlands District Council and represents Bagnall at ward level. I will read out what Sue said, because she put it incredibly well and there is no point trying to paraphrase her. She said:
“Here at Bagnall Heights we have done amazingly well as we went in lockdown as soon as we had the information and as we were in a gated complex, we were able to monitor anyone coming in and out. We have always had plenty of PPE available and always done temperature checks on everyone and we have never let our care staff go home in uniforms since we opened.”
That is not just during covid; it is a full-stop thing for Bagnall Heights. She continued:
“We arranged for all residents and staff to have Covid Vaccinations”.
Sue said that residents had both by May and staff had both by April 2021, and she went on:
“We have done shopping for residents to cut the risk of families coming on site and we have managed to keep our residents all safe by working together as a community and with the help of excellent staff working all hours this has worked well.
We only let deliveries come to reception and leave everything with us so we were able to deliver to residents’ homes. The same with milk and papers. We have always had a good relationship with our 84 residents and were able to keep a close eye on everyone and know if they were feeling low and we were there to offer support with care needs or just as a friend. The families and friends of our residents know that they only need to call the manager if they needed to pass anything on or ask our advice on anything.
Here at Bagnall Heights we are set in beautiful gardens”—
I can absolutely vouch for that—
“and were able when restrictions were lifted to organise Sir Lee Pearson”,
who is one of our local celebrities, and a Paralympic gold medallist several times over,
“to come and give us a dressage with his gold medal Olympic winning horse Zion, and a local band playing in the gardens and all the residents were able to sit in the grounds at social distance and have a wonderful afternoon with ice cream van that they went up to one by one to stay safe. We also had meals delivered by local pubs/chip shops and we delivered them to the residents to keep everyone safe.
We also did Quizzes weekly and raffles and exchanged cheques for cash so they did not go short of anything they wanted.
We are registered with the county council to do weekly Lateral flow tests for our residents and twice weekly for staff and staff also have one PCR test a week. Before this we had them delivered and registered with the NHS.
We have now organised 6 residents per day to go in the lounge together for chats and to let us monitor track and trace if we did ever have anyone to test positive. This also lets us do a thorough clean each day. We have always done touch point cleaning 3 times a day on a rota throughout the pandemic. We make the Paramedics and Doctors smile when they come as they say we are the only ones that check their temperatures before letting them enter.
We all work as a team and to get through this we must appreciate that the government have had very hard decisions to make and need us all to help and work with each other. This has been so hard and now we all feel that we must try to get back to some normality.
It has been my pleasure working with such dedicated and loyal staff in such difficult circumstances, and for a company that cares. Bagnall Heights is more than just a retirement Village that offers care.”
That was Sue Clarke, the estate manager for Bagnall Heights. Once David Vincent found out that this debate was happening, he called to make sure that we heard from him. He made it clear that Bagnall Heights had taken a very proactive approach. He said that if a resident had to attend hospital, for whatever reason, the staff made sure that the resident went into their independent, private home and isolated for the requisite number of days before they went to hospital, and a designated carer moved into their home to isolate with them and look after them. He says they are a well-knit community within a community and felt that everyone was cautious on the whole. To me, that speaks of a real success story in dealing with covid. It has been difficult for everybody, but to hear what the management at Bagnall Heights have done—I can vouch that this is also happening at retirement villages around the country; it is not unique to Bagnall Heights—shows what can be done by a community working together in the way that they have.
That takes me on to my more general points about housing with care facilities—retirement villages. As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said, the statistical evidence is that they have dealt with covid in a safer way than other, comparable facilities. As he said, the St Monica Trust and the Housing Learning and Improvement Network published research in April showing that only 0.97% of housing with care residents died from covid-19 between March and December, compared with 1.09% of those of the same age living in the wider community. That might not sound like a very big number, but when we are only talking about relatively small numbers, percentage-wise, of people dying from covid who contract it anyway, the fact that the number was lower in that cohort indicates real success. The majority of housing with care operators also had no or very few confirmed or strongly suspected covid cases during each month in 2020, with fewer than 1% of residents with covid-19 in any of their properties through to November last year.
I think this is a real model for how care can be provided. I want to be clear: I am not criticising traditional models of care homes or retirement living. There has to be a full suite of facilities available, so that the right facility is available to the right person. It would be absolutely inappropriate for Government, Ministers or an MP to suggest what would be right for any individual, but this is a lifestyle approach for those in later life that I think should be considered more. It is worth noting that only 0.6% of over-65s in the United Kingdom, or one in 200, live in one of these kinds of facilities, whereas in the US, New Zealand and Australia the figure is closer to 5% to 6%, or one in 20. If 10 times as many people proportionately are living in them in other places, we might want to consider why that is.
The hon. Member for Strangford said—this has come from the Associated Retirement Community Operators—that it is partly down to the lack of sector-specific regulation and legislation, but I think it is also down to other things. In part, I think it is because this kind of facility needs to be looked at with a cross-Government approach. ARCO is calling for a cross-Government taskforce. I would urge the Minister to consider that, because this is not an issue that merely sits within the Department of Health and Social Care, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government or any other Department. It is a cross-Government issue that needs to be looked at in the round.
Indeed, there is a real opportunity to use this kind of facility to assist with the housing crisis and bring it into the debate about the housing crisis. One of the operators told me that every night there are 20 million spare bedrooms in homes of elderly people who are living in the old family home but have not yet downsized. Twenty million spare bedrooms a night goes a long way to tackling affordable housing needs in certain parts of the country. That has to be part of the agenda and discussion.
There is an opportunity for people to move into housing with care, and the attraction is that care can then be provided at home if needed. Care can, of course, be provided in family homes, but they often have to be adapted at great expense. Perhaps people feel they do not want that to happen in their home and they end up going into care homes unnecessarily, when they would not want to go into a traditional care home and it is not right for them, but it is the only option available at the time. Those in independent living—in housing with care facilities—have that care provided at home. Few of the people living in those facilities end up going into care homes. That has to be part of the answer to the care crisis. I am well aware that it is not the only answer, but it has to be part of it.
I am a big supporter of retirement villages, including those in my constituency, and a big supporter of making sure that they are part of the Government’s approach to dealing with the housing crisis for younger people and the care crisis for the elderly. I look forward to hearing from the Minister and shadow Ministers.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing the debate on this important subject, which has, so far, had too little attention during the pandemic. This is a prescient debate because retirement communities, which are sometimes called “housing with care” or “extra care housing”, should be an important part of the Government’s plans to reform social care—when they finally see the light of day.
Retirement communities enable older people to continue living independently in their own home with properly regulated home care services and other community facilities available on site. We have heard some wonderful examples from Members’ constituencies. Around 75,000 people live in such communities in the UK. Around 40% of residents are under 80 years old; almost half are between 80 and 90; and 15% are over 90.
As hon. Members have said, the pandemic has clearly posed real challenges to retirement communities, the people who provide them and the people who live in them. Residents faced increased loneliness and isolation due to the measures being put in place to control the virus’ spread, and communal areas and non-essential services have been closed and postponed. Many providers, although not all, struggled to get PPE at the beginning. They faced considerable staff shortages, and staff and residents reported real anxiety and stress. One of the issues raised with me was the lack of specific guidance for housing with care providers. I was told that they had to come up with a lot of that themselves. That is an important point, as we all know that we will have to live with this virus for some time.
Overall, as we have heard from the hon. Member for Strangford and the right hon. Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), research has shown that people living in retirement communities have been remarkably protected, compared with people of a similar age in the rest of the country. A smaller proportion died, and most housing with care providers reported no or very few covid cases in each of the months between March and December last year. Interestingly, some of that is due to the design and layout of retirement communities, and the self-contained nature of individual homes. One of the things we will have to look at in the future is whether capital investment is needed in residential homes to change their layout to make people less susceptible to the virus.
Although it is clear from evidence and research that many retirement communities did very well in protecting residents from the immediate impact of the virus, there are real concerns about the long-term implications of covid-19 on residents. Providers of housing with care fear that some residents may avoid seeking support from the NHS in the future because they are still worried about catching the virus if they go into hospital. The providers are also worried about the longer-term impact on the cognitive functions of older residents if they are cut off from family and friends, despite all the efforts to use Zoom and other technology.
Providers are also worried about older residents’ physical abilities, because they have been less mobile during the pandemic. That is part of a much wider issue. We have rightly heard about the huge backlog in operations and treatment in cancer care or acute-based care in the NHS, but we also have to think about the backlog and need in the community. As Age Concern and others have reported, we need to think about the support we provide for older people whose mobility has been reduced. Lots of older people report that they are not able to walk as far or feel less steady on their feet. That can have an impact on falls.
There are also mental health needs. It is not just about not seeing and hugging people—the friends and family they love—but living with the stress of fearing that they will catch this virus and die. As we think about the NHS recovery plan, I urge the Minister—I am sure she has already done this—to think about not just acute services but services in the community.
The benefits for the health of people living in retirement communities have been known about for quite a while. We know that older people in housing with care have higher exercise levels and fewer falls, and are less likely overall to suffer from anxiety and depression. That benefits not just them as individuals but the rest of the health and care system. Research has shown that those living in retirement communities are less likely to go into hospital and have fewer GP and nurse visits than comparable age groups. Indeed, some evidence suggests that the overall use of the NHS is about 30% to 40% less. That is really important not just because the people living there have better health but because there is a better use of taxpayer money. The health benefits of retirement communities are just one of many reasons why Labour is calling for an expansion of housing with care options in the future as part of our wider proposals to transform social care.
We live in the century of ageing. We have all heard about how the number of people aged over 65 will increase by more than 40% by 2040 to over 16 million. Most people want to stay in their lifelong family home for as long as possible, but having more options between care at home and a care home must be part of our vision for social care and housing in future, so that someone can be in their own home, living independently, but draw down those services and support as and when they need them. As the right hon. Member for Staffordshire Moorlands rightly said, other countries are way more advanced than us. Only about 0.5% of over-65s live in housing with care developments in this country, compared with 5% or 6% in New Zealand, Australia and America.
If we are to expand the options, three things need to happen. First, we need a clearly defined category of housing with care in the planning system, as the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, and the sector itself, have recommended. It is currently much harder to build housing with care properties than care homes due to a lack of definition in the planning system. It was a real missed opportunity when the Government did not include that specific definition in their “Planning for the Future” White Paper and the legislation. They need to think again.
Secondly, we need—the sector itself is calling for this—sector-specific legislation and regulation for housing with care, to give consumers greater confidence, spelling out residents’ rights and the nature of the relationship with care providers. It is also crucial to give investors long-term confidence. The legislation that has been introduced in Australia and New Zealand has really underpinned the development in those countries, which is why we need something similar here.
Thirdly, the Government need to seriously look at how we ensure that housing with care is an option for all older people, regardless of their means or housing wealth—in other words, not just available to those who have a lot of equity in their existing lifelong family home. Currently, around two thirds of housing with care properties are available for affordable and social rent. We are doing well at the moment, but cuts to local authority social care budgets over the past 10 years, including funding for complex services through such things as Supporting People, have meant that the creation of new affordable extra care housing has slowed, and in some cases services have been withdrawn. It is not good for older people, or the taxpayer, if people end up having to use more advanced and expensive care, or end up relying on the NHS.
I hope the Minister will set out what plans the Government have to support this important sector as we continue to live with the virus, and crucially what plans they have to support its expansion, so that all people have the choice, as the right hon. Member for Staffordshire Moorlands said, to live the life that they choose in the home that they call home, which will include these options in future.
We are in for a treat now: one of two maiden speeches today. I remind everybody that, by convention, there will be no interventions. We are not putting the clock on the maiden speeches, but both Members have been told about the time constraints, so good luck! To make her maiden speech, I call Anum Qaisar-Javed.