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Volume 742: debated on Monday 14 January 2013


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their estimate of the saving to public funds as a result of the work of unpaid carers in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, the Government themselves have not estimated savings to public funds as a result of unpaid carers’ contribution to care and support, although we are aware of estimates by other organisations. There is scope for debate about how best to put a financial value on this care but there can be no doubt about its huge value to those who receive care and to the wider community.

My Lords, I am sure that the Minister would agree that we owe a great debt to the carers of this country and, indeed, the Government recognise that because they have promised that families with a disabled child and in receipt of disability living allowance will be exempt from the housing benefit cap. However, according to the regulations, when that disabled child becomes a disabled adult, the child is considered to be a separate household from the parents who they live with. No matter that the disabled adult will perhaps need the same level of care that they received as a disabled child; the parents will then be subject to the housing benefit cap. Why?

My Lords, the noble Lord will have to forgive me because I will need to write to him about benefits, which do not directly fall under my remit in the Department of Health. However, I can say to him that more young carers services are extending their age group to cover young adult carers, and there needs to be a proper join-up between the two. In some situations, it is true that the young adults’ needs are unmet; they can fall down the gap and not receive adequate support. A transition between children’s services and adult services should be smoother—we acknowledge that, and we are addressing this in the draft Care and Support Bill.

My Lords, does the noble Earl accept that many unpaid carers manage to carry their enormous responsibilities only because of respite care and other assistance, sometimes from paid sources, and that if those paid sources were not available, many people now living at home might find themselves in institutional care? Will he therefore, in any government cut backs, make sure that no action is taken that undermines the position of carers?

I agree with the noble Lord. Carer’s breaks are extremely important, which is why we have pledged to invest £400 million between 2011 and 2015 to improve the NHS’s support carers to enable them to take a break from their caring responsibilities. The current operating framework for the NHS requires the service to work closer than ever before with local carers organisations and councils to agree plans to pool resources and ensure that carers get the support and the break that they deserve.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in November 2011, in a report from the Cass Business School for Carers UK called The UK Care Economy: Improving Outcomes for Carers, the authors noted that the only reliable data about carers comes from the census, which is national? Given that CCGs and health and well-being boards are about to start commissioning services locally and that their information is at best incoherent and inconsistent, what help will the Government give them in order properly to assess the numbers of carers and the level of need they are supposed to be meeting?

My Lords, my noble friend makes an extremely important point. Our report, Recognised, Valued and Supported: Next Steps for the Carers Strategy, had four key priorities, one of which was to identify carers earlier. Healthcare professionals undoubtedly have a role to play in supporting those with caring responsibilities to identify themselves as carers in the first instance. We therefore made around £850,000 available in the previous financial year to the Royal College of General Practitioners, Carers UK and the Carers Trust to develop a range of initiatives to increase awareness and understanding of carers’ needs in primary care. We are building on that further.

My Lords, I remind the House that the figure usually given is £119 billion that is being saved from public funds. Since the census now shows that the number of carers has increased by 11%, no doubt that figure will go up. Since many carers give up paid work to become carers and only 600,000 of them receive the carer’s allowance, does the Minister agree that many of them will be building up poverty for themselves in the future? What guidance must be given, therefore when carers’ assessments are being made to enable them to stay in paid work for as long as possible?

My Lords, the latest figure I have for carers from the census is that there are 5.4 million unpaid carers in England. The noble Baroness was right to mention the figure of £119 billion, although it is a figure we can argue about. It is probably an overestimate as regards the cost to public funds. However, she makes a very important point about employment. The Government fully recognise the importance of supporting carers to remain in work. The Department of Health has established a task and finish group with employers for carers to explore how to improve support for carers to remain in employment. Jobcentre Plus provides practical assistance for carers seeking work; in particular, it can offer practical support for all carers who are employed for less than 16 hours a week.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the concern of many adult carers of children with disability at the number of changes in social workers that their child has, and how that undermines their ability to be effective advocates for these children, especially as they make the transition to adult services? Does the Minister monitor the number of changes in social workers supporting such families? How can we ensure that this important factor is improved upon?

My Lords, the noble Earl makes an extremely important point about continuity of care. I am not aware that my department monitors the point that he raises, although it is one that we expect local authorities to bear closely in mind as they fulfil the criteria to be rolled out in the social care outcomes framework, which contains a strong strand relating to service user satisfaction.