GORDON BIRTWISTLE MP: True scale of number of dementia deaths should be known

Gordon Birtwistle, Liberal Democrats. Photo Ben Parsons 19-04-10
Gordon Birtwistle, Liberal Democrats. Photo Ben Parsons 19-04-10

Last week was a fantastic week in the constituency – I was very busy with visits, casework and meetings with people in Burnley and Padiham, the best part of being MP for our area.

During the week I met the Federation of Small Businesses at their Burnley offices, as part of our campaign to “Keep Trade Local”, to protect shops, post offices and pubs. Small businesses are at the heart of our community and we had a really positive meeting discussing how the Government is going help these businesses grow. The Federation of Small Businesses was positive about the future for small businesses in Burnley, as am I. Recent figures released by the Local Data Company show town centre shops in Burnley are doing well and Burnley has significantly fewer empty shops than Blackburn or Accrington.

I was very happy to read that Burnley’s town centre has survived the recession much more robustly than many similar towns and there are plenty of reasons to be very positive for the future – particularly with the Curzon Street shopping centre, which will be a great boost for Burnley.

I am also pleased that, from next month, the Big Society Bank will be taking money out of long forgotten accounts and making it available to lend to charities and voluntary organisations. This will be a vital source of funding for worthwhile groups that make such a great difference to the lives of our communities. I have spoken with many voluntary groups around Burnley who are very concerned about their future funding. This is one of the ways in which the Government is going to help these groups survive the tough economic times we are facing. In April, the bank will begin taking cash out of these accounts, which are thought to hold £500m. I hope we claim the lion’s share of that for our good causes.

On Monday and Friday, I held advice surgeries in the office and Burnley Library, where people raised local and national issues with me. One important issue raised was the need to accurately record dementia on death certificates, something which the Alzheimer’s Society has been campaigning for. There are about 750,000 people in the UK with dementia – a devastating condition which affects many older people, but also affects more than 16,000 people under the age of 65 in the UK.

Often, the direct cause of a dementia sufferer’s death will be something other than dementia and the condition will not be recorded on the death certificate, even if it is a contributory factor. This means the number of deaths of people who had dementia are not as accurate as they should be. More accurate recording on death certificates would enable a much better understanding of the numbers of people dying with this awful illness and help to plan services for the future.

On Tuesday I met the Citizens’ Advice Bureau in Burnley to discuss the Financial Inclusion Fund, a fund which pays for hundreds of specialist debt advisors to provide free advice. This fund was due to end, but I am pleased Vince Cable’s department has found £27m. to continue this important service for a year. I have written to him to find out more details of the proposals, as well as for information about funding for advice services in the future.

Finally, last week I wrote to the leader of Lancashire County Council, Geoff Driver, about social care services. There can be no doubt the UK’s finances means large savings are needed. The county council has to make savings of £179m. in the next three years. Yet I am concerned the budget passed on Wednesday does not do enough to protect frontline services for vulnerable children and adults. It would be possible to do much more to protect these important services. Additional funds could be found by re-allocating a portion of the budget for highways maintenance. I am disappointed these sensible proposals were voted down by the other parties.