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Respite Care

Volume 588: debated on Monday 30 March 1998

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2.58 p.m.

Whether they have any plan to introduce a right to short-term respite care breaks for disabled people and carers.

My Lords, the Government are not planning to bring in legislation to introduce such a right. We nonetheless recognise the great importance attached to respite care for carers and those for whom they care and we are committed to ensuring that local authorities also recognise this. We expect that good practice will best be achieved by the effective implementation of the carers Act, in which my noble friend played such a significant role when it passed through Parliament two years ago. The local availability and quality of short-term breaks are currently being assessed in a study by the Social Services Inspectorate. That report should be available later this year and we shall take any necessary action on the basis of it.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Many of us look forward with great anticipation to the SSI report. However, is the Minister aware of the great concern among disabled people and their carers about the restrictions in local authority budgets which are leading to cuts in the respite care and short-term breaks that are available? Is she further aware of the effect that that has on carers who wish to remain in paid employment, many of whom, sadly, have the experience of Joyce? Because respite care for her mother is now available for only two days a week instead of four, she has had to give up her paid employment and become dependent on state benefits, perhaps building up poverty for herself in the future. Can the Minister give us an assurance that her department is concerned about this aspect of the issue?

My Lords, we are aware that there are pressures on local authority budgets and that in some instances this has led to the kind of cuts described by my noble friend. I hope she was encouraged by the fact that my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in his Budget that the tax allowance that had previously been available only to men with children whose wives were incapacitated was being extended to mothers with dependent children and incapacitated husbands. This removes an anomaly in the tax situation, and we hope it will enable more carers to return to work.

There are also the questions raised by the new deal for the disabled detailed in the Green Paper last week. We hope that the reforms we propose will enable disabled people to have a better deal, with proper rights and opportunities to work, which should as a result allow those who care for them to have the same rights and opportunities.

My Lords, in view of the increasing length of hospital waiting lists, will the Minister particularly address the need for respite for carers of people waiting, often for long periods, for admission to hospital?

My Lords, that is a helpful suggestion. One of the advantages that we found of providing additional money during the winter for support for people living in the community to try to prevent unnecessary acute hospital admissions was that many people were able to be supported at home and to come out of hospital more quickly because their carers had better support in their home circumstances, which was obviously better for everybody.

My Lords, does the Minister mean that, even if the short-term breaks project recommends legislation such as the Disabled persons and Carers (Short-Term Breaks) Bill presently being considered in another place to implement full caring in the community for carers and disabled people, it will not be forthcoming?

My Lords, I cannot predict either the results of the project to which the noble Lord refers or the outcome of the Government's response to it. We will take seriously any suggestions made in the report but, as the noble Lord will be aware, the pressures on the legislative timetable at the moment are extreme.

My Lords, have the Government any idea of the additional cost to the National Health Service and social services due to the breakdown in the health of carers, who sometimes work extremely long hours? If not, do the Government intend to undertake any research into the matter?

My Lords, I imagine that that will be part of the review of the working of the carers recognition Act. The Social Services Inspectorate is looking at the whole rounded picture. It will also be relevant to the long-term care charter, on which my honourable friend who has departmental responsibility for that area is working at the moment. On the other side of the coin, it has been estimated that providing short-term breaks on a completely legally-based rights system, as suggested in the Question, could cost anything between £300 million and £900 million a year.

My Lords, while the review is taking place, can it be borne in mind that, if carers are allowed to maintain their role as carers for longer periods due to relief from the physical and mental stress for both themselves and those for whom they are caring, we may save money in the long run by introducing a properly funded and enacted system which will allow that caring to go on in the community?

My Lords, I entirely support the noble Lord's position. As I said in my initial response to my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley, we all recognise the enormous importance of short-term breaks for those who care for people with long-term disabilities and for those who suffer from the disabilities. We must ensure that good practice is conducted throughout the country. That is why it is important that the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act is fully implemented with all the resources necessary at the local level.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that estimates of the numbers of young carers—that is to say, young people and children under the age of 18 who are caring for disabled adults—vary between 15,000 and 50,000? Does my noble friend agree that the main reason for that lack of knowledge is that, though the carers Act 1995 to which she refers entitles all carers to assessment, few local authorities have taken the trouble to find out how many young carers there are in their community?

Does the Minister acknowledge also that in January of this year Mr. Justice McCullough held that the London Borough of Newham unlawfully failed to assess the needs of young carers in Newham? Will she therefore ensure that all local authorities undertake within the next 12 months to conduct a systematic study of the number of young carers in their communities and to publish the results? In the light of that, will the Minister reconsider whether, if local authorities continue to ignore the Act, legislative action will be taken?

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving that extremely useful example of where the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act does not seem to be being properly implemented at local level. He will be aware that the problems of young people, particularly school-age children who are acting as carers, are something of which we are acutely aware and where we see specific needs. He will be aware also that those children and young people are covered by the carers Act. But I am grateful to him for drawing that example to my attention. I shall certainly look into it if he writes to me, although again I cannot guarantee any legislative result arising from the inquiry.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether she has received representations on this important subject from the British Medical Association? If so, what response did she make?

My Lords, I have not received any deputation or correspondence from the British Medical Association. I will inquire whether my honourable friend Mr. Boateng, who has departmental responsibility for this area, received any. If so, I shall write to the noble Lord.

My Lords, bearing in mind the Answer my noble friend's noble friend gave to the previous Question and the specific distress that carers of sufferers of new variant CJD experience—bearing in mind that the diagnosis cannot be made until after death—what case will the carers have to take legal action against the animal feed compounders and the individual Ministers who previously made the decision that feed compounders should not necessarily be required to list all the ingredients in the animal foodstuffs?

My Lords, my noble friend is extremely ingenious in eliding those two questions. However, his question is not relevant to the Question on the Order Paper regarding carers. In all questions of no-fault compensation and compensation where negligence can be proved, as he will be aware, the answers are extremely complicated and legally involved in relation to the National Health Service. I am willing to pursue the matter with him outside the Chamber if he so wishes.