[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]
[Relevant Documents: e-petition 579692, Increase Carers Allowance to equal 35hrs at National Minimum Wage, and e-petition 300032, Pay Carers an allowance equivalent to a fulltime job at the National Living wage.]
I remind hon. Members that social distancing is no longer in operation, and that Mr Speaker has encouraged us to wear masks. There have been some changes to normal practice to support the hybrid arrangements. Members participating physically and virtually must arrive for the start of the debate and are expected to remain for the whole debate. I must also remind Members participating virtually that they must leave their camera on for the duration of the debate and that they will be visible at all times, both to each other and those of us here in the Boothroyd Room. If Members attending virtually have any technical problems, they should email the Westminster Hall Clerks’ email address, which is westminsterhallclerks@ parliament.uk. Members attending physically should clean their spaces before they use them and as they leave the room.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered support for unpaid carers and Carers Week 2021.
We are a nation of carers. Millions of people every day look after one or more loved ones—a family member or a friend, or someone who is elderly, disabled or sick. I want to thank and celebrate carers and to speak up for them and the many challenges so many carers face. To be clear, when I use the word “carer”, I am not talking about professional, paid carers—amazing though they are—or child carers and the important work of parents and childminders. Instead, I am focused on the millions of people working as unpaid carers in homes across our country, many of whom would not even call themselves carers. Millions of vulnerable adults and children depend on the efforts of our country’s carers, and yet the voice of these unpaid millions is rarely heard and listened to even less.
Covid has made the job of carers even more challenging. A recent survey by Carers UK found that 81% of carers are spending more time on their caring responsibilities during the pandemic, whether due to the needs of the person they are caring for increasing, or because the local care services they used to rely on have been reduced or closed. Despite all that, carers have too often been forgotten or ignored in so many ways. Take money. Right at the start of the pandemic, when the Chancellor put up universal credit by £20 a week, he refused to do the same for carer’s allowance. He is still resisting calls by Carers UK, the Liberal Democrats and others to put that right, despite the evidence that so many carers are in real financial distress made worse thanks to covid.
Take vaccinations. When the Government initially published the list of priority groups for vaccination in December, they left unpaid carers completely off the list, even though the case for including them is obvious, with so many caring for vulnerable people. Only after campaigning by carers organisations, the Liberal Democrats and carers themselves did Ministers finally U-turn. Even then, the effort to get the message out to carers and the vaccination services was, frankly, lamentable.
There are many more examples. The Government’s 80-page health and social care White Paper left out unpaid carers altogether, as did the Queen’s Speech in May. I am glad that the Health and Care Bill does at least include a requirement to involve carers in decisions about the people they care for, but the Bill does not go anywhere near far enough. There should be an explicit duty on the NHS to identify carers and promote their health and wellbeing, yet that it is sadly missing.
Here is the nub of the problem: the Government do not seem to understand that improving care is fundamental to improving health. Yes, there is debate about reforming and investing in social care to support the NHS, but I note that even there we are still waiting for the Government to publish their social reform proposals two years after the Prime Minister told us he had them ready to go. However, the link between health and care goes far wider than the relationship between social care providers and the NHS. It is shocking that that is still not properly recognised.
The reality for every family with an elderly, sick or disabled relative is this: the health and wellbeing of their loved one is not determined primarily by the hospital or the GP. So much of improving the nation’s health comes down to the quality of care that can be provided by family and friends. Yet millions of those unpaid carers do not even register in the core thinking and planning of the Department of Health and Social Care.
That is why this debate is so important. It is a chance for us to stand up for carers and say that they must not forgotten and ignored any longer. That is carers like Gayna, who looks after her two daughters with complex disabilities. Before the pandemic, Gayna got support from social services and her local carers’ centre, as well as a much-needed break when her girls were at college or with a youth worker. However, that all came to a halt when we entered lockdown, and Gayna’s amount of time spent on caring more than doubled.
Elaine had a similar experience as she cared for her husband, Mark, who is suffering with dementia. Throughout lockdown, Elaine struggled to cope without regular visits from Mark’s care workers. She deeply missed her respite time, and worried that Mark was not getting the mental stimulation he needed from the activities that he used to do with his care workers. She felt exhausted, stressed and like she had no one to turn to for advice or support. In Elaine’s own words:
“When you’re caring alone, you just have to keep going.”
That is all taking a huge toll, especially on the mental health of carers. Back before the pandemic, the 2019 health survey for England showed that for those carers undertaking 20 hours or more of care a week, the rate of depressive symptoms was double that of the rest of the population. I shudder to think of the state of mental health of many carers now, nearly 18 months into the pandemic.
Let us not forget Britain’s 800,000 young carers. The combination of lockdown, school closures and extra caring responsibilities has taken a toll on their academic progress and their mental health. Some have not been able to return to school, because they are worried about bringing the virus home with them, and about leaving their loved ones without care.
What should be done for our nation of carers? I have already mentioned the need to raise carer’s allowance by at least £20 a week, or £1,000 a year. So far, the Prime Minister has refused time and again to do that. He must do it now. One of the next most urgent things to do is to give carers a break. The survey by Carers UK found that 64% of carers have not been able to take any breaks from their caring role during the pandemic; 74% said they feel exhausted and worn out as a result of caring during covid; and 44% said they are reaching breaking point. Local authority budgets are already stretched way past breaking point, so the Government must give councils immediate emergency funding to offer every unpaid carer the support services that they need to take a weekly break.
Ministers must also provide more cash to councils to fund the voluntary sector’s work for carers. In my constituency, we have an amazing organisation called Kingston Carers’ Network, which is dedicated to improving the lives of carers in Kingston. From support groups to advice on benefits, from special projects for young carers and young adult carers to carers’ assessments and mentoring, Kingston Carers’ Network helps more than 4,000 carers in our borough. With a professional team of 21 and a volunteer group of 72, KCN provides extraordinary value for money. With a bit more help, it could do so much more, helping the thousands of carers locally it knows it has not yet reached.
KCN has risen to the challenge of covid, providing new services. One example is the telephone befriending service it set up in March last year. It recruited and trained 23 volunteers to provide one-to-one telephone support to carers. KCN believes that that simple, extremely cheap service has helped to reduce the anxiety and stress in many adult carers and prevented serious deterioration in carers’ mental health. I hope other colleagues have similar groups in their areas and I hope that the Minister will work with local authorities so that this critical work for carers can receive far more investment.
There is much more I want to say, but I am keen to let colleagues contribute, so that the Government can hear the huge cross-party support for our carers and realise that they need to do far more. Before I finish, however, I want to declare an interest—perhaps I should have done so earlier.
I am a carer and I have been at many stages of my life. My first time was as a young carer, starting aged 12. My dad died when I was four, so when my mum became terminally ill, when I was 12, the daily care fell largely to my brother and me, and finished when she died when I was 15. Later, I cared for my wonderful Nanna, my mum’s mum, organising her care and trying to make her last few years as comfortable as I could. And now as a father, my wife Emily and I care for our gorgeous disabled son John.
I think my experience as a carer is similar to that of millions of people. Caring for a close family member or friend can be rewarding and full of love, but it is far from glamorous and can be relentless and exhausting. That is why this debate is so important. Political debate in our country needs to reflect far better the experience and needs of our nation of carers. The Government need to do far more, especially because of covid, especially to support the nation’s health and the mental health of carers, and especially because our nation depends on those carers.
The debate can last until 4.45 pm. I am obliged to call the Front-Bench spokespeople no later than 12 minutes past 4. The guideline limits are 10 minutes for the SNP, 10 minutes for Her Majesty’s Opposition and 10 minutes for the Minister. Ed Davey has three minutes at the end of the debate to sum up the proceedings. Until 12 minutes past 4, there are seven extremely distinguished Back Benchers seeking to contribute, and if we impose a limit of six minutes, everybody will be able to get in. I call Wera Hobhouse.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Hollobone, and a great pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey). I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this important debate.
Tomorrow, schools will close for the summer holiday. For most children, that will mean a well-earned break after the most difficult of school years, spending more time with family and friends and taking a holiday. For up to 100,000 children in England alone, school holidays are particularly difficult. During the six-week break, some young carers will have to fit in up to 30 hours of caring responsibilities every week. Caring for a sibling or parent will come before any summer holiday plans.
The 2011 census identified nearly 200,000 young carers in England and Wales. One in eight were under eight years old. Recent research suggests that that figure represents only the tip of an iceberg. Young carers are a very big silent community. Some estimates suggest that one in five schoolchildren are young carers.
That is one in five schoolchildren watching over family members, carrying things for them, making sure that they do not fall. That is one in five schoolchildren cooking meals, collecting prescriptions or doing admin tasks for parents with learning disabilities. That is just the number we know about. The challenges that these children face can vary greatly. As in many areas, the challenges have been made much worse by the pandemic.
A recent Carers Trust survey found that 58% of young carers are caring for longer, spending an average of 10 hours a week more on their caring responsibilities. These children face these challenges for somebody they love. While they would not do anything differently, that does not make it any easier. Young carers carry with them a great deal of worry—worry that can often make those they care for feel guilty.
Being a young carer can have a massive impact on the things that many of us take for granted as an important part of growing up such as education. The Children’s Society found that young carers were likely to have significantly lower educational attainment at GCSE level. Some 73% report having to take time off school. Carers aged 16 to 18 are twice as likely not to be in education, employment or training, and 45% of carers report mental health problems. That is not good enough. Like every child, young carers deserve an equal chance in life. They do a remarkable job, but they need more support. This Government owe them that.
The Government must bring forward plans to reform social care, so that we have a well-funded sustainable system that can deliver consistent high-quality care. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton rightly called for an immediate £1,000 per year increase to the carer’s allowance. I urge the Government to go one step further and extend the eligibility criteria to those in full-time education.
I would also like to see the Government work to increase social awareness. Too many people are unaware that they can self-identify as carers and access the support they are entitled to. Caring is often poorly understood by peers, and teachers need to be better trained to identify young carers.
To finish, I pay tribute to one of the most exciting young carers’ programmes in this country, which happens to be in my own constituency. Bath Philharmonia is the only UK orchestra that delivers a music-making programme for young carers. It has reached more than 1,000 young carers and helped them benefit from the power of music. It supports them to play, create and perform their own original music. The programme gives young carers a safe space to express themselves, make friends and build their confidence and self-esteem. One young carer said:
“Bath Phil has taught me how to take part in something with a team. It has shown me how to be confident in myself, even if it’s just for a moment. It has given me something to look towards, which has helped me through some really tough times.”
This positive environment not only reduces isolation but raises aspiration. Gaining skills in not only music but communication, teamwork and confidence helps many of these young carers find a way forward, and it has helped young carers and their families when they are struggling. I leave Members with a comment from Jason Thornton, BathPhil’s music director, about the power of programmes that support and lift young carers:
“We’ve got children being children. And that’s wonderful.”
It is a real pleasure to take part in the debate under your stewardship, Mr Hollobone. I thank the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey) for enabling us to tease out the issues relating to unpaid carers. I concur with much of what he said.
I am disappointed to see only Labour and Liberal Democrat Back Benchers taking part in the debate. I genuinely would have liked to listen to Tory MPs’ views on the matter, given that it affects so many people in our constituencies. It is worth reiterating a few figures. In 2019-20, around 7% of the UK population were providing unpaid care. That is just under 5 million people, or an average of more than 7,500 people in each constituency, providing unpaid care.
In my own local authority in Sefton, around 5,000 people aged over 65 have dementia. In my constituency alone, that is around 1,700 people. I expect that figure could be higher if we take into account non-diagnosed dementia and people who are below the radar. By 2030, that number is set to rise to almost 6,500 people and over 4,000 of them will have severe dementia, meaning they are most likely to need support and social care. As many as 700,000 informal carers support people with dementia in the UK. They are asking to be helped out—not to be given a free ride. Of course, a significant number of carers themselves will be older and have their own physical and/or mental health issues. The real human impact on the lives of so many people and individuals can be clouded by the figures, but the figures cannot be ignored.
When I use the word “clouded”, it actually brings to mind the Alzheimer's Society report, “The Fog of Support”, which I exhort Members to read. In short, it sets out the challenges faced by both informal and/or unpaid carers, and formal carers. Some of the examples are heartbreaking. One carer says:
“Because I’ve got to be back within a certain time…you’re clockwatching. You can’t relax.”
Another quotation reads:
“He doesn’t want to go and if he goes in for respite he packs his case every night, ready to come home.”
Covid has thrown a cloak over the needs of many, and those two examples are not just reflective of reality; they are reality. For those who have no family and are the only carer, the strain and pressure are intolerable. In the first wave of covid, family and friends spent an additional 92 million hours caring for people with dementia—unpaid care. Since the pandemic began, unpaid carers have provided £135 billion-worth of care. It has been a long 16 months, and many relationships are under strain.
Members will have seen the Alzheimer’s Society briefing for the debate, and I thank it for that information. I am afraid that the Government’s policy on support for carers is in complete disarray. The Commons Library report is, as ever, a measured assessment of the current state of affairs. It says:
“The Government has said that it intends to publish a final evaluation of the Carers Action Plan in 2021…When the Government decided not to proceed with the publication of a Carers Strategy it stated that carers would instead be included in a then expected Green Paper on the reform of adult social care. However, the expected Green Paper had not been published by the time of the 2019 general election and the current Government no longer specifically refers to plans for a Green Paper.”
There is delay after delay, with more delay for good measure in case there was insufficient delay in the first place. A meeting between the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the former Health Secretary—a so-called “do or die” meeting—was postponed in June. Asked about the postponement on Radio 4, the Business Secretary said he did not know that it was happening, and that it had been called off. If three senior members of the Government cannot even co-ordinate their diaries on one of the most important social issues affecting millions of people, what confidence can we have in their getting to grips with the substantive issue?
The Prime Minister, the Chancellor, the Health Secretary and every single member of the Government and their supporters are letting down not just older people but younger people, children and working-age disabled people. The Disabled Children’s Partnership produced an excellent briefing for the debate. Time does not allow me to go into its findings in any detail, but I hope it will be a salutary and informative read for the Minister. How much more evidence do the Government need to prove that the care system in general is in disarray, as is the informal, or unpaid, care system?
The Prime Minister likes things to be oven ready. He claims to like to get things done. He has promised action on this time after time, so perhaps he could use his isolation in Chequers productively and get to grips with this issue. It is time to deliver. Actions speak louder than words.
It is an honour to serve under you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone. I thank the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey) for securing this hugely important debate.
Last month, during Carers Week, I had the very great privilege of visiting Gateshead Carers, situated in the constituency of my friend and neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), but covering my constituency of Blaydon. Its chief executive, Steve Cowen, tells me that there are 25,000-plus unpaid carers across the borough of Gateshead, and that they save the council, the NHS and all of us over £500 million in care costs per year. That is an incredible figure. While I was there, I met some of the carers it works with and heard about their lives, the situations that they face, and what they need to make their lives and those of the people they care for better.
I met Ian, a carer who had been working on the association’s allotment, welcoming the chance to have some time away. Sadly, covid-19 restricted his ability to get away from home, but he is ready to get back to that now. I met Irene and Trisha, befriender and befriended, who have been talking together for over a year during lockdown, and met for the very first time on the day that I met them. Trisha had been an unpaid carer for her husband and, even after he went into residential care, was spending all her days with him in the residential home. Covid-19 meant that she was no longer able to do that. She was really missing it, and welcomed the chance to strike up that new friendship.
I met Lynne, who is a carer for her husband, an army veteran—but not so old—who told us that it had taken her some time to understand that his health meant that she was a carer. “I was just his wife”, she said, “it’s what you do.” She has realised that she is an unpaid carer, and like many unpaid carers, there comes a time when the caring takes over from what other paid work she has. She is making a huge contribution, and thankfully is now receiving support from Gateshead Carers Association. Stuart had become involved in Gateshead Carers Association as a carer, and now lends his skills to that association as a trustee while still being an unpaid carer.
I could mention so many other people: constituents who have found that they have become unpaid carers, whether for a child with disabilities, for someone who has developed dementia, or for someone who, because of illness or age, younger or older, needs that full-time caring support. Many of those carers—dare I say it—were the 1950s-born women who saw their retirement age changed as a result of legislation. They have looked after parents who need care and have given up work, only to find that when the person they care for dies they are not entitled to their pension, and have been left destitute. Covid-19 has made this worse. Less access to external support and company increases isolation, but let us be clear that, even before covid-19, things were not easy for carers, so we do not want to return to the situation pre-covid. We want to address those pre-existing conditions. Of course, for those caring for children with disabilities, the pressures have been even greater than they were before covid.
I want to say a word on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley), who hoped to be here, but is unable to. She has told me what she would have said: “I want to talk about the impact that lifting coronavirus restrictions will have on carers for people who are clinically extremely vulnerable. I have heard from unpaid carers who say they are at a loss as to how they and the people they care for are ever going to be part of society as restrictions go and they follow the clinically extremely vulnerable guidance.”
Katy Styles is a campaigner for the We Care campaign. She cares for her husband, who has motor neurone disease. She says:
“I am worried that unpaid carers’ lives will be further pushed back into the shadows and we will essentially live a twilight existence, not engaging with others, trying to stay safe, not taking any risks and being not only unheard but unseen by the rest of society. There is no end to this. No road map for us, just the very edge of the map and no coming back from there. It’s particularly tough for those caring for people with dementia or Learning Disabilities. If you are Clinically Extremely Vulnerable we know the vaccine works differently than from the whole population. We will effectively be back to shielding, but with no support and whilst the rest of the country this time cracks on.”
In the time left, I will talk about some of the things we need. Unpaid carers need proper carers’ breaks and respite care. As we have heard from other Members, we need an increase in the carers’ allowance: £67 is just not enough for the people who devote all that time. Most of all, we need a proper care plan for adult social care, so that the people for whom they are caring are able to access the support they need, and the unpaid carers can also access support. I hope that the Minister will be able to talk to us today about what would be done for carers under the adult social care system—a system that needs to be properly funded, not just to be a cap on how much an individual spends.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Hollobone, and I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey) for securing this massively important debate. I should declare an interest, because I am a carer, and have been for the past 22 years; however, I do not want to talk about that today.
Although I thought I knew everything there was to know about caring as an individual, I was taken by surprise at a clinic I held when I was a Member of the Scottish Parliament. I was at a clinic in Castletown in Caithness, and a gentleman in his early 60s came to see me. He was a bachelor; he was on a very low pension; and he told me how he was looking after his mother, who was bedridden and incontinent. He told me that he was not going to put her in a home; she had looked after him all his life, and he was now going to look after her. He then broke down in the middle of the clinic, which as a new Member of the Scottish Parliament I found rather disturbing, and told me his tale. The national health service had afforded him an allowance of four adult diapers—nappies—for his mother, per day. Each fortnight, or month—whatever the period was—the requisite number of diapers would be delivered to his household. He then told me that what was awful was that, at the flick of an unknown health mandarin’s pen, this allowance had been decreased to three diapers a day. He said that the reason he broke down was, “I’m not in my first youth—I’m not as young as I was. It’s the bed linen. It’s nighties. I can’t cope with this. I can’t cope. I’m desperate.” I gritted my teeth and said that, “If I do nothing else as a Member of the Scottish Parliament, I’ll sort this for you.”
I was so angry the next day that I went to Heather Macmillan, who runs my constituency office, and said, “Take a letter! Words fail me. I cannot believe it.” She said, “Jamie, go for a walk. I’ll write the letter. I’ve got the gist of the problem.” We got it sorted and he got back up to four diapers a day. One little thing had been destroying his life, and that was an unexpected aspect of caring that I had not foreseen—it was a real curveball. I can only tell this anecdote now because the gentleman concerned is no longer with us—I have kept quiet all these years—and the point of it is that there are things that can impinge on caring that can be entirely unexpected. It is not always about money; it is about a clumsy and thoughtless decision that was, I fancy, taken far away from where this man lived in Caithness.
Another point, to echo what other Members have said, is about young carers. In my constituency, we are very fortunate to have an organisation called Tykes Young Carers, based in Golspie, Sutherland. I have waited a long time to go on the record and commend that organisation here in this place. I take my hat off to it. Having met its representatives over the years, I have learned certain things and I am sure that all Members will be familiar with similar examples. A young carer who returns home from school, perhaps to a remote croft in the highlands, might have to look after a single parent who is alcoholic and feed and look after younger siblings. Then, when they go back to school the next day, they get roasted by the teacher for not having done their homework. That is an oversight on the teacher’s part, but the teacher cannot be blamed for not knowing all the facts about that particular family. That, however, is another unintended occurrence for carers. Over 22 years of looking after my better half—as we say in the highlands—I thought I knew it all, but I did not.
My appeal to the Minister is, as the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) has just said, for the Government to take an overall look at this situation. Yes, it is about resources, but it is also about having the radar, being truly three-dimensional and working this way and that way to identify all the things that can go wrong with caring—they need not necessarily be related to money—and make a care giver’s life truly miserable. I go back to my fist anecdote: what was the cost of one adult diaper? It was probably a fraction of a penny—it was not so difficult to provide. However, because of the bureaucracy, and because the unknown mandarin’s pen ticked what it did, that gentleman’s life had been destroyed. I often wonder whether I did any good as a Member of the Scottish Parliament; I like to think that, if I did nothing else, at least I sorted that chap’s life out.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone). I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey) on securing this very important debate; reflecting on his own family experiences, he has been championing carers for some time.
Our unpaid carers ought to be supported for the vital work that they do for their loved ones, not left to struggle and, as in far too many cases, left to rely on services such as food banks. Other Members have outlined the importance of unpaid carers and the many difficulties that they face. As my party’s Department for Work and Pensions spokes- person, I will take a moment to outline what we are talking about when it comes to the carer’s allowance. To be entitled to carer’s allowance, a person must be at least 16 years old, which obviously leaves out some of the young carers whom Members have already mentioned. They must spend at least 35 hours a week caring for someone in receipt of a qualifying disability benefit. They must earn less than £128 a week and not be in full-time education or studying for 21 hours or more a week—we can see more exclusions there—and not be subject to the no recourse to public funds immigration rule. Carer’s allowance is non-contributory. It is not dependent on someone’s national insurance record, and it is not means-tested, but it is taxable. As other Members have mentioned, the weekly rate is currently £67.25.
I want to highlight the overlapping benefits rule. There are 1 million claimants who meet the requirements for entitlement to carer’s allowance, and the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd) referred to the likely number of carers in the UK who do not receive benefits. Just over 900,000 receive the payments, and that is mainly because of the overlapping benefits rule. If someone receives another overlapping income replacement benefit worth at least £67.25 a week, they do not receive carer’s allowance. If the overlapping benefit is worth less than £67.25 a week, their carer’s allowance payments are reduced so that the total is £67.25. What does that mean? In his anecdote about his constituent, my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross mentioned that the gentleman was on a low pension income. The reality is that the overlapping benefits rule impacts most on people receiving a state pension. Some 79% of claimants who are entitled to carer’s allowance but who are not receiving it are aged 66 or over. To put it another way, 92% of eligible claimants aged 65 or under receive carer’s allowance, but 97% of eligible claimants aged 66 or over do not do so.
Simply put, £67.25 is not enough of an income and does not reflect the value that we as a society put on the work of carers. It is less than £2 an hour for 35 hours each week, and we know that full-time caring is not limited to 9 am to 5 pm on Monday to Friday. Of course, people who care for others do not do so for payment; they do it out of love. However, that is not a reason to leave so many people in poverty, from which they have no means of extracting themselves.
Many of my constituents have written to me, asking for a fairer system that recognises the contribution of carers and that does not penalise them if they manage to balance unpaid caring and work—a system that truly understands the needs of those it serves and that recognises circumstances whereby carers may be delivering care to more than one person, such as an elderly relative and a disabled child. I have constituents who have stopped receiving carer’s allowance but have continued having sums deducted from their universal credit. Like other Members, I have constituents who are simply in dire need of a break, but who cannot afford respite because of the limits on personal budgets. I also have constituents who are pushed on to the breadline because of payment deductions, clawbacks and inflexible assessment periods.
Unpaid carers, almost three quarters of whom are women, have simply been forgotten by the Government, who increased universal credit and working tax credit basic elements by £20 a week during the pandemic but who failed to offer such support to those on legacy benefits—predominantly disabled people and their unpaid carers. It is true that my constituents in North East Fife are able to claim a supplement of £8.83 each week from the Scottish Government. Although that helps, and I recognise the Scottish Government’s more compassionate approach, it is still simply a fraction of what is needed. That is why the Liberal Democrats are calling for an immediate increase to carer’s allowance of £1,000 a year, with a £20 increase to the universal credit carer’s element, in order to prevent this from being a deduction that is immediately offset by other reductions, as I have referred to.
Our unpaid carers are all too often our unsung heroes, and I want to recognise groups in North East Fife that provide support to carers and those for whom they care—specifically, the Fife Carers Centre, its North East Fife wellbeing group, and Families First in St Andrews, which I have had the privilege of visiting. This debate gives us the opportunity to sing their praises, and we must keep fighting for a just system of benefits payments to support the most vulnerable in our society.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and I thank the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey) for securing this important debate. I agree with everything he said about the plight of unpaid carers. We must increase and expand the carer’s allowance, properly fund respite breaks and recognise unpaid carers in legislation.
The situation for paid carers is equally dire. The Resolution Foundation found that between 2017 and 2019 more than half of care workers were paid well under the real living wage. Despite this, after a decade of cuts and Government underfunding of care, Salford has done its best to try to lift wages to a standard that carers can actually live on. Salford City Council and Salford clinical commissioning group, following a campaign by Salford City Unison, set aside funds to give care workers a significant wage increase and covid sick pay when isolating. This so-called Salford offer was offered to private care providers, but staggeringly, even when public money is made available, some companies have actually refused to take it if it means improving pay or terms and conditions for workers. What can the Minster suggest to address this?
Sadly, that is only one symptom of the structural problems that exist in care. As the Women’s Budget Group states,
“the structural problems with the sector…have arisen from allowing uncontrolled consolidation by private providers, including private equity.”
Salford City Unison further told me:
“We also see every day that even where we are able to secure contractual guarantees for workers, companies invest so little in back-office services that workers are regularly paid the wrong amount, get rotas at the last minute and find that the days they booked for leave are not recorded in the system and are therefore cancelled at short notice.”
I will read the Minster two quotes from care workers in Salford. Paul says:
“Private companies—and even so-called charities—only care about how much money they make. Not us workers or the people who need our care and support. We want more Government money for social care, but we’ve seen in Salford that loads of private companies would rather turn down public money offered by the council and the NHS, than use it to improve our wages or pay us when we’re off because of COVID.”
Diane, another care worker, says:
“I work in Homecare, often working 7am until 2pm, then back on at 4pm until 10:30pm and then back on at 7am the next day to do it all again. Bear in mind that means I have to get to my first call at 6:30am and don’t get home until 11pm. I am not the same carer when I work that many hours and that breaks my heart. When I ask for holidays, the company asks ‘Are they important? Do you need to be off that long?’ They tell you your days off have changed so that you have to cancel your appointments made in your own time. I am always being given extra calls. Once I actually covered 32 calls in one day. You cannot be a good carer when you are forced to work like that.”
That is not how we should treat those people we charge to look after the most precious people in our lives, is it? It is no way to run a care system. I hope that the Minster agrees that care workers must receive the pay and security they deserve; that unpaid carers must receive the allowances and respite they deserve; and ultimately that the Government must recognise care as a form of public social infrastructure and fund it as such.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey) on securing the debate and on his powerful introduction, which included his personal experience.
Like other Members, I will contribute specifically on the issue of young carers. A couple of years ago, when I led a Westminster Hall debate on young carers, I was struck by the number of colleagues from this snapshot of 650 people who came along and shared their personal experience as young carers, including the right hon. Member. It was striking that so many had that experience. I cannot offer that. I simply became involved in the issue after meeting Sheffield Young Carers and being blown away by these extraordinary young people as they juggled all the huge challenges for everybody of their age with responsibilities for caring that would daunt many of us. They include young people such as Holly, who started caring when she was just nine or 10 for her mum and her sister. Her mum had an underactive thyroid and her sister had reflux in her right kidney. Holly said of her life:
“I don’t get much time to be a child or to spend time with friends. I don’t mind but it sometimes gets really frustrating if I can’t sit down for 5 minutes on my own. My life is different to young people who aren’t carers because I struggle a lot with life and have people to care for. They get to be kids and live their life. I still get to live my life but I have to be an adult and be very careful. The highs are that I get to spend lots of time with my mum and sister. The lows are that I have no other family around so it’s just us 3. It’s very painful for me and very emotional to have to watch my sister screaming in agony.”
Holly’s experience is reflected in that of too many young people across the country. Young carers’ average age is just 12 and their family income is at least £5,000 lower than others’; 68% are bullied at school, 26% are bullied and about their caring role, and 45%, unsurprisingly, report mental health problems. They achieve on average nine grades lower at GCSE than their peers, and they are four times more likely to drop out of further and higher education.
With all those challenges, the right support is vital. Clearly, we owe them nothing less. Reaching out to those we know is only one part of the challenge, because so many young carers are hidden from view and are not recognised in the places they can be best supported. As the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) said, the 2001 census identified 166,000 or so young carers, but research suggests that there are as many as 800,000 in England alone. The truth is that we do not know how many we are talking about, so the first step in supporting them is to identify them.
Just over three years ago, I secured a Prime Minister’s question and described the experience of some of the inspiring young people I have worked with through Sheffield Young Carers. I asked the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), whether she would meet them. To my surprise, and to her credit, she agreed, so I took eight young people down from Sheffield.
In advance of the meeting, I said to them, “Look, you need to sit down and work out what your priorities are.” What was impressive was that they did not choose issues relating to their immediate circumstances; they landed on the issue of support for others in their position who were not recognised. They put three main points to the Prime Minister: that schools should be required to have a young carers lead, just as for children with special educational needs and looked-after children, with a responsibility to identify and support young carers; that Ofsted should inspect schools on what they are doing to support young carers; and that GPs should be required to play a role in identifying young carers, and the Care Quality Commission should check that they hold a register of young cares in their practices.
We had a great discussion with the Prime Minister. In a press release after the meeting, No. 10 said that
“the Government will be undertaking a review to identify opportunities for improvement in these spaces.”
Arising from that, the Carers Trust published a useful toolkit on identification practice for young carers in England, but we need to go further. I appreciate that there is a responsibility on local authorities under the Children and Families Act 2014 to proactively identify young carers, but it is hard to see how they can comply with that duty without working in partnership with schools and GPs.
It is not just about identification. A designated lead in schools can tell children about the types of support that are available, be somebody to talk to, address the issues of flexibility with homework and lateness, get young carers to talk about shared experiences and ensure school staff can provide a support plan. GPs are also well placed to identify support. I hope the Minister will be able to tell us what progress has been made in giving schools and GPs that role in identifying and supporting young carers in the two years since the Government gave that commitment.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and I congratulate the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey) on securing this incredibly important debate. His contribution was very powerful.
I begin by noting two things. First, the story of the young girl named Holly recalled by the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) is a stark reminder that many carers are young people. I am sure many Members in the room felt emotional listening to that story. The right support is vital, and that can be given only when young carers are correctly identified. Secondly, I am disappointed to see that there are no Tory Back Benchers speaking in the debate.
As the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton stated, Carers Week is an annual campaign to raise awareness of caring, highlighting the challenges faced by unpaid carers and recognising their contribution. As many Members have noted, Carers Week also helps people who do not think of themselves as having caring responsibilities to identify as carers and access the appropriate support. I reiterate an important matter raised by the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd): many carers will not be accounted for. It is important that we work cross-party to ensure that we continually highlight the wide-ranging issues that constitute caring responsibilities and to consider how we can advertise that aspect further. The SNP is happy to give that support where possible.
The hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) made an incredibly valid point that I had not thought about too much—the gendered impact of caring responsibilities. Many young carers, unpaid carers and carers in general are women, and it is important that any Government intervention reflects that. The hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) recalled stories from carers, and we need continually to humanise debates and put names to stories so that we remember we are discussing real people.
This year’s Carers Week ran in June around a theme of making caring visible and valued. In Scotland, Carers Week is co-ordinated by Carers Scotland, which is funded by the Scottish Government. A Carers Scotland survey of around 230 current and former carers found that 36% felt unable to manage their caring role due to reduced support from health and care services, as well as limited help from family and friends; 71% have not had any breaks from caring during the pandemic; 77% felt exhausted as a result of caring during the pandemic; and only 23% felt confident that the support they receive with caring will continue following the pandemic. Our carers have been at the heart of the pandemic, and it is a priority for the SNP in Government to ensure that caring is visible and valued—prior to, during and after the pandemic.
The Scottish Government fund the co-ordination of Carers Week in Scotland to highlight carers’ immense contribution to our society and the extra pressures they may have faced during the pandemic. The Scottish Government also passed the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 to deliver real change for carers, enshrining in law each carer’s right to support and a
“personalised plan to identify what is important to them”,
such as a short break or their wish to return to work. An additional £28.5 million has been invested for local carer support in this year’s budget, bringing investment under the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 to £68 million per year.
Over the past 16 months, the covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on carers, as many Members have said, which has further exposed and underlined the challenges that many carers face. Significant number of carers have been on call all day every day over the past year—on duty, not getting a night’s sleep, no time to themselves or proper time with family or close friends.
Unsurprisingly, many carers are now exhausted and worried about how they will continue to care without increased support, especially financial. That is why during the pandemic the Scottish Government invested an extra £1.1 million in the short breaks fund, plus an extra £300,000 in benefits and leisure opportunities for young carers via the Young Scot card. The Scottish Government also launched their national wellbeing hub in May last year to empower carers who had never done so before to address their physical and mental health. It signposts unpaid carers to relevant services and provides a range of self-care and wellbeing resources.
During the pandemic, in April 2020, the Scottish Government established a £500,000 remote working fund to help local carer organisations to transition to remote working, so they could continue to provide advice and emotional support to carers, such as telephone counselling and online sessions. As the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) explained, the pandemic has highlighted some real concerns with regard to carers around isolation and creating friendships. I hope the Minister is taking note of the constituents’ stories that Members have been recalling.
To ensure that carers are supported, the SNP has made a number of changes while in government, including the fact that Scotland is the first UK nation to extend the provision of personal protective equipment to unpaid carers. The Scottish Government also prioritised unpaid carers for vaccination, proactively scheduling many via GP and social security records and ensuring others were encouraged to register for a priority vaccination in March and in April.
The financial implications of being a carer can be challenging for many. That is why the Scottish Government have delivered improved support for carers as a priority through Scotland’s social security powers. The carer’s allowance supplement is the first payment made by Social Security Scotland and it increases the carer’s allowance by 13%, with eligible carers receiving £231.40 every six months. Since the launch of the carer’s allowance supplement in 2018, the Scottish Government have paid out £129 million to more than 100,000 carers.
In 2020-21, the Scottish Government invested £358 million in carer’s allowance and carer’s allowance supplements combined, and they paid a coronavirus carer’s allowance supplement of £230.10 in June 2020 to support carers with the impact of the pandemic. They will bring forward legislation to make another extra payment with the December supplement this year.
I have recited what the Scottish Government have done and what the SNP has championed in Scotland. The SNP is proud of its record as the Scottish Government in supporting unpaid carers. We will continue to advocate for unpaid carers, but we are happy to work across parties to ensure that unpaid carers across these islands are supported.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and I congratulate the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey) on securing the debate. His speaking about his personal experiences over many years was powerful; the House is often at its best when people share such experiences. I am sure many carers across the country will have heard what he said and been grateful to him for raising those points.
My main argument is that transforming support for families who care for elderly and disabled relatives must be at the heart of any plan for social care reform. This will be a critical test of whether the Prime Minister finally delivers on his promise to
“fix the crisis in social care”,
which he made two years ago on the steps of No. 10 Downing Street. That is vital for the 11.5 million unpaid family carers in England, who provide the vast majority of care and support in this country, but who are all too often relegated to the bottom of the list when it comes to attention, investment or reform.
This is vital, too, for the taxpayer, because if unpaid carers’ own physical and mental health suffer, or they can no longer provide support for the people they love, which means more people end up using more expensive NHS services, the cost to the public purse will be far greater. It is vital for our wider economy. If millions of people struggle to balance their work and caring responsibilities and end up having to give work up or reduce their hours because they cannot get the support they need, they will lose their income, employers will lose those people’s skills and the Treasury will lose taxes. We have never been able to afford that, let alone now, as we begin to emerge from the horrors of covid-19.
In this century of ageing, we cannot build a better future for our country without transforming social care, and unpaid family carers must be at the heart of our plans. Even before covid-19 struck, millions of family carers were struggling to look after the people they love most following a decade of cuts to local authority budgets. I will talk briefly about what I think are the two most important issues that have been raised with me in talking to carers across the country. I also want to thank Carers UK for organising so many events both before and during the pandemic, as well as in my constituency of Leicester West.
The first thing that many families say is what a battle it is to try to find your way around the system of the NHS and social care. My constituent David Towers is a self-employed carpenter. When his parents fell ill, he rang me to say, “Am I going wrong here, Liz? I don’t understand. I have to organise everything and tell my story time and again. I don’t know what my rights are. I don’t know any information. Is this how it is supposed to be?” I answered, no, that is not how it is supposed to be, but we do not have the changes in the system to pull things together.
The second issue is that of breaks. Even before the pandemic struck, almost half of family carers had not had a proper break from their caring for five years. The stress and the strain that that puts on people are huge. I vividly remember speaking to an unpaid family carer called Della during an event organised by Carers UK. Della was looking after her husband who had been very poorly. She told me she used to go for a half-hour swim in the mornings. That was all she wanted. It was her dream to have just half an hour. She was not asking for much—just that space and time for herself. Surely, in the 21st century, in one of the richest countries in the world, that is something we can deliver.
We know that the situation has got worse since the pandemic struck. People who were already family carers are doing even more hours, and an extra 4.5 million people have taken on new caring responsibilities. At one of my recent surgeries, an unpaid family carer said, “Liz, I am done. You cannot pour from an empty cup. I have nothing left to give.” She was looking after her mum, so she had no choice. For new carers, the pandemic has been hugely stressful. People have been very frightened of infecting the person they care about, and they have not known what support is out there. They get even fewer breaks, money is running out and they were almost completely absent from all the focus during the pandemic.
In Leicester, we have been working hard to address the problem. Over the past nine months, I have brought together our local hospital, ambulance service, primary care, the city council, mental health community services, voluntary groups such as CLASP—the Carers Centre and Age UK, and unpaid family carers. We have talked about how to improve the system. We are working together better to identify family carers, because most people do not consider themselves carers. They are a son, a daughter, a husband or a wife trying to look after the person they love. We want to make simple information more widely available and to have much better co-ordination of services.
We have a long way to go to make the system work, but I am very pleased that services such as East Midlands Ambulance Service have agreed to involve families in training paramedics so that paramedics can better identify carers, and that the city council has completely changed its language so that it does not talk about “carers”, because most people do not think they are a carer. However, services, voluntary organisations and families need a Government who back their efforts.
This Saturday, it will be two years since the Prime Minister stood on the steps of No. 10 Downing Street promising to
“fix the crisis in social care once and for all with a clear plan we have prepared to give every older person the dignity and security they deserve.”
Yet the plan is still nowhere to be seen. The papers are full of briefings that an announcement is imminent, but in reality—and as with so much else with the Government—all we get is chaos, confusion and broken promises.
First, we see that there will be a levy to fix the crisis in social care, then the levy is for the NHS backlog and to fix the crisis in social care. Now it is for the NHS backlog, social care and the NHS pay rise, and we hear from the papers that it is to be funded through an increase in national insurance contributions, which the former Chancellor, who is now Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, explicitly promised not to raise under a majority Conservative Government. The people who use care, the staff who deliver it and the unpaid family carers who rely on it deserve better, especially following the horrors of covid-19.
Will the Minister say when we are finally to see the Government’s plan? Are the Government considering raising NICs, in direct contradiction of the explicit promise they made before the last general election? Is the rise in NICs how they plan to pay for the NHS backlog and the NHS pay rise, leaving virtually nothing for social care? Does the Minister understand that while a cap on care costs is vital, that alone will not fix the crisis in social care? That is because it will do nothing for the third of social care users and half the social care budget represented by working-age adults with disabilities. It will do nothing for the 1.5 million elderly people who need help with getting up, getting washed and getting fed who cannot get that help. It will do nothing for the paid care workforce, and it will do nothing for unpaid family carers, who are the subject of today’s debate.
After a decade failing to transform social care, nothing less than a full plan will do. That is the test the Government will face when they finally come up with their plan, and that is the test of whether the Prime Minister fulfils the promise he made on the steps of No. 10 Downing Street. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone.
I start by thanking the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey) and the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) for securing this debate on such an important topic. The right hon. Member spoke powerfully of his own first-hand experience of care, first as a child and now as an adult caring for his disabled child. As others have said, sharing such personal experiences adds so much to the conversations we have in this House. I am also truly grateful for all the work he does to champion the voice of carers.
Other Members have also spoken powerfully. For instance, the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) talked about Holly, and what he said really brought to life the experiences of a young carer. The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) described some things a Member of Parliament can do for their constituents. Sometimes, they seem to be small things, but they make such a big difference to an individual’s life. The things we can do as constituency MPs to unlock something that has been locked away because of a decision made somewhere up there makes all the difference. The hon. Gentleman really brought that issue to life.
I pay tribute to all the carers and young carers across the country. Caring for a relative, a friend or a neighbour is something that many people do. In fact, around one adult in 10 provides care, and about 23% of carers have high-intensity caring responsibilities, providing more than 50 hours of care a week. Carers do an amazing thing. The compassion and fortitude they demonstrate, often in difficult circumstances, are truly inspiring to all of us, but their task is hard. It can leave people with so little time and energy for themselves.
I come back to the numbers. There are at least 6.5 million unpaid carers in the UK, and about 5.4 million in England. That is based on the 2011 census, which is now around 10 years out of date, so we know that the figure is now significantly higher, and may have increased due to the pandemic.
The last sixteen months have clearly been incredibly challenging—especially in the early weeks and months of the outbreak, when we all found ourselves facing the steepest of learning curves. For carers, as for frontline health and care workers, the complex and demanding routines that they follow became even more complex and intense due to the restrictions. Many carers were also looking after somebody who was likely to be vulnerable to covid, so had the added worry of what would happen if that person was to catch the virus. However, just like our dedicated NHS and social care colleagues, carers of all ages kept going throughout the pandemic: they kept caring and doing what was needed for the person close to them.
I want to briefly mention the support the Government have provided to carers during the pandemic. We have focused on supporting them—a focus that continues to this day, even as the remaining restrictions lift and we try to move towards a new kind of normality. That is why we included exemptions from some regulations and added flexibility to help carers, including allowing emotional support to count towards the 35 hours of care provided by carers, and relaxing the rules for breaks in care. We listened to carers’ concerns about access to testing, and made them a priority group alongside other essential workers.
There is one vital achievement that I want to mention: the fact that hundreds of thousands of unpaid carers have now received their vaccine—an important step in protecting them and the people they care for from coronavirus. I would beg to differ from the portrayal presented by the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton. Ministers have worked hard—and I can say this for myself, personally—to ensure that carers were prioritised to receive the vaccination after recognising their concerns, often, for the individuals who they cared for.
A huge collective effort went into identifying carers during the vaccination programme—identifying those already known to GPs, the DWP and local authorities, and working with local carers’ organisations to identify carers eligible to be prioritised for the vaccine. That work has also brought other benefits; it has fostered new local connections and dialogues, and has helped to raise awareness across primary care services about the critical role that carers play and the significant contribution that they make.
I will pick up on a point made, I think, by the hon. Member for Sheffield Central, on the importance of identifying carers. There has been ongoing work to better identify who carers are. We know that carers do not necessarily even think of themselves as carers, and that young carers can often be overlooked. There is a particular line of work in working with schools to identify young carers and provide them with more support.
Yes, I have heard that. I have also received correspondence about the situation of somebody who may be in full-time education and seeking eligibility for the carer’s allowance. Yes, I am absolutely listening to that. I truly recognise the pressures that carers experience, whether it is juggling caring with work or with education. I have spoken myself to younger carers in that situation as well.
I want to go further on identifying carers—overcoming some potential data protection issues—and on trying to bring together our data sources, so that we have a clearer sense of who carers are and so that we will be able to contact them to offer support. During the pandemic, I found that it was not possible to write to all the carers in the country and say, “This is what is available to you.” I want us to go further on having the best data that we can.
What the Minister is saying about identifying carers is absolutely critical for future Government policy on carers. It is why we talked about putting an explicit duty on the NHS in the Health and Care Bill, which is before Parliament. That would be a real step forward. Is the Minister willing to meet me and carers’ organisations to discuss the critical issue of how we can work together with the health service and local authorities, so that we can identify the carers in our communities?
I am very happy to meet the right hon. Gentleman to talk about that. It is about the technicalities of data, data sitting in different places, and how we can overcome that so that we have a better and common information source. Yes, I am absolutely happy to meet him.
I will come back to some of the things that we did during the pandemic, because I want to cover the topics that have been raised in the debate. We published guidance specifically for carers to try to support them through the pandemic, including on maintaining their own health and wellbeing. We provided PPE for unpaid carers who live separately from those for whom they care, in line with the clinical advice on when it is appropriate for a carer to use PPE. Crucial to all that was drawing on the experiences and insights of carers, including young carers, during the pandemic. We held a series of roundtable discussions in order to do that. Young carers frequently fly under the radar of services and community networks that would otherwise help them.
We provided extra funding to charities, including £500,000 to the Carers Trust in order to provide support to those who experienced loneliness during the pandemic, and over £150,000 to Carers UK so that it could extend its helpline opening hours in order to provide information and support to unpaid carers. We have supported initiatives for young carers, including providing over £11 million to the Sea, Hear, Respond programme, which ran from June 2020 until March 2021, in order to support more vulnerable children and young people.
We have also worked to give extra support to young carers in education. During the national lockdown, schools and colleges remained open for the children of critical workers and vulnerable children, including young carers. I recognise that if a young carer looks after somebody who is more vulnerable to covid, they will be more worried about going to school, so I am determined to ensure that, as part of our catch-up programme for children, some of the £3 billion education recovery package can be used to support young carers who have missed out on school.
I want to talk about day services, which provide essential respite for carers. It is so important that carers, particularly those who do high-intensity care, have time to see a dentist or doctor, to go shopping or to do something for themselves. Such respite is so important, and the day service or respite care is of great value to the individual who attends it. I was truly disappointed to read Carers UK’s new research report, “Breaks or breakdown”, which was published during Carers Week. It said that
“72% of carers have not had any breaks from their caring”
during the pandemic. However, many respite services and day services have not been fully operational for much of the last 16 months. I want to see the reopening of such services. That is one reason why, as part of the infection control fund, we have given nearly £1.5 billion to social care during the pandemic. One use of that fund has been to support the reopening of day services.
I know we can go further. Just last week, I spoke to local authority leaders and emphasised to them the importance of reopening day services and respite services, and I urged them to take advantage of the support that is on offer. I personally commissioned two surveys of day service provision—one last October and one in spring this year. During that period, that provision has increased; the situation in the recent report was better than last year’s, but it is not yet back to the pre-pandemic level. I will continue to work with adult directors of social services, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and local authorities to fully understand the challenges in getting day services back to the level that they were at before.
I very much welcome the efforts made to reopen day services. However, will the Minister accept that many local authorities already find their social care funding stretched incredibly hard and so find it difficult to maintain some of those services? Does the Minister accept that there is a funding issue here?
Of course, there are financial pressures across public services, and more widely across our economy we face an extremely challenging time, but we have given significant extra funding to local authorities to support them through the pandemic. That is why I urge them to prioritise this issue. I emphasise the importance of the carer’s needs assessment that local authorities carry out, because that is such a crucial way of identifying what support a carer may need for themselves and their wellbeing, including the need for respite and taking a break from caring, and then making sure that that happens.
Further to what the Minister just said, Migdale Hospital in my constituency has in recent times lost a lot of beds. That is a combination of the NHS, and—because healthy policy is devolved—the Scottish Government. Does the Minister agree that that is a real problem? This is not joined-up government. Whatever influence she can bring to bear on the Scottish Government to reverse those decisions, which fly in the face of good government, would be helpful.
The hon. Gentleman has made his point very clearly. He knows that that is a devolved matter, but SNP Members are listening, and I hope that they take up his concern.
Effective support for carers can never be created or offered in isolation, and it is critical to me that the views of carers are central to how my Department develops policy. Just a few weeks ago, Carers Week provided an opportunity to highlight the invaluable contribution of carers and for others to commit to improving their quality of life. I personally made a pledge to work nationally and locally in my constituency to promote caring communities, and I wrote to all MPs urging them to do the same.
I will continue to play my part and will listen to and champion the needs of all carers as our country continues its recovery to a new kind of normality. I have and will continue to meet a wide range of carers’ organisations and to speak to Ministers from across Government to ensure that our regulations, policies and services are fit for purpose and consider the needs of carers. That engagement has included roundtable discussions and regular calls with individual carers charities, including Carers UK, Carers Trust and the Children’s Society, and I will continue to work with colleagues across Government, MPs and local authorities to increase our support for carers.
The Government do not have all the answers. Several hon. Members have spoken today about local organisations and initiatives that support carers. Local carers’ groups play such an important role—by putting carers in touch with others in similar situations, for instance, so that they discover that they are certainly not alone; and by providing practical support, advice and respite. That is from Carers UK and the Carers Trust to any number of local groups; during the debate, I have heard mention of Kingston Carers’ Network, Gateshead Carers, a young carers organisation in Bath, Tykes Young Carers in Sutherland and Sheffield Young Carers. I should mention Crossroads Care Kent, who I met the other day in my capacity as the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent. I heard about the excellent work that it does. Across the country, these voluntary groups, charities and charitable organisations do such an important thing in supporting carers, and I recognise that.
Several hon. Members mentioned social care reform, and they know well that we are committed to bringing forward proposals this year for reform of the adult social care system. As part of those proposals, we are absolutely considering unpaid carers. We want to build a system in which unpaid carers are truly supported and those who receive care have more choice and control over their lives. We are working closely with local and national organisations so that our approach to reform is informed by diverse perspectives, including those with lived experience of the care sector.
On the Health and Care Bill, I want to ensure that the voices of unpaid carers, as well as care home residents and others who receive care and support, are truly heard in integrated care systems. That is why the Bill places new duties on integrated care boards and NHS England to involve carers.
I thank hon. Members for their contributions on this important topic. I know that all those who have spoken share my deep commitment to supporting our unpaid carers and young carers, who have sacrificed and given so much, especially in the past 16 months, and continue to do so. As Minister for Care, I have seen at close hand how challenging and unwelcome the pandemic has been for people caring, as well as those being cared for.
We should all be humbled, inspired and strengthened by everyone who has endured this most stressful of times. I hope that the House will join me in a heartfelt thank you to each and every carer and young carer across the country for all that they are doing to support, protect and care for their loved ones.
I thank every Member who has contributed. Members have made some really powerful speeches, and I think that carers in their constituencies are very grateful for the work that they do as parliamentarians.
I will single out, rather unfairly perhaps, two colleagues who have spoken, for different reasons—first, my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone). The story about his constituent needing an extra diaper a day for his mother brought home to us all what we are talking about when we are talking about carers: the stresses, the fact that they are providing very basic care—whether it is dealing with toileting, doing washing, dressing, eating or drinking—to ensure that a loved one can have a quality of life, and how the emotional impact of that can affect people. I am grateful for his contribution, which I think brought us down to earth on what we are talking about.
I also thank the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) for talking about the need to identify young carers. The Minister picked that up, agreeing that we need to talk about that more generally. There is an issue about helping people to identify themselves, because many people do not understand that they are carers. They see it as just looking after their wife or husband, son or daughter, or mother or father, but we need to identify them to ensure that they are getting the support that they need, whether for their own mental health, respite care or whatever it might be.
We also need to ensure, as we plan health services, social services, or whatever it may be, that we have proper information. The census, when it comes out, may refresh the figures of 2011. Many colleagues were involved in the efforts to encourage people, when they took the census, to identify themselves as carers. I would probably multiply whatever figures come from the census because I am not sure that all carers will identify themselves as such. However, if we can do that more effectively I think we can bring home to policymakers how significant the issue is. It has been massively underplayed by Government after Government, so I am grateful to the hon. Member for Sheffield Central. He mentioned young carers. I cannot see, for example, why that cannot be central to the annual school census. That is a pretty easy thing to do. I am very happy to work with him and others to try to work with the Government to bring that about.
If we value carers for the work that they do and properly identify them, I think we can come together and really improve the support that we give them, which is so essential. In so doing, we can dramatically improve the health and wellbeing of the people we are elected to serve, which is utterly crucial. May I end, Mr Hollobone, by thanking everybody—
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).