HC Deb 27 November 1969 vol 792 cc612-4
Q2. Mr. Kenneth Baker

asked the Prime Minister whether he will recommend the appointment of a Royal Commission to examine the problem of caring for old people.

The Prime Minister

We are constantly seeking to bring about further improvements in this field, but I do not think that at the present time a Royal Commission or special inquiry would take us forward in this task.

Mr. Baker

Does the Prime Minister recall that in 1965 the Government told us that 361,000 old people never, or rarely, had a hot meal? Is the Prime Minister aware that now, in 1969, a growing number of old people are found on admission to hospital to be suffering from malnutrition, a state into which they relapse after being released? When are the Government going to deal with this problem?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that a considerable number of those in 1965 who were living below any standard that anyone in this House would support were living on that standard because, although they would have qualified for what was then National Assistance benefit, for one reason or another, in many cases pride, and the evidence of stigma, they did not apply for it. As a result of the reforms that we introduced in 1966, about 450,000 of those people are now in receipt of supplementary benefits.

Mr. Maxwell

Will my right hon. Friend consider bringing in legislation to prevent the rise in the numbers of people abandoning their parents at a cost to the public purse? In particular, will he consider introducing legislation so that when children do abandon their parents some of their wages can be attached for assistance, instead of allowing these people to fall as a burden on the public purse?

The Prime Minister

That raises a very wide question indeed, and one can imagine that legislation would need a great deal of thinking about and would be highly controversial. It is my impression, and I am sure that of the whole House, that the vast proportion of middle-aged and young families have a very real concern and make real provision for their elderly parents. We are dealing only with the exceptional cases, for which we have made provision.

Lord Balniel

Is the Prime Minister aware that the planned development of special community health and welfare services for the elderly has been throttled right back by the Government at a time when the number of elderly is increasing very considerably? As the Government cannot sort out their own sense of social priorities, is not there a strong argument for having a Royal Commission to review the whole field?

The Prime Minister

I hope that I never have to defend the social priorities of the previous Government. Fortunately the noble Lord has the advantage that he was not a member of that Government, so he can approach this with a fresher mind. As the noble Lord says, this is a question of priorities. The enormous advance that we have made in the social services, with the provision of a more than 70 per cent. increase in financial provision for helping the social services generally, is sufficient earnest of what we have done, very often in the face of heavy criticism, to help the kind of people whom the noble Lord has in mind. As regards the centres, in many parts of the social services we have increased these immeasurably beyond what we inherited.

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