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Volume 474: debated on Monday 31 March 2008

5. What progress has been made on reviewing support for working carers; and if he will make a statement. (197194)

The carer’s allowance earnings limit was increased to £95 a week in October 2007. The current review of the national carers strategy is looking in depth at the full range of support that is provided to carers, including working carers. This is being done in consultation with carers and the organisations that represent them.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and for her personal commitment to solving the problem. It is widely agreed that carers who can and want to should be able to combine their caring responsibilities with paid employment, which is beneficial for them and society, so will she ensure that the review looks not only at the earnings limit, which remains low, despite the increase, but at making it easier for working carers who qualify for carer’s allowance to claim it without having to make trips back and forth to the benefit office every week, as many of them have to do?

I thank my hon. Friend not only for the question, but for the way she has championed carers’ rights over her years in the Commons. I am sure that she will be delighted to know that one of the taskforces will consider wider issues of employment—not only income and benefits, but how carers can be encouraged and supported to balance their caring responsibilities and employment. Of course, we are always looking at ways to make the application process for our benefits far more straightforward.

Carers do a wonderful job and save the state hundreds of millions of pounds every year. Does the Minister recognise that demographic change, especially in counties such as Northamptonshire, means that many more very elderly people in our local populations will require greater support?

We are all aware that there is a demographic issue about caring responsibilities. That is why I would have hoped that the hon. Gentleman welcomed the Prime Minister’s establishing the review of our national carers strategy, which will obviously take into account some of the demographic issues that the hon. Gentleman highlighted—in relation to not only his constituency, but the whole country.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways to support carers to get into work is to provide good quality respite or day care? She will not be surprised to find out that Aberdeen city council, as part of the £27 million of cuts in its budget, is closing day centres and taking away day care, thus probably making it much more difficult for many carers in Aberdeen to carry on with their work. It has done all that without undertaking any disability impact study on the consequences of its decision.

It is astonishing, given the statutory requirement under the disability equality duty, that a local authority has not conducted an impact assessment of the change in its services. My hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Doran) are working hard to ensure that Aberdeen council faces up to its responsibilities. If there is anything I can do to assist, I would be only too delighted to help. This is an interesting decision by an alliance of the SNP and Liberal Democrats in Aberdeen.

Does the Minister accept that many carers can and wish to work only part time, and that those for whom they care would often prefer to be cared for in-house when their permanent carer is out at work? During the review, will she look carefully at enabling long-term carers to afford such provision?

All those issues have been raised as part of the review of the national carers strategy. Of course, the strategy is a cross-governmental development. As well as the issues for which the Department for Work and Pensions is responsible, including employment and income, we are working closely with the Department of Health, which is examining some of the social care issues. Carers’ organisations and carers have raised the very issues that my hon. Friend mentioned.