GLENDA JACKSON: Longer lifespans put new focus on care

The view as usual during Parliament s summer recess is somewhat shrouded in the necessary equipment for the annual refurbishment and repair of bits and pieces of the fabric of the Palace of Westminster. In addition to the visual impact, hearing is also b

The view as usual during Parliament's summer recess is somewhat shrouded in the necessary equipment for the annual refurbishment and repair of bits and pieces of the fabric of the Palace of Westminster.

In addition to the visual impact, hearing is also being exposed to all those noises, drills, bangs and bells one associates with building work. I suppose Parliament must be one of the noisiest spots in London, not least due to the ever-present - well every 15 minutes - chiming of Big Ben, this year celebrating 150 years of perfect timekeeping.

Despite the fact that Parliament is not sitting, work goes on, not just on the part of the builders, plasters, carpenters and electricians and so forth. This is not I hasten to add because MPs fear being the butt of inevitable criticism regarding the 82 days in which Parliament will not be sitting, but because our constituencies do not go away!

Admittedly the majority of my colleagues who represent seats outside London are now working from their constituency offices, but recess is not for most MPs one long holiday. Our constituents still have problems, queries and difficulties that it is our duty, privilege even, to try to help tackle.

My own two-week break comes at the end of August and conscious of my carbon footprint, it will be spent, weather permitting, in my own back garden. In fact I'm not a great fan of traditional holidays. Yes I enjoy the escape from the tyranny of diary and telephone, but I'm not keen on carting luggage for several hours if one is lucky, nor that unspoken but tangible, sense of having to enjoy oneself.

A camera is an object, at least when operated by me, to guarantee image upon image of indeterminate objects shrouded in impenetrable fog. Or I lose it.

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Before the House rose, the government published their Green Paper on the future provision of social care for the elderly and infirm, or the Big Care Debate, as it is being referred to. This is an issue of importance for all of us, looking as it does to the decades ahead and the consequences of the fantastic gains in life expectancy already achieved and projected to grow still further.

While the growing ranks of silver surfers and aged adventurers are of great benefit to themselves and to society as a whole, the other side of the coin is that all too many people spend their final years in conditions sometimes little better than the geriatric wards phased out from our hospitals some decades ago, having been forced to run down their life savings in order to provide for the basics of existence which they are no longer capable of maintaining on their own.

The costs of care at present are, as ministers very frankly acknowledge, unfair and in national terms highly uneven, certainly in terms of cost if not also of quality.

We should all be thankful that we now live longer, but our challenge must be to ensure that this extra longevity is worth having, and as a society the way we confront these issues and adapt to the changes that are taking place needs long and careful consideration.

The government is asking for as much feedback and informed reaction to the three options put forward for consideration in respect of the funding of long-term personal and social care.

Healthcare services will of course remain free of charge on the NHS. What is being discussed is how we pay for the intimate help and care needed by our swelling ranks of very infirm old people as well as the other pressing issues and problems that will doubtless be thrown up in light of the myriad of other issues of concern to we senior citizens as Britain adapts for the first time to having more over 60s than under 16s.

Over the coming weeks I hope to be able to facilitate a number of meetings around the constituency to consider the challenges and opportunities that an aging society presents. Hopefully the Ham&High will keep you posted as timings and locations are fixed.

And despite my personal, somewhat curmudgeonly, attitude toward holidays, may I wish you all a well earned and hopefully sunshine filled vacation.

Glenda Jackson is

the Labour MP for Hampstead & Highgate