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Volume 719: debated on Wednesday 16 June 2010


Asked By

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as vice-president of Carers UK.

My Lords, we understand the urgency of reforming both the NHS and the social care system to provide more control to individuals and their carers. The coalition agreement makes it clear that we will,

“extend … personal budgets to give people and their carers more control … We will use direct payments to carers and better community-based provision to improve access to respite care”,

and we will,

“extend the right to request flexible working to all employees”,

including carers.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful reply. In national Carers Week, I am sure that millions of carers will be glad to hear of the Government’s commitment to support all that carers do. In their national carers strategy published in 2007, the previous Government pledged that no carer would be in financial hardship by 2018. Are the coalition Government planning to honour that pledge?

My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness for all that she has done over the years to highlight the work of carers and their needs—indeed, the Government are very pleased to support Carers Week. We are entirely supportive of the ambitions set out in the previous Government’s strategy. We naturally need to focus on delivering the things that will have the greatest impact on improving carers’ lives. I think that there will be three strands to that. The first is to make sure that carers are able to stay in work if they wish to. The second is to help carers who wish to get back into work to return to employment—Jobcentre Plus has in train a number of initiatives in that regard. The third is the safety net of benefits and we will review the benefits system in a way that encourages, among other things, fairness.

My Lords, my noble friend said that respite care is seen as important. Will he assure us that the huge contribution made by so many families who unstintingly give their time, love and care is fully appreciated and that he recognises how essential respite is for them?

My Lords, my noble friend makes a critical point. She would like to know, I am sure, that there is already money in the baselines for primary care trusts to ensure that carers can get breaks. The continuation of the area-based grant, of which the carers grant forms a part, will need to be considered in the wider context of future spending reviews but, at the moment, £256 million is allocated in the budget for the current year.

My Lords, will the Minister give special consideration to child carers, who may need extra support, both from the social services and from the voluntary sector? I know that some is already given, but there really is extra need for it.

My Lords, the noble Baroness draws our attention to an extremely important area. Supporting vulnerable children is a priority for the Government. I would say that many young people are happy to help to care for a family member; it helps them to develop a sense of responsibility. However, inappropriate and excessive levels of caring by young people can put their education, training and health at risk and prevent them from enjoying their childhood. We are therefore very mindful of this area of need.

My Lords, young carers are often overlooked. Is the Minister prepared to meet young carers and organisations that represent them to discuss their needs? We have done this in the past and, while some of the issues have been resolved, some have not.

My Lords, will the Government collect information to help the growing numbers of young, usually working-class grandparents who need to work and who increasingly care nearly full-time for their grandchildren, as well as, frequently, for their ageing parents at the same time?

My Lords, the noble Baroness raises another important area. One thing that we propose to introduce is greater scope for flexible working, as I said in my original Answer, to enable all employees to avail themselves of that. It will allow greater scope for grandparents in particular but it will also allow neighbours and friends to engage in caring on a much wider scale than they can at the moment.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Princess Royal Trust for Carers. Can the noble Lord say whether it is appropriate that carers for those who are disabled on account of substance abuse should be subject to the same disability, as it were, as the person for whom they care?

My Lords, this is a complex question and one that my noble and learned friend will, I hope, know that we are bearing closely in mind. Those often young people who look after disabled parents are in special need, as I have said, but we recognise, too, the huge responsibility placed on parents who care for a disabled child and who often bear particular burdens. On that score, while noble Lords will be aware that the child trust fund has been abolished, the changes that we introduced in so doing include provision for more than £20 million a year, starting next year, to be spent on providing additional respite breaks for carers of severely disabled children. In passing, I pay tribute to the work of the Princess Royal Trust for Carers.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the cost of providing day care alone for a severely disabled person is something like £40,000 a year? Is he further aware that, while a woman who has chosen to have a child can set the costs of care against tax to get back to work, the spouse of a disabled person cannot do so?

My Lords, I recognise everything that my noble friend has said. We recognise that carers play an indispensable role, which is why we are going to reform the benefits system to make it fairer all round.