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Carers: Support

Volume 600: debated on Tuesday 13 October 2015

I am not quite sure what the situation is in Wales, but in England I do not think that carers’ invaluable contribution to society has ever been better recognised. We are working very hard to see the implementation of the improved rights for carers enshrined in the Care Act 2014. I am also responsible for developing a new national carers strategy to see what more we can do to support existing and new carers in England.

There are more than 6.5 million unpaid carers in the UK, with nearly 11,000 in my constituency. In total, they save the state more than £119 billion each year, which is more than this Government spend on the NHS . Research by Carers UK has found that nearly 50% of carers are struggling to make ends meet, and that is seriously affecting their health. What plans does the Minister have to work with the Department for Work and Pensions and the Treasury, and across government, to ensure that the improvement of carers’ finances will be a key part of the Government’s care strategy?

The work I am doing on developing the new strategy involves other Departments, and it will look at not only the economics, but what is happening internationally and where we can take the whole concept of caring for a different society in the future. The economics is certainly important; we could not do without the contribution that carers make, but it would be impossible to replace it with total Government finance.

Yesterday, the Public Accounts Committee heard from officials at the Department of Health about the implementation of the Care Act, which is a bold piece of legislation. They admitted that they were very concerned about the unidentified carers, who need to be found in order to be supported. What is the Minister planning to do to make sure that they are identified and supported?

In a way, the self-definition states its own problem: these are unidentified carers. I hope that the new responsibilities in the Care Act will encourage more people to come forward and that the greater work of carer support organisations, such as the one I preside over in Bedfordshire, Carers in Bedfordshire, will be able to identify more carers. We want more young people to come forward because, as the hon. Lady says, people are caring and they do not realise they are. We need a concerted effort all round to try to reveal them, so that more can be done.

I am surprised that the Minister believes he is supporting carers in any way acceptably well. The recent personal social services survey found that 38% of adult carers now care for more than 100 hours a week but only one in five of those carers is getting support to take a break from caring. Government cuts have caused a funding gap in social care, which, it is estimated, will be £4 billion by 2020, piling additional pressure on those family carers, and the better care fund and integration will not, in themselves, fix that gap. When will Health Ministers admit that they have got this wrong and argue for more funding for social care, so that carers can get the support and respite breaks they should get?

Between 2010 and 2015, £400 million extra was found in order to provide respite for those who are caring for others. Any support that goes into local government, or indeed the NHS, is predicated on a decent economy and decent economic principles in order to fund it—I believe from what happened last night that that has been abandoned by the Labour party. We have to have the resources in the first place. That is what we are seeking to ensure and that is what the work is being done for.