Speech on Attendance Allowance and Disability Living Allowance 14th. January 2010

I come to this debate more in sorrow than in anger—which reflects the dispiriting instinct of the party of Government to do what it does best, an example of which was embodied for us in Alex Neil—not because of the critical issues around care of the elderly, which all of us throughout the UK need to address, but because, again, the Scottish National Party is talking about what others are doing, rather than what it will do. It is settling for a bit of misrepresentation, coupled with a touch of scaremongering, mixed up with that signature SNP approach of a trumped-up feeling of self-righteousness. That demeans this Parliament and those throughout the UK who are exercised by and concerned about the issues at hand.
What we have from Alex Neil is a non-debate about an imagined slight by the UK Government in a Parliament that, with the SNP, is becoming characterised as having a lack of real engagement with the key debates and anxieties of the day. More and more decisions are being taken away from this Parliament and priorities are determined by the ability of ministers to make decisions away from the Parliament, which is reducing it to a place where politicking is the only thing that really seems to matter and where we rather get the sense that ministers are more exercised by identifying alibis than by developing solutions.

This is a week after a number of long cold weeks in which the Scottish Government showed its extraordinary inability to act in the face of the national emergency that was caused by the severe weather by failing to act in the interests of vulnerable and elderly people who were trapped in their own homes. The most striking feature of the discussion and the debate on that issue was the fact that ministers had obviously not even thought about it and saw no role for themselves in co-ordinating the response as the extent of the problem emerged. Given the Government's default position of talking and not acting, that was perhaps entirely to be expected. Far from caring about older people when it really mattered, the SNP Government was complacent, defensive and absolutely lacking in leadership.
Last week, John Swinney was unable to defend his lack of action and the explicable and damaging silence of his health colleague Nicola Sturgeon. He claimed that I had missed the mood, but he was wrong.
The contention is that at a UK level we are moving to deal with the attendance allowance to the detriment of older people. I simply make the point that we have a Scottish Government that is comfortable talking about that, but which will not address its own failings during the recent, and current, emergency in relation to cold weather. I hope that the Scottish Government will consider appointing an older person's champion for that purpose.
It is important to listen to groups on these matters. I will outline the context—for me—of the debate, explore some of the key issues and perhaps identify a number of areas for action by the Scottish Government. If the Scottish Government believes that there is an issue with what is happening at UK level, I am sure that it is more than capable of drawing together the views of the people of this country and representing them. It does not require a motion of this Parliament to do so.
Indeed, the SNP's own Minister for Public Health and Sport has already made a commitment to making a joint statement in response to the green paper. The SNP knows as well as I do that there is no decision on action. I assume that it understands the status of a green paper. The Scottish Government has said that it has developed a response. Perhaps the substance of the debate could have been the Scottish Government's response. We could have discussed that, rather than a theoretical position and its view of something that has not yet been implemented.
Let me make this serious point. It is obvious that some people are concerned about the implications of some policies that the green paper outlines. The consultation is the place to explore those anxieties.
The Scottish Government has misrepresented the debate about attendance allowance and has categorised it in one way, so it finds it difficult to deal with somebody who wishes to explore seriously the policy's implications.
The reality is that green papers are used in the way that the document that we are discussing has been used. It is understandable that ministers wish to consult on potential approaches without being obliged absolutely to pursue them. Shona Robison understands that.

When challenged on the fact that the voluntary sector had not been involved in her policy on elderly care, she said:
"it would be dishonest for us to go out with a blank sheet of paper and say to people, 'What do you think?' We need to be able to put down some ideas to gauge and guide that discussion, and that is the stage that we have reached."—[Official Report, 28 October 2009; c 20547-8.]

Shona Robison understands the role of a green paper. She makes it clear that the Government's responsibility is to shape debates and test ideas. That is what consultations are for.
The UK ministers involved have made it clear that they are continuing the process and that nothing has been decided. The motion implies that no discussion has taken place—
The trouble with SNP members is that they think that shouting something loudly makes it true, but what has been said is not true. The debate is serious and people deserve to have it taken seriously, so let me continue.
The motion implies that no discussion has taken place and that Scotland will not only suffer as a consequence of the proposals—

Sandra White: Will the member take an intervention?

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Order. It is clear that the member is not taking interventions.

Johann Lamont: The minister made even more explicit the implication in the motion that Scotland will somehow lose funding, which will be directed to care in England. That is why the motion calls on the UK Government to consult.
Consultation is, of course, good. In our debate on elderly care in October, Shona Robison, the Minister for Public Health and Sport, said:
"We are, of course, also working with the United Kingdom Government in the light of its green paper 'Shaping the future of care together'. Given that any changes to the benefits system, particularly attendance allowance, will have profound implications for the way in which social care is delivered in Scotland, that dialogue is important."—[Official Report, 28 October 2009; c 20548.]
We recognise the challenge of the issues. According to Shona Robison, dialogue is taking place and the Governments are working together. I am therefore curious to establish what today's debate is about.
The Westminster Government has rebuffed the argument that the proposal will involve a reduction in the moneys that are available to support people's care. The Minister for Housing and Communities should have confirmed that that commitment was made. The UK minister has said that using disability living allowance for under-65s has been categorically ruled out and he has made it clear that those who receive attendance allowance and over-65s who receive DLA will continue to receive an equivalent level of support and protection in any reformed system.
The minister must be aware that a key issue that drives the debate has been the examination of how a national care service for England might be created. We might wish to—I agree that we should—interrogate the implications of that for Scotland, but we might as seriously ask why the Scottish Government has nothing to say about minimum care standards, a fair charging regime—for which attendance allowance is used—and the reasonable expectation that charges and the care service should be the same wherever people are in Scotland.
From work that Jackie Baillie and others have done, we know that the charging regime varies widely throughout Scotland. It is suggested that the quality of care is as varied. How does the minister propose that we address that problem, given that any consideration of single outcome agreements reveals a lack of priority for the needs of elderly and disabled people?
I welcome Nicola Sturgeon's invitation today to a meeting to discuss those serious issues, but it is depressing that the minister does not recognise their significance, too. What is the Scottish Government doing to develop meaningful self-directed care? I am very committed to the idea of personalised budgets, but it sits ill with any commitment when waiting lists for direct payments are growing and when it is feared that care in Edinburgh is being categorised artificially to reduce support levels.
This is a critical issue. Indeed, it reflects the concern of many that self-directed care is not being developed. The lack of confidence among people who need support and those who care for them is reflected in much of the anxiety about the possible ending of the attendance allowance and the use of the money to develop care packages. That anxiety remains even when the Government has given the assurance that doing so will not mean a diminution in the level of support.
Carers and people who use the services are anxious that none of us is serious about self-directed support. The minister has to answer these questions. Why are there waiting lists for direct payments? Why are payment levels being reduced so that people cannot direct their own care? I am interested in hearing what the minister has to say on the action that is being taken in the concordat to encourage the process. Will there be a step change in services for older people?
I am also anxious to highlight concerns that have been reported to me on the drop in respite provision. Respite is part of the context of the debate; elderly care is not only about charging. Will the minister tell Parliament how respite figures are monitored and what work is being done to ensure that the cut in respite is not being masked by a lack of reference to the length of time that is offered? One example is in-home care. Carers groups are telling me that people who would have been given two to three hours to have an afternoon away from their care responsibilities are now being told that they can have only an hour or less.
I am aware of the work of the Scottish Government in developing its own proposals on delivery of care for elderly and disabled people. I will flag up a number of issues in that regard about which older peoples groups are particularly concerned. People are concerned about the false connection of volunteers—people who want to support their neighbours—into care packages, making them an obligatory part of a package. There is also the entirely different matter of making the assumption that those who care for their loved ones do so on a voluntary basis.
The Scottish Government has emphasised the importance of telecare, but that cannot be a technological fix for all. In the recent severe weather—

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The member should begin to wind up.

Johann Lamont: I am genuinely concerned that the minister's scaremongering may mean that we lose sight of the key issues that every level of government needs to address in terms of care for the elderly. I urge the minister and his colleagues to reflect on them. The debate on how we treat our elderly people is of critical importance and it speaks volumes that the SNP wants to use it as a vehicle to play games. The Government needs need to address seriously the ways in which to develop minimum standards across Scotland and meet the needs of our elderly population.
I move amendment S3M-5515.1, to leave out from "notes" to end and insert,
"welcomes the opportunity afforded by the UK Government's Green Paper, Shaping the Future of Care Together, to contribute to the debate on issues concerning the future provision of care services; welcomes moves to address the postcode lottery of care and recognises the need for a similar debate to take place in Scotland, taking into account specific challenges and opportunities arising from a growing population of older people; notes that the consultation on the Green Paper closed in November 2009, and looks forward to ongoing dialogue with the UK Government to achieve shared objectives of ensuring that older and disabled people have fair access to good quality services and support."