Queens Speech Contribution (Hansard)

Sir Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con)


It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron), who made some extraordinarily sensible points. May I take this opportunity to associate myself, on behalf of my constituents in East Devon, with the earlier tributes paid to the victims of Grenfell Tower and the terrorist attacks? I also pay tribute to the extraordinary work of the emergency services and to NHS staff for their incredible efforts.

In the 2017 Gracious Speech, the only mention of social care, to which I will dedicate my speech, was:

“My Ministers will work to improve social care and will bring forward proposals for consultation.”

That is in line with the revised section of the 2017 Conservative manifesto, but no more details have been announced about the Green Paper or when it will be published. When it is published and goes out to consultation, it is vital that elderly people, who do not always have access to the internet, are given fair chance to respond and to put their views forward.

I, too, believe that the recent election showed how worried people are about their future healthcare needs. While the system needs to be fixed, it is incumbent on the Government to have a frank and honest consultation on how we fund and provide social care for the most vulnerable in our society. The issue has been kicked into the long grass for too long, so I have two offers to make to the Government this afternoon.

Over 850,000 people in the United Kingdom are living with dementia—equivalent to the entire population of Devon—and that number is expected to double in the next 20 years. Over 12,000 people in Devon are living with dementia, 4,500 of whom are in East Devon. The number of over-65s in Devon will increase from 195,000 in 2015 to 264,400 in 2030—an increase of 35.5%. Seventeen per cent. of the UK population is over the age of 65, compared with 24% of the Devon population. Some 2.38% of the population is over the age of 85, compared with 6.25% of the population of Budleigh Salterton in my constituency. In other words, with those ageing demographics, the rest of England will look like Budleigh Salterton in 2050. East Devon has over 6,500 people over the age of 85 and about 40,000 over the age of 65, so my offer to the Government is this: if we want to get long-term social care right nationally, look at what the country will look like in 2050, which is what towns such as Budleigh Salterton look like now. If we get it right in Devon, we will get it right across the country. As a Devon MP, I am offering— I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) will also agree—to act as the guinea pig for getting social care right in this country. That is offer No. 1.

Offer No. 2 builds on what some of us tried to do with the Prime Minister some months before the general election when a cross-party group of us went to see her to talk about long-term care. We thought that the issue should be apolitical and that we should finally build on early reports to get things right. Our efforts were not taken up at the time, but in the new spirit of things following the election I believe that we would all be prepared to work together to make the offer again. Where better to start than to build on the “Fairer Care Funding” report—the Dilnot report—of July 2011, which contains many good things, not least a cap, but it also omitted other things, such as some form of insurance to cover the cap. We should leave nothing off the table, but a cross-party group should steer the Government forwards on this matter.

Those are my two offers. As a humble Back Bencher, I will work with other Back Benchers to get social care right in this country, and I offer up Devon, particularly East Devon, as the guinea pig or template for trying to get a social care system that is properly integrated with the rest of the NHS. If we get it right there, we will get it right across the nation, and everyone, including our electorates, will be enormously grateful to us.