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I have no knowledge about this, but I imagine that almost any aspect of improving the Bill in the way that the amendment suggests will have been thought of inside the department by the Minister and her colleagues. The fact that it does not appear in the Bill indicates that it has been thought of and been found unable to be acceded to. To accede to all these things in the Bill may well improve the Bill to the satisfaction of those pressing the amendments, but if at the end of the day—that is, not very far down the road—we are in difficulty because of the industry or the Exchequer, or the public will is such that it fails to make progress, we will not be providing a very good service.

Like the rest of the Committee, I await what the Minister has to say, not about whether she thinks the objectives of the amendments are laudable but about whether they are attainable and strategically desirable in the context of the overall strategy of the Bill.

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4.30 pm

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My question here will be just as simple as the one I asked on the previous occasion. One of the bonuses and benefits that one gets when one works on a Bill like this is the amount of briefing one receives from relevant bodies, and one learns a whole series of things one previously did not know. I never know whether the organisations concerned—I am thinking particularly of RADAR—have sent the Government exactly the same briefing as have they sent the rest of us so the Government are in a position to know whether what they have said is accurate. I am delighted to see, from the smiles on the faces not only of those on the Front Bench but of their advisers behind them, that they do. It is therefore possible that my question is unnecessary.

In the briefing that RADAR sent us, in addition to telling us how many million disabled people were in need of accessible accommodation and how many of them were living in unsuitable housing today, it made a forecast that there will be an increase of between 57 per cent and 67 per cent in the numbers of disabled older people over the next 20 years. Do the Government think that that is broadly the right figure?

Baroness Andrews: We have had a good debate on a very important subject that is dear to my heart for reasons that will become clear. Having said that, I am afraid that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, predicted how I would respond, but I hope that I shall put forward some good arguments. I hope that in doing so I can reassure him.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, that we tend to see the briefing from various lobbies and we are grateful for it. We are living in an ageing society, which brings with it a higher proportion of people with disabilities. I do not know whether the RADAR figures are completely accurate because we are all in the business of trying to make intelligent predictions, but certainly the number of people living longer and with disability will increase, which is why the amendment is important and why we must be serious about what we are trying to do, as, indeed, we are.

Perhaps I may track back to the amendment itself. The HCA already has the object to improve the supply and quality of housing in England with a view to meeting the needs of people living in England. Clause 2(1) lists the four objects of the HCA. Clause 2(2) refers to people’s “future needs” and,

This means that the HCA is charged with ensuring that the different needs of the community are catered for by providing housing of different tenures and types. That includes the provision of accessible housing. For example, if the local assessment of needs shows that you have a local population with a disproportionate number of elderly people and, by implication, of disabled people, there will be a need for accessible homes over and above market or affordable homes. The agency is duty bound to enable the provision of that type of home. That could include needs which are specific to particular communities and localities. That is picked up by the notion of the “continued well-being” of

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communities. The HCA must work in partnership with local authorities, which negotiate the money they have available for disabled facilities grants to provide major adaptations such as having a ground floor bathroom put in for children or adults who can no longer use the stairs. The understanding of the needs of their local communities will shape the assessment of the type of housing to be provided. This will feed into the regional tier where the broad allocations of funding are decided and where the new National Housing and Planning Advice Unit will engage with the development of the regional spatial strategy. All that helps us not only to get a clear picture of what is needed locally but how it fits into the wider picture.

That is one aspect of what we are doing to meet the need for accessible homes but it goes much wider than that, as was picked up by the Committee. Recently we published a policy on housing and ageing, which is the first of its kind in the world. For the first time we have mapped our housing needs on to our demography. This picks up the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and the noble Lord, Lord Best. In the future, we shall seek not to build niche homes for older people but to build the sort of homes that we will all grow into as we grow older. That is the critical difference and is what future-proofs—to use a cliché—our ambitions and expectations. We have to do that because with an ageing population we simply cannot build for obsolescence. We have to have the sort of homes that will survive. The most benign of godfathers, Godfather Best, if I may call him that, made this perfectly clear when the Joseph Rowntree trust did its important work establishing 16 very simple standards for lifetime homes, which range from widening doors to having flat access into the hallway. Those standards are not difficult to achieve.

The Housing Corporation and English Partnerships powerfully took forward a commitment to build lifetime homes. They have led the way. We, in our policy, have stated that by 2011 all public-sector-funded homes will be developed as lifetime homes, and that we will work with industry to ensure that all homes will be built to that standard by 2013. That is a deliberate, balanced policy. It would be unfair of us to say to industry, “In the next six months, you have to build everything as lifetime homes”. It would not be practical or, indeed, fair. However, by setting a timescale within which they can work, by pledging, as we have, to work—

The Earl of Onslow: Surely, if it is a question of doing sensible things such as widening doorways, not having slopes, and complying with various other building regulations, I quite accept that it upsets people with houses that have already been designed, but it can be a regulation that future houses must be designed according to those criteria. It does not strike me that we should have to wait 12 years for that.

Baroness Andrews: It is until 2013, not 2020.

The Earl of Onslow: It is still a very long time just to take out your ruler and say that the door should be that much wider.

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Baroness Andrews: I appreciate what the noble Earl says and point him to the many conversations we have had with the housebuilding industry. They make it quite clear that we do this best if we do it in partnership. We do it through regulation only if it is not making the kind of progress that we want to see. We left the industry in no doubt that we will regulate if it does not do as we wish.

The point is that we are looking at significant amounts of housebuilding, much of which is already in plan. It is a big challenge to the industry when we are also asking for sustainable homes, sustainable building and so on and so forth. However, the noble Earl is right that it is important and something that we must and will do. I look forward to later debates on this on those parts of the Bill where we can go into even more detail. Apropos RADAR, we work uniquely closely with the disabled and ageing organisations lobbying on this. The policy has had a warm welcome because they know the realities with which we are dealing.

The argument about putting the requirement at this point of the Bill and in this way has been picked up by the noble Lord, Lord Best. We resist the notion of a list principle for very good reasons: we get ourselves into far greater problems creating exclusions and anomalies once we start adding things. I do not agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, because I believe that accessible homes are not necessarily different from, for example, affordable, sustainable homes or those with any other generic name. Once you have that on the face of the Bill, you are looking at other sorts of descriptions that could cause greater problems. I have absolutely no doubt that accessible housing is important, but even I do not think they should be at the expense of other forms of housing that a community may need. However, we are clear in our commitment and we have a specific timetable that we will make work.

I refer briefly to Amendment No. 19 on inclusivity. Although I agree with the intention behind it, we are not able to accept it because by building communities that work and attending to their well-being, we are building inclusive and fair communities in which you cannot tell the type of homes that they are—that is, rented, social or owned. We also want to be fair in our housing policy and to have mixed communities. All that is contained within the notion of well-being and the sort of thriving communities we want to see. I therefore believe that the proposal is already served by the Bill.

Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, talked about the renewal and regeneration of the existing stock. We have said in the paper on housing and ageing that we must make it absolutely clear that the homes of today must be safe and accessible. We do not want people who are at risk falling over for want of a grab rail that costs £50 and going into hospital for a hip operation that costs £6,000. Of equal priority is a major new investment in rapid repair services, which exist throughout the country but which are patchy, albeit often brilliantly delivered through the voluntary sector in partnership with local authorities. We want to see more and better rapid

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repair services, and we are working to put this policy into operation. Indeed, we have put more than £30 million in additional funding into it.

I am sure the noble Baroness knows that the regional allocation pot is £10 billion over the next three years. Our intention is that investment is targeted and that decisions are taken at the regional level according to regional needs. We continue to look for the right balance between new builds and improving the existing stock in different ways. I hope the noble Lord will feel that he can withdraw his amendment.

4.45 pm

Lord Dixon-Smith: I am grateful to all those who have taken part in this debate. It has been an extremely useful and focused debate, and has given rise to a number of points that I shall try to pick up on.

I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Best, for accidentally trumping his ace. That was inadvertent. I may have less expertise than he has in this field. I was not necessarily looking for the best place in the Bill to put this; I was looking for the best place to have a useful discussion. If he will forgive me, I do think that we will probably have a better focused and more understanding debate as a result of this debate when we finally get to his amendments because we will have gone around some of the issues beforehand. I therefore apologise for what one might call an accident. I accept that building regulations could provide a universal solution.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, hit the nail on the head fairly accurately with her hammer when she mentioned the 2013 target and asked about the existing houses. I can never remember whether there are 22 million or 25 million houses already in the country, but not all of them are built to lifetime home standards, whether they are stately piles or humble cottages built in the 15th century. These were not necessarily considerations in people’s minds when the homes were put up.

The special improvement grants available through the social services were also mentioned. I have seen elderly relatives helped in this way, but special improvements are not always easy to make. They can be made in some homes but not in others. It can be quite difficult in a really awkward old home. I am happy to knowledge that forms of assistance are there, but the reality is that the sooner we can ensure that new homes meet an available and required standard, the better it will be. I only marginally accept the Minister’s statement that 2013 may be the earliest practicable time when it could be applied, although I accept that a certain amount of notice of this sort of change is absolutely required.

I was fascinated by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Graham. They really got me going. I had this awkward thought; I wished that I could get into Dr Who’s Tardis and take his remarks back to when he was the Opposition Chief Whip in this House and would have understood exactly where we were coming from. Apparently, this afternoon, he pretends that he does not, but of course he does.

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Lord Graham of Edmonton: That was then, but this is now.

Lord Dixon-Smith: Quite so. This is the nature of politics and we all need to remember what goes on. One of the things that I found fascinating in relation to the 1997 election, having arrived here with the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, on the same day, was that we all changed where we were sitting in the House, but the speeches stayed where they were. It was ever thus, and I have no doubt that it will not be too long before we are performing that charade again.

I am grateful to my noble friends for their contributions, which were helpful. This has been a useful discussion, which will lead to more focused debate when we discuss this field again later in the Bill. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 not moved.]

The Earl of Listowel moved Amendment No. 20:

“( ) to support local authorities in the development of sufficient, suitable housing for care leavers,”

The noble Earl said: The amendment places a duty on the new agency to promote good practice in provision of appropriate accommodation for care leavers. The purpose of the amendment is to discover what steps Her Majesty's Government are taking to resolve the unacceptable patchiness of provision for care leavers, one of our most vulnerable groups of young people for whom we have the greatest responsibility.

At Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said:

One can apply the same principle to that of young people in care. We simply have not had a strategy to meet their complex needs and they have suffered as a consequence. I pay tribute to this Government for seeking to produce a strategy in terms of education by giving young people in care first admission to schools and by giving local authorities targets to meet on the welfare of children in their care. We increasingly recognise that we—specifically, local authorities—have a corporate parenting responsibility. These children did not choose to be taken into care. The state decided that they must be taken in. We have very special responsibilities for these children.

At this point, I am not asking for the agency to have responsibility, I am simply probing the Government to find out what their strategy is with regard to accommodation for young people leaving care. I wish to be reassured that there is a strategy going across health, education, local authorities and housing to meet the needs of these young people. Many of them need supported housing. How are we going to ensure that there is sufficient supported housing? Will the role of the independent reviewing officer be extended for him to monitor these young people for at least the first two years after they leave care? Perhaps the Minister can write to me on that. Are the Government looking

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at the regulations on supported accommodation and lodging for these young people? My experience is that there are many dedicated people who work to support these young people as they leave care, but who are often not sufficiently well qualified to do such a difficult job and are not adequately supported.

There need to be sufficient foyers, hostels and supported lodgings. The lack of suitable supported accommodation is serious. A council leader conceded to me last week that although he could point to excellent new provision in his area, many other areas were lacking. Care leavers can still end up in bed and breakfast accommodation. The National Leaving Care Advisory Service, based at the charity Rainer, has highlighted this as an issue of great concern. A National Voice, the care leavers’ charity has produced a report on accommodation, No Place Like Home, which highlights the many areas that need to be addressed. At a recent meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children and Young People in Care, care leavers talked about their experiences. Two of them spoke of being placed in unsuitable accommodation and finding themselves with new friends who were using their homes to deal drugs. Speaking to foster carers last week, I heard about their anxiety about the accommodation that their young people were being obliged to move into.

According to the Department for Children, Schools and Families, 25 per cent of young people leave care at just 16 years of age, while the average age for leaving home is 24. Many of these care leavers will need supported accommodation. Children are normally taken into care only when they are being harmed or are at serious risk of harm. Sixty per cent of those in care have had experience of abuse. While Her Majesty’s Government have taken commendable steps to improve the care experience, including significant additional financial investment and legislation, living in care can still often be unsatisfactory, and these young people are at their most vulnerable as they leave that care. For instance, a number of surveys have shown that upwards of 30 per cent of care leavers experience homelessness in the first year after leaving care. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, may recall from his experience in terms of housing and homelessness in London that 12 per cent of homeless adults have experience of care. I am sure, therefore, that noble Lords agree that the figure of 30 per cent in the first year is unacceptable.

It was very welcome to see the children’s Minister, Beverley Hughes, place such emphasis on improving the transition from care in the White Paper entitled Care Matters, which informed the Children and Young Persons Bill. However, failing to fill the current gaps in provision creates a lacuna in the Government’s plans for better outcomes for looked-after children. Policy needs to hang together, and partnership is needed. As I have said, I look forward to an assurance from the Minister that the necessary steps are being taken.

We are soon to receive a Bill that will raise the school leaving age to 18. In principle, I welcome that, particularly from the point of view of these children. If correctly implemented, it may help some of them to stay away from the temptations of drugs, alcohol, crime and early pregnancy because they will be

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sufficiently occupied in their learning, but surely it is a nonsense to insist that a 17 year-old care leaver should remain in education or training but not provide him with appropriate accommodation. That sets the young person up to fail. I hope that the Minister can provide some comfort in this regard. I know that from her experience and the charity she founded and directed, she will be sympathetic to the intentions behind this amendment, if not to the specifics. I look forward to her response and I beg to move.

Baroness Meacher: I had not planned to speak in this debate, but I want to express my strong support for the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Listowel. We spent a lot of time debating the incredible issues for young people leaving care during our consideration of the Children and Young Persons Bill. As my noble friend said, these children leave care when they are very young; it is perfectly normal for them to go when they are 16 to 18 years old. The average age for children leaving home is, of course, 24, and speaking from personal experience, I would suggest that even at that age they are still pretty vulnerable and in need of their parents’ support from time to time.

This amendment focuses on the needs of these young people. They require personal assistance, advice and support—and, I would suggest, monitoring. That could save the state vast sums of money in the years ahead and spare the community a great deal of discomfort through the crimes that these young people would otherwise commit in their attempt to get a roof over their head. If necessary, they will go to prison. That is the reality of what happens: if young people leaving care do not get any support, how can we expect them to lead normal lives, get through their education, find a job and so on? They will simply continue to fail.

The Minister will not be surprised if I mention mental health. I would suggest that virtually all young people leaving care are vulnerable to mental health problems. We know that the proportion of them who have active mental health problems is extremely high. We discussed all those figures during the passage of the Children and Young Persons Bill, and I will not repeat them today. We are talking about extremely vulnerable young people, young people who are no doubt heading for drug addiction and criminality if they do not get the support they need.

I know that the noble Baroness will be very sympathetic to these issues; I do not know to what extent she can provide us with assurance; but there is no doubt that this would be one of the better investments of public money that one can think of.

5 pm

Lord Graham of Edmonton: I was extremely interested in what the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said. I happen to be a patron of a charity in which the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, also plays a prominent part. It is called Charis. It operates in the Mile End Road on property given to it by Charrington’s Brewery years back. When it came to my attention, I went to visit it. Its raison d’ĂȘtre is almost exactly ambition or aspiration.

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