Thursday 22 July 2021
[Steve McCabe in the Chair]
COP26 Conference Priorities
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I beg to move,
That this House has considered the priorities for the COP26 conference.
I want to place on record how grateful I am to the Backbench Business Committee for awarding us today’s debate and likewise how much I appreciate the support of my cross-party co-sponsors, especially the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), who addressed the Committee in my absence.
In a year dominated by coronavirus and the brilliant efforts of our scientists and the health service to overcome this terrible threat to our way of life, we must not lose sight of the huge importance of what lies ahead of us this autumn. In November, COP26 in Glasgow will be the biggest international summit the UK has ever hosted, on a subject that remains the single most significant long-term threat to our security, economy and environment. This is the first full debate that we have had on it in the House.
The extraordinary weather events that we have recently witnessed in Germany and Belgium have reminded us just how serious the threat of climate change is. The facts are clear: if left unchecked, climate change will render vast swathes of the world, including parts of our own country, uninhabitable and trigger a huge upsurge in poverty, mass migration and political instability that will have ramifications across the whole planet. On current trends, the world economy could be 10% smaller if we do not hit net zero by 2050. It is not just for the sake of our environment that we need to act; it is for the sake of our economy and security.
This is our problem, and it is the challenge of our generation. In that context, we should all be delighted that the UK, and specifically my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma), has assumed the COP presidency at this vital time.
Six years ago in Paris, the world came together and agreed a robust framework for action on climate change, committing to limiting temperature rises to an absolute maximum of 2° above pre-industrial levels by 2050 and to pursuing efforts to limit those rises to 1.5°, which would avoid the very worst effects of climate change. COP26, under our presidency, represents the first raising of ambition envisaged by the so-called ratchet mechanism of the Paris agreement, whereby each nation must submit updated emissions reduction plans covering the period to 2030. The decisions we take this year are therefore absolutely crucial to keeping that 1.5° cap within reach, and I hope today’s debate will focus on what those decisions need to be. We do not need a big, new global deal—the Paris agreement remains the right foundation—but at home and abroad it is time to turn promises into action, and COP26 is our forum to make that possible.
I know that our country will lead by example. We can be rightly proud of what we have achieved so far. Our emissions have nearly halved since 1990, while the economy is 75% larger. We were the first major economy to legislate for net zero emissions by 2050. We have world-leading plans to cut emissions by 68% by 2030 and 78% by 2035. We have announced the almost total removal of coal for power generation and boast a raft of important policies in the Government’s 10-point plan for green growth.
However, we cannot rest on our laurels. What we have done has allowed us to keep pace with the seriousness of events. We will have to continue to stretch ourselves if we are to get ahead of the problem and deliver net zero by mid-century. On decarbonisation, for example, the trickier half of the battle is still to come. With home heating and insulation, heavy industry, agriculture, aviation and shipping, the clean solutions we need cannot simply be left to work themselves out. There is a clear case for the Government to take a lead, to mandate priorities and enable solutions, as has happened so successfully with the contracts for difference mechanism, which has delivered a market-led solution whereby offshore wind is now cheaper than new gas-fired electricity generation. That is a really good example of how Government and the market can work together to deliver the most effective solutions at the least cost to the consumer.
In that same spirit, we need leadership from the Government now to support more research into new technologies such as green steel and to back technologies such as heat pumps, helping to reduce costs and enhance performance, as well as protecting those who cannot afford them.
This whole process will undoubtedly generate costs. It will also create economic opportunities. The UK has been adding low-carbon jobs at nearly three times the rate of the whole economy in recent years, and these are sustainable jobs in sectors with huge growth potential and are disproportionately in parts of the country with high historic unemployment rates.
My home region of Teesside is a really good example of that. The recent announcement by GE Renewable Energy that it is creating 2,250 jobs in our new freeport zone, manufacturing offshore wind turbine blades, is just the tip of the iceberg. Last week, 8 Rivers Capital and Sembcorp Energy UK announced the Whitetail Clean Energy project at Wilton, a 300 MW net zero power station, which will create 2,000 jobs during the construction phase alone. That is on top of the immense potential of technologies such as hydrogen and carbon capture, utilisation and storage to create good jobs for the long term.
Moving to a nationwide focus, a proper home insulation scheme, a major heat pump roll-out and significant research and development in the hardest to reach sectors all have immense economic potential. We need to make bold policy decisions in these areas now, and we will reap the rewards for the environment, our quality of life, the economy and the wider world as we export good policy and technologies overseas. Set against that, we always need to remember that the cost of our taking action would be dwarfed by the cost of doing nothing.
I want to look more broadly at our wider strategy for carbon and how we will engage with our partners to encourage the most effective possible global response. The COP26 President-designate deserves huge credit for the clear increase in ambition shown by the number of major emitters, including countries and private companies, that have followed our lead and adopted net zero targets. It has been especially heartening to see countries such as the United States and Japan joining the many who have done so. We need to maintain intense diplomatic activity to encourage others to follow their lead and to show that it is possible to decarbonise without jeopardising economic growth. The targets and commitments really matter.
Hon. Members will also recognise that long-term ambition, while welcome, is meaningless without the action required in the intervening period in order to get there. The world is still falling short in that area. The UK, the United States and the EU can all boast strong 2030 nationally determined contributions, but too many other large polluters have insufficient near-term targets and, frankly, in some cases, no real plan as to how to achieve their goals.
To give some idea of how seriously off track we are, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that we would need to almost halve net greenhouse gas emissions from 2010 levels by 2030. However, before the pandemic struck, global emissions had continued to rise every year since 2010. The Paris agreement does not contain mechanisms to enforce action, so we rely on diplomatic carrots and sticks to persuade and cajole those nations hoping for a free ride to do their duty now and make significant emission cuts. Without a significant increase in the level of ambition and, especially, action during this decade, across the whole world longer-term net zero targets will fall at the first hurdle, and we will miss the opportunity to keep that 1.5° goal within our grasp well before we get to 2050. The urgency of the situation is clearly real. Every tonne of coal we burn, every hectare of forest we fell, and every house we fail to insulate in 2021 is part of the problem.
For many countries, especially those in the Caribbean, the Pacific and large parts of Africa, which make little or no significant contribution to the world’s greenhouse gas emissions but which bear the brunt of the impacts, action is going to be hard, and in some cases probably impossible, without our help. At the 2009 Copenhagen conference of the parties, developed nations agreed to provide $100 billion a year by 2020 in climate finance to support developing countries with adaptation and mitigation. Again, that pledge has not been met—estimates vary but they all show a significant ongoing shortfall. COP26 should be the moment that promise is honoured, and that should be a key negotiating target of the United Kingdom delegation. If we use climate finance wisely, we can help developing countries enjoy more jobs, better infrastructure and more trading opportunities. We should be clear that the UK is showing real leadership here, driving agreement at the G7 to end funding for overseas fossil fuel projects and doubling our climate finance to £11.6 billion over the next five years. However, we must use our COP presidency to ensure that our friends and allies follow our lead, because failure to do so would be a huge obstacle to progress.
COP26 will be a huge conference and it has a lot to live up to. There is more I could add, but looking at the call list for this afternoon, and it is great to see so many Members here, I am conscious that I should leave time for others to contribute. My main point in closing is to re-emphasise that we must rise to the level of events this autumn. It will be the last chance, frankly, that this sort of conference lands on our watch in the timeframe we have to deliver meaningful action.
The UK has a great story to share about our own progress, and we can set out a compelling template for the next stage of progress for other countries to follow, in a way few others could match. In a debate that sometimes becomes obsessed with targets, language and process, we need to show true British leadership at COP26 because it is the time for action and it is our chance to make sure that that clarion call is heard around the world.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate with you in the Chair, Mr McCabe, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke) on securing it. It could scarcely be more timely, as the extreme weather events around the world demonstrate how climate breakdown is accelerating.
With tomorrow marking 100 days to go until COP26, it is more urgent than ever to ensure it delivers. As hosts, the UK Government need to show bold and ambitious leadership, but last month the Climate Change Committee pointed yet again to the yawning delivery gap between the Government’s net zero ambitions and the absence of policies to achieve them. We urgently need clear direction from Government detailing how they plan to decarbonise each and every sector, raising global ambition and giving other countries a clear reason for why they too should go further and faster in their national commitments to limit global heating. Failure to act is not just dithering—it is dangerous and often deadly.
Turning to some of the goals set out by the COP26 unit, the first is to:
“Secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach”.
We need to face the fact that even if all the current nationally determined contribution pledges were fulfilled, that would still lock the world into well over 2° of global heating. The inconvenient truth is that a target of net zero by 2050 simply does not equate to keeping 1.5° within reach. Yet 1.5° is an absolute lifeline for those in climate-vulnerable countries, and exceeding that threshold would have devastating consequences. That is why I recently reintroduced the climate and ecological emergency Bill to Parliament, which would put 1.5° in statute. I welcome the cross-party support of over 100 MPs who are backing the Bill, and urge the Government to get behind it, too.
The unit’s second goal, to
“Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats”,
is crucial. Ministers need to deliver on what the Climate Change Committee recently described as an “underfunded and ignored” area of policy. If adaptation is often ignored, loss and damage is even more overlooked. Countries are already experiencing climate impacts that they simply cannot adapt to. The damage caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in Dominica amounted to 226% of that country’s GDP, and 100% of its crops were destroyed. That is just one example of what loss and damage means. That is why we urgently need the Santiago Network for Loss and Damage to be fully operationalised, with new sources of finance to pay for it.
With its vast ability to store carbon and cushion us from shocks like flooding, nature can be our biggest ally in the fight against climate breakdown. Yet biodiversity is declining faster than at any time in history. The leader’s pledge to protect 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030 is a step forward, but that protection must be delivered urgently in order to reverse nature’s terrifying decline. The UK is one of the world’s most nature depleted countries, and when looking at our seas, the case is even more stark. England has 40 offshore so-called marine protected areas, but in reality, there is little protection to speak of. In order to restore nature and protect our blue carbon stores, the Government must use their new powers in the Fisheries Act 2020 to ban destructive fishing practices in these areas.
The third goal is mobilising finance, yet as it stands we are still $20 billion short of delivering on the $100 billion commitment from 10 years ago. That amount must be delivered in full before COP26, so I ask the Minister how the COP26 presidency plans to meet the $20 billion shortfall. What steps are being taken to ensure that it is delivered as grants, rather than loans, and does she recognise that by slashing our aid budget, the Government have further undermined any leverage they might have had in persuading others to step up? Ministers like to boast that the UK has increased its climate finance to $11 billion, but they fail to mention the fact that that money came from an overseas development aid budget that is being cut by £4 billion, a move that goes against the commitment for climate finance to be new and additional sources of money. Unless we deliver on all of these issues, I fear we will not have the success that is necessary in Glasgow at the end of this year.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe, and to follow the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), who is an important member of the Environmental Audit Committee. I agree with her and with my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke), who opened this debate, that it is hard to overstate the significance of the opportunity that hosting the COP26 conference gives the Prime Minister to show leadership in climate action on the world stage. He needs to seize this opportunity in front of every nation on Earth to set out clear signals of UK Government action, to meet the ambitious targets set to achieve net zero Britain.
Obviously, the pandemic has been the Government’s priority for the past 16 months, but now the Prime Minister and the whole of Government need to give the same urgency to tackling climate change, which—as we are seeing from the extreme weather events happening this week around the world—is getting ever more pressing. We need delivery of more plans and more action to implement them, to show world leaders that it can be done. We can decarbonise our economies and still improve our prosperity with more and better jobs, but we are running out of time as a country to get these plans in place. Today, the innovation strategy was published, which provides a welcome focus on clean technology. Yesterday, in the Select Committee on Science and Technology, we learned that the hydrogen strategy will be published during the coming weeks, during recess. That is welcome, but many more strategies need to be published ahead of COP26 to show our intent. The heat and buildings strategy is foremost among them, alongside the Treasury’s net zero review.
I will focus my remaining remarks on how Parliament can help deliver a successful conference of the parties. The Environmental Audit Committee has been at the forefront of co-ordinating parliamentary scrutiny ahead of this great conference. We brought together the Chairs of 10 relevant Select Committees to establish a Committee on COP26 to provide routine scrutiny each month, covering climate finance, climate diplomacy, cross-Government support for COP26 objectives, and net zero delivery. We intend to follow this up after COP26 as part of our overall monitoring of delivery on the net zero agenda across Government Departments, and we will be chairing the first post-COP26 session in December to review the outcome of that conference and examine its implications for UK climate policy: how will the UK deliver on any multilateral commitments made?
Achieving our commitments is going to require a huge cross-Government effort that cuts across departmental boundaries—an area of interest for our Committee. We regularly scrutinise across Departments, and the Government need to develop delivery mechanisms across Departments, too. I was pleased to see the presidency programme for COP26 published yesterday, inviting MPs and peers to register interest in attending the blue zone. It is encouraging to see young people and community engagement being offered a focus, and many groups around the country are keen to know how they may participate; frankly, our Committee is keen to know that, too. Along with other Select Committees, we put forward proposals—some 14 Select Committee Chairs put forward proposals, I think—for an engagement programme around COP26 in Glasgow or London. As yet, we have not heard any formal response on whether they will go ahead. The purpose is to engage with parliamentarians across the globe at this conference. There will be many people attending virtually and physically, and we need to harness their enthusiasm.
I hope the Minister sheds some light on whether there will soon be a formal response to that Committee request. How have the machinery of government changes introduced to support the president designate in bringing COP26 issues to the top of every departmental agenda across Government worked in practice? Will they endure to help the Government to deliver commitments that they make in Glasgow in November?
Before I proceed, let me put on the record the apologies of the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones), who cannot be here. He was a co-sponsor of the debate, but as Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, he has to be in the main Chamber for a Select Committee statement.
It is 100 days until COP26 begins in Glasgow, and it is more important than ever—it is vital—that the Government get their own house in order. This is the biggest opportunity for real climate action since the great moment of hope that was the 2015 Paris agreement. It is deeply unfortunate that in recent months the Government have consistently chosen lip service over climate action. They have scrapped the green homes grant, which could have significantly reduced emissions from our homes. The planning Bill denies councils the ability to block new developments for environmental reasons. Most significantly, the Government have failed to set any direction on how to heat our homes in the future and how to expand the electricity grid for the doubling or trebling of our electricity need, let alone on tackling emissions from heavy industry, shipping or aviation.
Those changes and many more serve only to undermine our climate credibility on the international stage. The climate crisis is already damaging health through extreme weather, polluted air, food and water shortages, forced migration and the aggravation of disease. Just this week, the Met Office issued its first extreme heat warning. The British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, The BMJ and The Lancet all agree that climate change is the biggest health threat of the 21st century.
We hold the COP26 presidency. It is our responsibility to push for serious ambition from countries worldwide—not only to influence them to legislate for net zero, but to achieve it as soon as possible. We have had a string of incredibly disappointing COPs in the years since the Paris agreement. Big decisions have been kicked further and further down the road.
If we want the negotiations to solve our climate crisis, and if we want this forum to be trusted by stakeholders and Governments around the world, the Paris rulebook must be finalised by the end of this COP. The responsibly for that lies with the Government as host. We must not only break the deadlock on article 6 and transparency; the UK must use this opportunity to make progress on the issue of loss and damage, as we have already heard. We have seen nations ravaged by the covid pandemic while also facing climate impacts that are causing devastation. Those vulnerable communities deserve new and additional finance to compensate for the irretrievable non-economic loss caused, as well as the more quantifiable damage caused by natural disasters. I welcome the COP president’s commitment to operationalise the Santiago Network for Loss and Damage by COP26. It is so important that we ensure that that network is more than just a website; it must be a living, breathing network of organisations and countries delivering technical assistance on loss and damage to those who need it.
COP26 must be a COP of global solidarity. It is time for the Government to put their money where their mouth is. The world is watching to see whether the UK will step up to the plate.
One hundred days to save the next 100 years—that is how John Kerry, the US climate envoy, described this moment in our planet’s existence. It may sound dramatic, but the scientific consensus is that he is right. The United Kingdom bears a heavy responsibility to get the world to commit to doing the right thing, for the mainly poorer people who are dying today because of climate change in the global south, and for all future generations, as our own climate will definitely be affected if global warming goes above 1.5°C. The recent extreme heat in the western United States and in Canada, and the floods in Germany and in Belgium, have demonstrated that amply.
While not having one shred of complacency, we can take some encouragement from the fact that although only 30% of the global economy was committed to net zero by 2050 when the UK assumed the COP presidency, that figure has already risen to 73%. To achieve even more, we need to get three areas to work together in perfect harmony: technology, policy and markets. We need to get all three in the right place, because without any one of them, we will not achieve success. In my constituency, I am delighted that the A5 electric bus and car charging station has been given planning permission. It will provide a replicable model of how renewable energy can be used to charge buses, taxis and cars. I am also pleased that many more electric vehicle charging points will be installed across central Bedfordshire.
I will focus the rest of my remarks on agriculture. Two facts may surprise hon. Members. First, if food waste was a country, it would be the third highest greenhouse gas-emitting nation on earth. Secondly, in Africa, greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture are higher than fossil fuel emissions, which are themselves much higher than they should be. At COP21 in Paris in 2015, the United Kingdom and many other nations—although not, unfortunately, the United States—committed to the “4 per 1000” initiative. Soil can hold more carbon than all organisms and plants on the planet combined. Only nature can increase the carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and water in soil while producing copious nutrient- rich food.
An annual growth rate of 0.4% in soil carbon stocks in the first 30 cm to 40 cm of soil would significantly reduce the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere due to human activity. If we managed to achieve that, we would not only stabilise the climate, but ensure food security to provide food in sufficient quantity for a rapidly growing global population. To achieve it, we need to reduce deforestation and encourage agroecological practices that increase the amount of organic matter in soils to meet the “4 per 1000” target.
Agroecology is sometimes referred to as regenerative agriculture. Recently, I was pleased to attend the Groundswell regenerative agriculture farming conference with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Thousands of UK farmers have started to farm in a nature-friendly way and are making more money as a result.
In the past 40 years, a third of global crop land has been abandoned due to soil degradation. That disrupts the small water cycle, which desertifies land and causes soil desertification on a massive scale. As Walter Lowdermilk observed, those civilisations that have not practised soil conservation have quite literally ended in dust, so my plea to the Minister is to ensure that we build on the achievement of COP21 and ensure that agriculture is front and centre of everything we do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr McCabe. I thank the hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke) for securing the debate, and for highlighting global green finance in particular.
I extend my thoughts to all those impacted by the flooding in China and in central Europe these past weeks. The loss of life is devastating, and the emergency response heroes have my deepest respect. The flooding should be a wake-up call for us all about the unpredictable but inevitable impacts of rising temperatures. We urgently need serious action. Two priority areas for COP26 this autumn are to protect and restore ecosystems and to build resilient infrastructure to mitigate effects of the global heating we have already seen. It is right that those are priority areas, but because we cannot tackle either the problems with nature or the climate emergency without tackling the other as well, it is important that they are thought about equally.
I am concerned about what the Government will bring to the climate negotiations on both those issues, because although Ministers like to talk up their record on carbon and on nature restoration, the reality is far from the rhetoric. For example, we hear a lot from the Government about how they are taking unprecedented measures to restore nature, but we are in an unprecedented crisis and nature is in freefall—41% of UK species are declining, and one in 10 is threatened with extinction.
Faced with that shocking decline, it would be odd if there were any precedent for the action that the Government are taking, which is simply not enough. It is not just me who thinks that. The Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, the right hon. Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne), who spoke earlier, has commented on the Government’s plans for species abundance and nature restoration, saying they are “toothless”. The Committee’s recent report said:
“There is no strategy indicating how new biodiversity policies will work together. Implementation of these policies could be piecemeal, conflicting, and of smaller scale as a result.”
Similarly, the recent Climate Change Committee progress report made this call on the Government:
“Publish an overarching strategy that clearly outlines the relationships and interactions between the multiple action plans in development for the natural environment, including those for peat, trees, nature and plant biosecurity. This must clearly outline how the different strategies will combine to support the Government’s climate change goals on both Net Zero and adaptation, along with the wider environment and other goals.”
On one of the two key themes of COP26, the CCC and the EAC both say that the Government have no clear strategy. Without a joined-up plan for the UK, how do the Government hope to negotiate one for the entire United Nations?
Ministers are right to say that the UK’s global leadership starts with our ambition and delivery at home. However, I am worried that our representatives at the conference simply do not have the credibility to talk about the issues with any authority. One of the key pieces of natural infrastructure to mitigate the effects of the climate emergency is our peatlands. The CCC is clear that we need a plan to restore all blanket bogs. Instead, we see Ministers putting forward legislation that protects only 40% of our deep peat. Another piece of important natural infrastructure is our trees and woodlands. Again, the CCC is clear that we need 17% woodland cover by 2050 to meet net zero. Instead, Ministers propose only 12% coverage.
While a third of the UK’s seas are apparently protected, only 1% are well managed and only 5% of protected areas are safe from bottom trawling. The CCC says that there has been no significant improvement in the management of marine habitats since 2019.
Those are just some examples on adaptation. The Government have made progress on only five of 34 sectors mentioned in the CCC’s progress report. The stream of Government action plans, grants and press releases represents a litany of piecemeal half-measures. Now the Government say they will wait until after COP26 to publish their species abundance targets, but Ministers should take a plan to the conference, lead the debate by example and push for ambitious targets, not wait for an international consensus to emerge before taking any action.
Today, I challenge the Minister. What plans is she taking to COP26 for nature recovery? What ambitious targets will she press for at the negotiating table? How will she establish Britain as the leading light in the debate?
I know that my constituents care deeply about this issue. Every month, I meet with them to discuss different aspects of the negotiations and what they want to see coming out of COP26. They have a clear plan. If the Minister does not, I urge her to meet with us before the conference. If the Government are out of ideas, my constituents have plenty.
It is a pleasure to take part in the debate under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe.
This is an incredibly important debate ahead of a crucial conference—COP26. Making a success of the conference and delivering for everyone across the globe is more important than ever. Covid-19 has shown how fragile humanity is and that we face some challenges together, as the human race. Whether the challenge is covid-19 or climate change, we need to tackle it together, internationally. Given that, the priorities for COP26 must aim to build on the work done so far, but also take a leap forward, so that we can take more action to ensure that we secure the global net zero target by 2050 and keep the 1.5°C pledge within reach.
As host and president of this year’s United Nations COP26 conference, the UK is in a unique position to bring nations together, set ambitious targets and commit to accelerating plans to transition to a cleaner, greener and more resilient global economy. As the parliamentary champion of nature-based solutions for tackling climate change, I will focus my remarks on that area.
COP26 is an opportunity for the UK to utilise our expertise and political will to become a world leader in deploying nature-based solutions to tackle climate change, such as tree planting, nurturing kelp forests, stopping the burning of peat bogs, revitalising our hedgerows and much more. We can all now become hedgerow heroes as part of the Campaign to Protect Rural England campaign to protect and expand hedgerows across the UK.
I am delighted that the Hastings town deal includes a partnership between Plumpton College and the Education Futures Trust, introducing seven new land-based skills programmes to our local area. Globally, nature-based solutions have huge scope to mitigate climate change, with the potential to provide over 30% of the global climate mitigation effort required to limit temperature rise to 1.5°. The Prime Minister has already suggested that as one of his priorities for COP26, and he has pledged to increase investment in that area. Moreover, the G7 recently committed to a 30x30 target by aiming to conserve or protect at least 30% of land and oceans by 2030.
As a Member of Parliament who represents a coastal constituency, I take particular interest in our oceans and marine environments. As the Marine Conservation Society has been saying for some time, our seabeds are significant carbon stores, accounting for an estimated 205 million tonnes of carbon—some 50 million tonnes more than there is within our standing forests. It is not only our seabeds that do this, but our vegetated coastal habitats. That is why it is so important that we invest in the growth of our seagrass meadows, kelp forests and salt marshes. By taking a global lead in the use of nature-based solutions, the UK can demonstrate that tackling climate change does not have to be a huge financial burden on household income. Instead, we can enhance and nurture our natural environment for the enjoyment of all and future generations, while also meeting our net zero targets.
COP26 offers the UK a unique opportunity to lead in nature-based solutions and to achieve global agreement on the need to protect our natural environment and do more to preserve it for future generations. I know that, as president of COP26, the Government will take the opportunity to pursue that agenda.
It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, McCabe, and I thank the hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke) for securing this important debate.
The timing of the debate could not be more appropriate. In the last few weeks alone, Germany and China have been devastated by catastrophic flooding, while more than 200 people have lost their lives through unprecedented heatwaves in the Pacific north-west and in south Asia. Such extreme weather events are a stark illustration of the scale of the challenge before us, and an urgent reminder of the need to take bolder action to combat climate breakdown. In a few months, the COP26 conference will present the world with its best, and perhaps last, chance to avoid the worst fallout of climate breakdown. With the United Nations’ “Adaptation Gap Report 2020” warning that the world is on course to be 3° warmer by the end of the century, it is clear that we need to go much further and much faster if we are to live up to the promise of the Paris climate agreement.
This month, we learned that large stretches of the Amazon—the lungs of the planet—are so utterly degraded that they are emitting more CO2 than they absorb. As the shadow International Trade Secretary has said, that is one of the worst manmade tragedies in human history, and our Prime Minister is one of the guilty men. His refusal to support EU action against the destruction of the Amazon in 2019 was symptomatic of the wider failure to tackle ecological breakdown. In November, we have a chance to put that right. That is why I call on the Government to push for a global strategy that links together the climate and ecological crises, and that will ensure that, by 2030, the abundance and the population of species are well on the road to recovery.
We will achieve nothing at all if the poorest people in the world are asked to shoulder the cost of decarbonisation. That is why the needs of people living in the global south need to be at the very heart of the discussions in Glasgow. Developing nations have contributed least to the catastrophe that we now face, but all too often suffer the most from climate breakdown.
Leaders across Europe and America often talk about a “just transition”—in November, they have to prove that they mean it. That means not just delivering on the commitment of $100 billion a year in climate finance, but developing a far broader and more radical stimulus package that helps the world’s poorest countries decarbonise their economies, while also improving standards of living and life outcomes for their citizens.
I also believe that the world’s wealthiest countries, the UK among them, must now also begin to look at how they can accelerate their decarbonisation proposals to give nations across the global south more time to reach net zero.
It is always a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr McCabe.
We have come a long way since the Paris agreement, which was secured at a time before it was commonplace to have national targets for emissions. Six years later, many nations have set unilateral net zero targets and are beginning to publish plans to meet them. I am pleased that the UK has now significantly scaled up our nationally determined contribution to 78% by 2035, although, as the Minister will know, I have many criticisms about the progress we have made to date.
The problem is that not all countries are prepared to pull their weight. Many have yet to set net zero targets, have set targets after 2050 or have failed to present more ambitious NDCs ahead of COP26. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on small island developing states, or SIDS, I want to focus today on the impact on them. They are in the frontline when it comes to the consequences of climate change, whether that is rising sea levels, extreme weather events, ocean acidification or collapsing biodiversity. These are all existential threats to these states. If we act to save them now, we will all benefit from the global scale of the action that is implemented.
Nation-based solutions have a real role to play in both mitigation and adaptation, whether that is reversing the collapse of our natural carbon sinks or restoring the coral reefs, planting mangroves and so on. There is much more that could be done. As one of the Marine Conservation Society’s blue carbon champions in Parliament, I know that measures to protect the marine environment are particularly important for these countries. They are vital, given their dependence on the blue economy. I hope that the Government will seek to prioritise agreements on protecting and restoring blue carbon stores at COP26, along with stopping the global decline in marine biodiversity and protecting our oceans.
While mitigation is, of course, crucial, I am pleased that a day at COP will be dedicated to the theme of loss and damage alongside adaptation. SIDS often do not have the funds to pay for the work that is needed—for example, the shift to renewable energy or the work that has to be done to rebuild after natural disasters. The pandemic’s impact on tourism has made the financial situation much worse for many of them. The recent volcanic eruption in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines could cost up to 50% of GDP, which shows the inherent economic vulnerability of these nations.
I am pleased that there is a day dedicated to climate finance at the conference, which will be vital for less developed countries. In 2009, richer nations committed to mobilising $100 billion in climate finance per year by 2020 for vulnerable nations, but that commitment has not yet been met, and much of what has been delivered has been via loans with standard repayment rates, which tiny little countries such as the SIDS would struggle to pay.
Developing nations saddled by debt are often trapped in a vicious cycle. Belize, for example, has defaulted on or restructured its debt five times in the past 14 years. The cut to the UK aid budget has already been mentioned, but many SIDS do not qualify for official development assistance because of the flawed metrics used, which do not take into account their vulnerabilities. We need a multidimensional vulnerability index, with looks particularly at climate vulnerability.
Finally, we need to make sure the voices of the small island states, including even the tiniest little islands, are heard in Glasgow. I hope the Minister will be able to tell us what arrangements are in place to make sure that is the case.
It is a pleasure to be here, Mr McCabe. The basic situation is that, globally, fossil fuel subsidies amount to 6.3% of global GDP. That has grown from 5.5% in 2010. We are already 1.2° above the 1850 baseline. The Paris threshold of 1.5° will be breached by 2025 and, in fact, has already been breached across Europe, at 2° over, and in the Arctic, 3° over, because there is a differential impact. That means that 8,500 metric tonnes of ice are melting every second of this debate. A lot of that is due to the fact that China now has 28% of emissions, which is more than the EU and the US combined, with no plan to peak until 2030. It plans for an extra 300 coal-fired power stations, on top of the 1,037 it already has.
What we want in COP26, first, is a border carbon tax, which is being considered by the EU, so that we do not end up with dirty Chinese steel, for example, displacing UK steel, which produces half as much carbon. It is all very well saying that we produce less carbon than we did—here, it is 5.8 tonnes per person, but 7 tonnes per person in China—but that is because, basically, we have offshored our manufacturing and dirty energy production. On a consumption basis, it is 8 tonnes per person here.
With something like the Australian deal, BA has ended up buying Welsh farms to offset carbon that it uses to fly more people in planes and then we buy thousands and thousands of tonnes of Australian beef to shift across the world. That is plainly ridiculous. On agriculture, 12% of global carbon emissions are from ruminants. We cannot have a situation in which we eat more and more beef in our country or in developing countries.
On air quality—I chair the all-party group—the latest figures show that 8.7 million people die each year, or one in five, from air pollution. In eastern Asia, it is one in three—that includes China. We need to take leadership in COP by saying that we want the World Health Organisation air-quality standards of 10 micrograms per cubic metre for PM2.5 introduced by 2030. To do that, we will need to ban wood burning in urban environments, which contributes 38% of PM2.5. We should also stop burning wood in our power stations. Wood is a carbon store. We should use it in buildings instead of concrete. If concrete were a country, it would be the third biggest emitter, with 8% of global emissions. We want wood instead of concrete.
I turn briefly to incineration. The Government plan is to double incineration by 2030, even though we now know that ultra-fine particulates breach the filters and cause leukaemia. The Climate Change Committee has said that we need to halve our incineration by 2035. We therefore want a moratorium on incineration. We also want the same tax regime, or taxes on incineration, as there currently are on landfill, to stop the local authorities from building incinerators. Internationally, we cannot have the Asian Development Bank giving £73 million for the Maldives to have another incinerator there.
In a nutshell, our focus for COP26, in my view, should be a border carbon tax, World Health Organisation limits, and the UK taking leadership in such things and actually doing it itself.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr McCabe. I congratulate the collaborative effort of the hon. Members for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) and for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) in securing this important debate.
In addition to covid-19, an even more devastating crisis is already here. In recent weeks, we have seen extreme rainfall and deadly flooding in Germany, Belgium and China; volcanic eruptions in St Vincent and the Grenadines; heatwaves and devastating fires from Siberia to Canada; and the Amazon rainforest releasing more carbon than it can absorb. The upcoming COP26 conference in Glasgow provides a crucial opportunity to address such an existential threat.
The most urgent priority for COP26 is to ensure that we stick to the 1.5° target set in the Paris agreement of 2015. The scientific community is clear that anything more than that is a death sentence for millions of people around the world. It is therefore vital that we align the UK’s emissions reduction pathway to a fair-share analysis of the remaining global Paris-compliant carbon budget.
Research from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research warns that the UK’s current emissions pathway implies a carbon budget at least two times greater than its fair contribution to delivering its 1.5° commitment. Not only is the Government’s commitment to reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 perilously unambitious; they are not even on track to meet it. A 2030 net zero target is essential to meet the scale and severity of the crisis. The Institute for Public Policy Research is clear: the UK needs to invest £33 billion per year if it is serious about meeting its own 2050 net zero target. Will the Minister do all he can to commit at least to that?
The UK Government will host COP26 in just 100 days. They must use their leadership role to push for an approach to the climate crisis that is integrated with the active restoration of nature, especially ahead of the COP15 biodiversity summit in October 2021.
Worldwide fossil fuel subsidies amount to $5 trillion per year. It is estimated that eliminating those subsidies would cut global carbon emissions by at least 21% and air pollution deaths by over half. The UK Government claim that they do not have any fossil fuel subsidies. However, the fossil fuel subsidies tracker estimates that the UK Government’s subsidies equate to £165 per person. The UK Government must come clean with the public and end their subsidies for dirty energy.
As we emerge from the pandemic, we must raise our ambition to forge a new social settlement: a green new deal to rebuild the country with a more just and sustainable economy. We must take every urgent and radical action, including the nationalisation—yes, the nationalisation—of fossil fuel companies, to save our future. Without much more ambitious Government intervention, the urgent action required to preserve a habitable planet will be too slow. That will cause unimaginable disruption and could cost millions of lives, most of them in global south countries that have contributed the least to the climate disaster.
It is vital that the protection of all workers and communities is guaranteed during the transition to renewable energies. The big polluters and corporate giants must bear the costs—not ordinary people. Most of all, the Government’s catastrophic handling of the coronavirus crisis cannot be replicated when it comes to tackling climate change. Only an unprecedented collective restructuring of our society will guarantee the wellbeing of both people and planet.
You are most kind, Mr McCabe. I do like Westminster Hall—it is no secret. I love to participate, so here I am, along with all the other right hon. and hon. Members who have come to make very valuable contributions. I thank them all.
Today’s topic has been and is at the forefront of the political agenda. It certainly is in my constituency; the emails tell me that, as do those who contact me—and they have for some time now. I thank the hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke) for asking for the debate, along with others, so we can participate in it.
Environmental awareness and climate change are becoming very prominent factors in everyday life. Climate change must be taken seriously, and I believe that it is. The Government have set out their priorities for the COP26 conference in Glasgow, and I will address some of those today.
I welcome what the Government have done—credit where credit is due. Through many of their policies, the Government have committed themselves to achieving targets and goals. It is always good to set targets and goals; they allow for success rates to be measured, which is very important. I have also been contacted by environmental organisations that feel that there are missing priorities, which I will discuss in the few minutes that I have.
A major aspect that I hope will be extensively discussed at the conference is the goal of all parties to submit more ambitious national contributions targets for cuts in carbon emissions by 2030. It is important that we commit ourselves to do it and then achieve those goals.
Since 2018, UK carbon emissions have fallen by 3% and they are 44% lower than in 1990, which is a significant fall and shows commitment by Government and others to try to achieve those goals. We are certainly taking a step in the right direction, but we all need to put in more effort. There needs to be a national contribution from all parties partaking in the conference.
The Committee on Climate Change has recommended that the UK should aim to be net zero on all greenhouse gases by 2050, which is a crucial aspect of the Paris agreement that we have signed. I want the UK to persuade other countries to commit to the national determined contribution. We need to maintain the efforts we have been putting in to pioneer our own credibility. I know the Minister will always respond and that she is very interested in this subject, but can she tell us what has been done to persuade other countries to sign up and commit themselves to the NDC?
Our recent efforts as a nation have been extremely promising, particularly in regard to limiting our carbon emissions. Transport was the largest emitting sector in the UK, responsible for 27% of emissions. We can all take small steps on a daily basis to reduce that figure. In addition, there has been a major revision to better represent peatland emissions. I have raised that with the Minister at the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs back home in Northern Ireland and asked what further action can be taken to decrease emissions.
The Climate Change Council has stated that getting to net zero is
“technically feasible but highly challenging,”
meaning we could do it, but not without continued efforts. This work starts right here by Government, centrally at Westminster and in conjunction with the regional Administrations. As we know, the UK is committed to working internally and externally, to lead on the frontline and to inspire thought on climate change. The issue is about reminding people how important it is and then moving forward.
Back home, I am in frequent contact with the Castle Espie Wetland Centre. As the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart) said, there are concerns and issues about blue carbon. Blue carbon assists in coastal habitat conservation, which needs to be taken into consideration by Government in legislation and in trying to achieve those targets. Through protecting, creating and restoring these habitats, we can invest in nature-based solutions that help us to adapt and mitigate climate change. Coastal and ocean blue carbon stores are a crucial part of the urgent and varied solutions required to address the climate crisis and meet our net-zero goals.
I am concerned about the correlation between how we deal with climate change and public health. The UK Health Alliance has stated:
“Despite the climate impacts already being felt, international targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions are currently not sufficient”.
To conclude, I welcome the priorities initiated by Government to take to COP26 and I look forward to the Minister’s response. This Minister is interested in this subject, and I am not saying that because she is here. I am convinced that her response will be one that everyone wishes to hear and that will encourage us. I urge the President of COP26 and the Government to take these points into consideration when discussing our strategy for climate change in this House and across the whole of this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We are always better together, and we can get better together as well.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr McCabe. I commend all the Members who secured this important debate from the Backbench Business Committee and all those who have spoken so far. Every single person has made important points about the ambitions that we should have for COP26 and for addressing the world’s climate crisis.
COP26 in November is a critical moment for the world to deliver its most ambitious and tangible climate actions. Scotland will play its part in tackling the twin crises of climate change and ecological decline. I want to acquaint Members with a few things that Scotland has been doing to demonstrate that. Our aim is to work closely with the UK Government and our many other partners to deliver a safe, secure and successful Glasgow COP and engage, in particular, with those who have been historically sidelined in climate discussions, to ensure those most affected by the climate crisis have their voices heard.
The year 2021 is “humanity’s defining moment” in the fight against climate change, as the UN Secretary General stated. COP26 is the world’s best chance to deliver a global deal that supports the goals of the Paris agreement and delivers lasting action towards a net-zero future, in a way that is fair and just. We are delighted that the vital COP26 is taking place in Scotland. There is still so much more to be done and there is a very long way to go, but I am proud that our SNP Scottish Government were the first in the world to declare a climate emergency and one of the first to set binding net zero targets earlier than 2045. Scotland has led the way in decarbonisation, recently producing 97% of its electricity requirements renewably, and managing to reduce emissions by 31% between 2008 and 2018, faster than the rest of the UK and any G20 nation. We aim to be the world’s first net zero aviation region by 2040 and to decarbonise passenger rail by 2035.
We are also tackling a necessary and just transition to renewable energy. That is a really important issue. We saw what happened in Scotland in the ‘70s and ’80s when a Government did not care about protecting individuals and communities from the impact of economic transformations. As our First Minister said recently:
“We must not make that mistake again. Failing to plan for the transition to net zero is not an option, which is why”
the SNP Government
“are working with trade unions, businesses and communities to develop just transition plans to ensure that our approach is a fair one.”
The First Minister has appointed a Just Transition Minister. The Scottish Government will implement the recommendations of the Just Transition Commission and intend to retain the commission and call on it for advice all the way through this Parliament.
The Scottish Government also created the world’s first climate justice fund—recently doubled to £24 million—which supports vulnerable communities in Malawi, Zambia and Rwanda to address the impact of climate change. Our Scottish Government have been active elsewhere on the world stage, leading the Edinburgh process on biodiversity and publishing the Edinburgh declaration, calling for increased action to tackle biodiversity loss. Scotland also serves as European co-chair of the Under2 Coalition—a group of more than 220 Governments, representing more than 1.3 billion people and 43% of the global economy.
It is vital, as I have mentioned, that COP26 engages with those who have historically been left out of climate discussions, to ensure that those most affected by climate change have their voices heard. Young people, indigenous communities and disadvantaged groups must have a say. Indigenous communities are often those most affected by the activities that contribute to climate change, such as deforestation, and are more likely to live in the areas hardest hit. Young people are those who will have to live longest with the consequences of climate change, and those from disadvantaged communities are less able to afford mitigation of its consequences. The Scottish Government have sought to include the voices of young people at COP through their youth climate programme, which will manage a series of events putting the voices of young people from around Scotland at the heart of the climate conversation, and will recruit local champions from every local authority to connect their communities in the fight against climate change.
We need to remember that it is not only states that have a stake in our future and it should not be only their voices that are heard. Although the green zone is a welcome aspect to COP26, it cannot be an excuse to separate civil society from any serious discussion taking place. Climate justice is a simple and powerful message. Poor and vulnerable communities are the first to be affected by climate change and will suffer the worst, yet have done little or nothing to cause the problem. Establishing a UK climate justice fund ahead of COP26 would be a powerful signal that justice and equality issues will be a priority at COP and that previously marginalised voices will be heard. It is also important, of course, that technology is deployed in a way that helps to facilitate the involvement of those typically unable to participate in conferences such as COP. I hope that the Minister might address both those points in her closing remarks.
The Scottish Government have been working closely with the UK Government, and partners including Glasgow City Council and Police Scotland, with the aim of delivering a safe, secure and successful COP26 in November. Our Government intend to play a full and active role at the summit, and I am particularly excited about the opportunities that there will be to showcase Scotland’s world-leading approach to tackling the climate emergency and delivering that just transition to a net zero future.
I of course also have questions regarding the priorities specifically of the UK Government in the run-up to COP, which many others are also looking for clarity on. After all, how can this Government persuade other countries to play their part if they are failing domestically to keep to their own targets? How will the Government keep to their 1.5°C commitment when research says that their own current emissions pathway suggests a factor some two times greater? What urgent actions will the Government take to keep them on track? Is all of Whitehall’s thinking on this joined up? For example, we have seen a challenge from the UK board of international trade to the news that the Chancellor is reportedly musing over a carbon border adjustment tax, although I see that the International Trade Secretary has now come out saying that she is actually up for considering it. That is an odd one, because she is the president of the UK board of international trade. It looks a little like a string leading from the Treasury has been yanked hard.
I would be interested to hear what updates the Minister can give us on the progress on the Green Jobs Taskforce, which is a very important initiative. When will we see a replacement for the green homes grant scheme, with an equivalent level of funding? I have heard it described as the only big-ticket item in the Government’s policy store cupboard that could make a real difference to carbon emissions relatively quickly. Why has its replacement not been announced?
When will the Government back a fairer charging system for renewables developers in Scotland looking to plug into the national grid? One cannot help but feel that if the Government were really serious about their commitment to net zero, they would accept that that extra levy on Scottish projects, despite Scotland being one of the best sources of renewable energy on these islands, is just plain daft, and that they would talk to Ofcom about it and do something about it.
So many questions and so little time. I look to COP with some hope but not a little trepidation, knowing how important its outcomes will be to our planet and future generations. I ask the Minister to take back some of the messages that she has heard expressed here today and persuade her Government to make the sort of rapid and serious changes to their policy approaches that this climate crisis deserves.
It is always a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr McCabe. It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock). This has been an excellent debate, with a great many heartfelt and incisive contributions from Members from both sides of the House. I congratulate, as others have done, the hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke), for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) for sponsoring it.
We really do need more debates of this kind over the next 100 days. COP26 is, as others have said, a critical moment in the fight against runaway global heating, the impact of which we have seen over recent months in the devastating extreme weather events across the globe. The House has a real duty to engage with the complexities of this summit far more than it has done to date.
The Minister will know that over the past 15 months, the Opposition have not held back from criticising the Government for their lack of clarity on what they believe should be achieved over the course of those 12 days in Glasgow. Until a few months ago, Ministers had merely identified five key themes for the conference. They were then followed by four aims, one of which was the goal of
“working together to make the negotiations in Glasgow a success”.
That is all entirely laudable but also betrays a notable lack of strategic intent.
I will be more generous in saying that, although it needs to be built on further, there has been a noticeable sharpening of focus over recent months, particularly when it comes to being explicit about the objective that Labour believes must be the overriding priority for the summit, and that is the need to put the world decisively on course to deliver the upper ambition—it is only the upper ambition—of the Paris agreement, namely limiting global heating to 1.5° over pre-industrial levels. The problem is, as I am sure the Minister will acknowledge, that there is clearly not yet a global consensus on 1.5° being a core objective of the summit, as opposed to merely an aspiration. Indeed, Bloomberg reported just this morning that for the second time this month, G20 climate Ministers are struggling to reach agreement on that 1.5° target. We believe that, over the coming weeks, keeping 1.5° within reach must be hardened into a headline target for the summit. It is incumbent on us, as the host of COP26, to do everything possible to ensure it is.
Let me pick up some of the themes of the debate. I want to touch on four areas where greater progress is absolutely essential if we are to realise that aim, with an explicit focus not on the domestic but on the international, given that this is an international summit. First, the Government need to do much more with the presidency to initiate a genuine global debate on how we deliver at the scale and pace that the science requires. In particular, we need much more openness and transparency about the commitments required from each of the parties by the time they arrive in Glasgow to ensure that a limit of 1.5° remains a possibility. Put simply, if current country climate plans have the world emitting, as they do, about 54 gigatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in 2030, and 1.5° requires that they fall to about 24 gigatonnes by that date, what collective commitments do we need in November at COP26 to put the world on course to meet that 30 gigatonne ambition gap by the end of the next nine years? That is the question, but there is no real debate around it at present and, in its absence, no collective understanding of what is necessary to keep 1.5° within reach.
Secondly—this is a point that a number of hon. Members raised, particularly the hon. Members for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon)—when it comes to mitigation ambition, we are currently way off track as a world. With just 100 days to go, the Government need to be straining every sinew possible to persuade, cajole and pressure those who have not yet done so to bring forward more ambitious nationally determined contributions. Countries such as Brazil that are making a mockery of the ratchet process by submitting new targets that are less ambitious than their previous ones need to be called out; those such as India and Saudi Arabia that are resisting the very proposition that the Paris agreement requires them to revisit their current plans at all need to be persuaded to think again, and quickly; and key allies such as Australia that are stubbornly refusing to improve on their inadequate 2030 targets need to start facing some public opprobrium for doing so. Perhaps the Minister could tell me whether she agrees with those points.
Thirdly, as others have said, we have to make good on the promise of building back greener, not only in terms of domestic credibility and what that means in terms of our consistency and our leadership of the conference. The Chancellor has now passed up three fiscal opportunities, by my count—the 2020 summer statement, the 2020 comprehensive spending review, and the 2021 Budget—to lock in a genuine green economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis, with only £9.3 billion of funding focused on decarbonisation, £1 billion of which has been cut in the new green homes grant. That is dwarfed by levels of funding in other countries around the world, but the Chancellor’s failure is not unique: the International Energy Agency’s sustainable energy tracker estimates that only 2% of fiscal support across the globe is being directed towards clean energy investment. That is lower than the level of green spending we saw in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. The world has simply got to do better if we are going to lock in that green recovery.
Fourthly and finally—this point was made powerfully by several hon. Members, including my hon. Friends the Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) and for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy)—we must ensure that the voice of the global south is heard. We must ensure that climate justice is prioritised, and we must do more on a practical level to urgently forge a coalition between high-ambition developed countries and highly vulnerable developing countries, not least because that is the only way in which we will apply sufficient pressure on major emitters such as China. The occasional ministerial meeting cannot hide the fact that these issues have not been prioritised diplomatically over the past 15 months, and that ground needs to be made up urgently. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is going to need to be far more agile and focused on using all of the levers available to it to knit together that coalition.
The Minister may not say so, but she knows as well as I do the serious damage that the decision to cut the overseas aid budget has caused to our standing with those on the frontline of the climate crisis. She will also know how critical trust will be if we are to secure a successful outcome in Glasgow. That makes it all the more important, as many others have said, that we honour the 2009 promise of $100 billion in climate finance annually to support developing nations. I would like to hear the Minister’s assessment of how that target will be reached in the coming weeks, and what more, if anything, the UK needs to contribute to ensure it is reached. Specifically—this is the one question I will ask the Minister, so I would really like an answer today, or subsequently in writing from a colleague if appropriate—can she confirm that a plan for meeting that $100 billion commitment will be brought forward by the UN General Assembly in September at the very latest, as 100 developing countries, including key Commonwealth allies, called for last week? Can she also assure the House that the UK will use its influence at the World Bank to ensure that it has a climate finance plan in place by the International Monetary Fund meeting scheduled for October?
In addition to that $100 billion, as others have said, we also need to make tangible progress over the next few months on the share of climate finance flowing towards adaptation; on financing for loss and damage; on arrangements for post-2025 climate finance; and on the wider issues, which are really important in their own right, of vaccines and the debt burden that developing countries are facing as a result of the pandemic. There are a range of other issues on which greater progress is required, whether that is the rules for article 6 and transparency that the hon. Member for Bath mentioned; financial flows for the phasing out of coal; or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Olivia Blake) brought home powerfully in her contribution, nature and biodiversity. However, time prevents me from exploring any of them in this debate.
What is important for the purposes of today, as we approach the 100-day marker, is that the House realises that the window for securing the outcomes necessary to make COP26 a success is closing rapidly, and that the outcome of the conference hangs in the balance as a result. There is a pressing need to accelerate progress markedly in a range of areas where the UK, as COP president, can make a real difference, but for that to happen, this critical summit has to be made a whole-of-Government priority, with the sustained engagement and focus from the Prime Minister, Chancellor and Foreign Secretary that that implies. It is an open secret that we are not seeing that engagement or focus at the moment. Until we do, we run the very real risk of failure in Glasgow in November.
It is an absolute pleasure to see you in the Chair for this very important debate, Mr McCabe. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke), and the hon. Members for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) and for Bristol North West (Darren Jones), for securing the debate. The fact that there have been so many speakers demonstrates the strength of feeling about this issue and the hope that we can use COP26, of which we are so proud to be co-president, to address the climate crisis. As has been pointed out by so many colleagues, we are just 100 days from COP26, where the global community will come together and, with one voice, demonstrate that we are living up to the expectations of the Paris agreement.
In response to the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook), yes, focus has been sharpened, and I am pleased that he has noted that. On the point raised by the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock), it will be a very inclusive COP26. We are championing inclusivity at COP26.
We have seen much more ambition this year, as countries have come forward with emissions reduction targets for 2030, including the US, Japan and Canada. We are now in a position whereby all the G7 countries, which are responsible for almost half of global GDP, have now committed to deeper cuts to their emissions over the next decade. Collectively, those commitments will bring us closer to the goal of keeping to an increase of 1.5°, which is so critical. However, it is obvious to us all that extreme weather events are made much more likely by climate change. We have had wildfires in North America and floods in China just this week, and we have a trail of devastation in so many places, reminding us how critical this issue is. It demonstrates that climate change is not a distant threat and that we need to take action right now in order to turn the tide on the climate crisis. That was stressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland in his opening speech, in which he spoke of the importance of using diplomatic pressure and targets. That is exactly what we will be doing through COP26.
I want to take this opportunity to update the House on progress across the four COP26 goals—mitigation, adaptation, finance and collaboration—and to highlight the role of parliamentarians. It is great to have hon. Members taking part in today’s debate, to ensure that COP26 in an inclusive event and that we are all playing our role. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said we are better together, and I could not agree more.
On mitigation, we are making good progress, with 71 nationally determined contributions submitted. The number is going up by the day and has just increased from 68 in the last 24 hours. They cover more than 90 priorities, including the EU and its 27 member states, and over 70% of global GDP is covered by a net zero target, including all G7 nations, which now have net zero targets for 2050. That has increased from around 30% since the UK assumed the presidency, so we are making progress. Of course, that is not to say that there is not a great deal more to do.
On adaptation, we are championing a number of initiatives, including the Adaptation Action Coalition, which aims to share knowledge and good practices. We have secured $175 million for the Risk-informed Early Action Partnership, which aims to improve early warnings. Across Government, adaptation is integrated through our policies, with Departments working together and using the national adaptation plan. Adaptation has been raised by a number of hon. Members, and that is obviously a critical element. On finance, of the $100 billion developed countries commitment, approximately $80 billion was reached in 2018, which is the last year that we have data for.
We are then pushing to meet and exceed the $100 billion target through to 2025, with the G7 leaders each committing to increase their overall international public climate finance contributions. There was criticism from a number of hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), but we have committed to maintaining our five-year pledge to spend £11.6 billion on climate finance for developing countries. Between just 2011 and 2020, 66 million people have been supported to cope with the effects of climate change.
On collaboration, the UK remains committed to facilitating agreement on an ambitious, comprehensive, and balanced set of negotiated outcomes at COP26. We are also planning for an in-person ministerial meeting in London at the end of July to build on our momentum. That will be a key step, bringing together more than 40 countries from the United Nations framework convention on climate change negotiating groups to delve into some of the key topics for negotiation at the actual conference. It will build those important relationships that we need to make progress.
Nature—a subject dear to my heart, due to my role as the Environment Minister in DEFRA—is a key theme of our COP presidency. If we are serious about mitigating climate change, adapting to its impacts and keeping to 1.5°, we must change the way we use and look after our land and water, and the ecosystems and biodiversity on which life depends. Agriculture, forest loss and land use contribute 23% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Nature-based solutions, such as trees, peatlands and wetlands, can provide a third of the most cost-effective climate change solutions. They pay their way by more than sixfold, so investing in those schemes is very much worth it. A number of colleagues touched on nature-based solutions: the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), who referenced the blue economy; my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart), who is a great champion for this; and, indeed, the hon. Member for Strangford.
We have done some great work internationally on mangrove swamps, but here there is also huge mileage and potential on our salt marshes and our kelp beds. We are working with countries and communities to protect and restore forests and critical ecosystems, and to transition to sustainable agriculture, which was eloquently referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) when he referenced regenerative agriculture—something that I know is dear to his heart.
We want to ensure that nature is on a par with climate, recognising that nature, biodiversity and the climate crisis are inextricably interlinked. I am proud to say that DEFRA will be leading on the nature and land use day at COP, and there will be a number of events and receptions. I urge the Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne), to register his interest in coming on that day. He will be very welcome, as will his knowledge and input.
At the US leaders summit, Governments and companies came together to announce a coalition for lowering emissions by accelerating forest finance, called the LEAF Coalition. That is an ambitious public-private initiative, which aims to mobilise $1 billion in financing to accelerate climate action to protect tropical forests and support sustainable development. The forest, agriculture and commodity trade—FACT—dialogue, has also been established, bringing together 20 major producer and consumer countries to agree collective action for protecting forests while promoting trade and development.
Here, in the UK, as many colleagues will be aware, we are introducing a world-leading due diligence clause through the Environment Bill to tackle illegal deforestation in our supply chains. It is one of our much wider packages of measures to improve the sustainability of our supply chains. I hope that the EAC Chair, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow—and indeed, the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith—will be pleased to hear that the cross-Government net zero strategy will be published ahead of COP26. The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has been leading on that, and has been commissioning work across Whitehall that will feed into it.
I take slight issue with the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion, who says that there is no ambition and no direction for this COP, or, indeed, from this Government on their entire agenda. I will therefore rattle through a few things where I feel that we are demonstrating extreme ambition.
The UK was the first major economy to adopt a net zero target. We have the highest levels in terms of the UK’s nationally determined contributions. We are the fastest nation in the G7 to decarbonise cars, and we are doubling our investment on international climate finance. We have also set a target aiming to halt the decline in species abundance. I think that all that demonstrates that we really are leading by example, which is very important.
Mr Chairman, I know that you are wondering what will actually happen at COP26. We have now published our high-level programme. COP26 will open with a summit of world leaders, where each leader will set the direction for the following two weeks of negotiations. Then, there will be a lot of themed days, including on finance, energy use, public employment, gender, science, innovation and transport—a raft of different themes.
All Members will know that they should have received a letter just this week to invite them—both MPs and peers are invited—to register their interests in attending the summit and to specify which themed day they would like to attend. This will be for the blue zone and day passes will be issued. Allocations will be made per day, but obviously that will depend on the covid mitigation measures that are in place. Out of interest, 4,000 different organisations and bodies have applied to have a presence at the event and the team are trawling through those applications right now. We can see the interest in this tremendous opportunity to come and get involved.
I will also just flag up that a whole lot of resources are being made available to hon. Members and hon. Friends, which we hope everyone will engage with and then use within their constituencies, to go out to schools, to hold events with businesses and all the rest of it. There is an engagement pack. There is also a “Together for our Planet” schools pack, which is actually really rather good. It also shows schools how they might want to hold a green assembly, in which an MP could take part.
I must also flag up our own DEFRA-launched initiative called “Plant For Our Planet”. This is a hands-on initiative whereby we can all get involved in planting something, whether it is just something in a window box or on a verge in a town, or doing something with the community, so that we can all do our bit to tackle emissions and also help to tackle the biodiversity crisis—it genuinely will help. There is great information on the gov.uk website.
Penultimately, I will just turn back to the international stage for a minute. As we all know, the UK hosted the G7 event in June and at that event leaders committed to end international coal power finance in 2021 and replace it with more funding for renewables. The summit also spawned a number of climate finance commitments, including from Canada, to double its private finance, from Japan, and from Germany, which announced that it will increase its climate financing from €4 billion to €6 billion. Leaders also committed—
The hon. Gentleman raised that crucial point in his speech. That is why we are using our diplomacy to get other countries to help to commit to get to this sum, and it will be a key focus of the meeting he mentions. I was about to flag it up, but I now do not need to, because he has done it for me. And that comes ahead of COP26.
In conclusion, we have a momentum building up with that G20 leaders summit. We even have events with a COP26 focus, such as the Chelsea Flower Show. People will understand much more about what COP26 is about when they see plants and other things that will help us in climate change and in tackling the crisis.
COP26 will be a pivotal moment in securing our path to global net zero emissions by 2050. Together with our Italian partners and with leaders from across the globe, we will work to prevent global temperatures rising above 1.5° C. This is absolutely crucial. We have to act now; we cannot wait until we get to the end of the century, and we get to 3° C, and literally it will be a crisis. I think we all understand that. I believe that everyone in this room, whatever our views about whatever else, is all agreed on that, and that we must work together, using this COP26 opportunity and our influence on the global stage, so that we can literally save the planet.
I will just put on the record my thanks to everyone who participated in this afternoon’s debate. The sheer volume of interest in a Westminster Hall debate on the last day of term testifies to the importance of its subject matter.
I warmly welcome what the Minister said in her closing remarks about the intense efforts to get climate finance at the heart of the programme for resolution, either at or before COP26. It would be a major—
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
Support for Carers
[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)).