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Unpaid Carers

Volume 704: debated on Tuesday 23 November 2021

4. What steps his Department is taking to help ensure that unpaid carers can access support when caring for family members. (904298)

We recognise that carers perform a difficult role and often find it challenging to access support. The Care Act 2014 secured important rights for carers, including a responsibility for local authorities to assess and support their specific needs where eligible. We will work with unpaid carers and stakeholders to co-develop further detail in a White Paper for reform later this year.

The Minister will know that among those unpaid carers are 800,000 young carers, who play an extraordinary role—some from as young as seven or eight years old—in looking after parents with long-term conditions. Too many are unidentified, and as a consequence struggle without the support that they deserve. Does the Minister agree that integrated care boards could require GPs, who are uniquely placed to do this, to identify young carers and signpost them to support services? Will she also work with ministerial colleagues to require schools to create a young carers lead, as with special educational needs co-ordinators, to co-ordinate the identification of and support for young carers?

We will certainly be looking at all those points within guidance. Local authorities have a duty to assess the needs of young carers under the Children and Families Act 2014, and that duty has remained in place throughout the pandemic. Authorities must ensure that young carers are identified and referred to appropriate support if needed, and that the young carer is not taking on excessive or inappropriate care and support responsibilities. We have also announced an additional £1 billion of new recovery premium funding, which schools can use to support young carers’ mental health and wellbeing, alongside their academic recovery.

The carers action plan published in 2018 was a two-year cross-Government attempt to try to change the way we identify and support the millions of unpaid carers across our country. They save our health and care system a fortune, but for their loved ones they are literally the world. What plans are there to publish a progress report and set out the next steps for how the Government intend to keep focused on this really important issue?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her work in this role and also to all unpaid carers. There are 5.4 million unpaid carers in England and they do a fantastic job. In the forthcoming Bill that we are co-producing with unpaid carers, we will make sure that we continue to make progress in this area. I look forward to sharing that with her before the end of this year.

Carers UK recently called for an additional payment across the UK for unpaid carers after its survey found that more than one in five unpaid carers are worried that they may not cope financially over the next 12 months. In Scotland we already have a carer’s allowance supplement, and the Scottish Government will once again make a double payment this December, recognising the impact that the pandemic has had on our carers. Will the Minister now urge her colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions to make a commitment to match the Scottish Government’s offer?

There is a carer’s allowance in the UK as well, but in most cases financial incentives are not the main driver for those providing unpaid care. However, we may see a shift towards less intensive caring activities or a reduction in the hours spent caring as people become more eligible for state support and we push through some of the reforms. Charging reforms bring an end to the unpredictability of care costs for care users and will do the same for those who provide unpaid care for them, allowing them to make informed choices. We need to do more to support them in providing respite and day services.

What action have the Government taken to support the charities and community groups that provide help to unpaid carers, because many of these charities found it very hard to operate and raise funding during the covid shutdown?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: charities are also a vital part of the network of support for our unpaid carers, and some of them did have to close during the pandemic, so we have been encouraging them to open up now that we can all open up. Additional financial support was provided for the charitable sector to make sure that it could continue its vital services during the pandemic when fundraising activities were very difficult.

Many families are pushed to breaking point because they cannot get the help they need to look after the person they love. Will the Minister now confirm that somebody who is trying to hold down a job and care for their elderly mum whose house is worth £100,000 will face a tax rise that will not improve their mum’s care or give them a break from caring, and will not even stop them from having to sell their mum’s home, because under the plans Tory MPs voted through last night, she will never hit the cap on care costs? Will the Minister further confirm that this tax rise on working people will be used to protect 90% of a home worth £1 million? If she disputes these figures, why does she not publish the impact assessment before MPs are asked to vote on the Health and Social Care Bill tonight?

From October 2023, the Government will introduce, for the first time in our history, a new £86,000 cap on the amount any adult in England will need to spend on their social care. That will protect them from unpredictable and unlimited costs. But as well as that there is a more—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady may like to listen to the answer. As well as that, there is a more generous—[Interruption.] Please listen. On top of that, a more generous means test for adult social care will come into effect, allowing more people to benefit from the means-tested support. Under the current system, about half of all older adults in care receive some state support. This rises to roughly two thirds under the recently announced charging reforms, which will help many adults, including unpaid carers. Everybody will benefit from this system.