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Unpaid Carers

Volume 757: debated on Monday 8 December 2014

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have made any recent assessment of the financial contribution of unpaid carers to the national economy.

My Lords, the Government recognise and value the significant contribution made by informal carers in providing care and support to their family and friends or those who may be frail, elderly or disabled or have mental health conditions. In our recently updated carers strategy action plan, we have made it clear that we will explore the available evidence to assess the impact of the caring role on people’s broader circumstances.

My Lords, I put this Question down because of a response I had from the noble Lord, Lord Freud, on 10 November, when I asked him a Question about carers and the bedroom tax. In a reply which I think shocked the whole House, he implied that carers were not taking part in the economic life of this country, so I am glad to have an acknowledgement from the noble Baroness that the Government recognise that. I remind her of the sum that it is estimated that carers contribute, which is £119 billion.

Does the Minister agree that as well as acknowledgment there must be some practical back-up? In the national carers strategy, which was launched in 2008, a pledge was made to alleviate the financial hardship of carers by 2018. I am sorry to say that this pledge was dropped when the strategy was reviewed by the Government, as the Minister mentioned. Given that a recent survey stated that 45% of carers are going short on food and heating because of the contribution that they are making, will the Minister agree that putting that pledge back into the national carers strategy should be a matter of the utmost urgency?

I do not think that anybody can underestimate the value of carers. Carers UK, when it did its sum, took from the census the number of carers there were, how many hours they said they worked and multiplied the answer by £18, which is the hourly rate that it worked from, and came up, as the noble Baroness said, with £119 billion per annum. That figure is in the same sort of ballpark as pensioner benefits, which are £112.7 billion, so we certainly do not underestimate the numerical value of carers.

My Lords, there are estimated to be 670,000 unpaid carers working with people with dementia. This saves approximately £11 billion per annum. Does the Minister agree that the Government need to make sure that those carers get continuing support after the person whom they have cared for, often for many years, dies? They are not only bereaved but have lost their job, lost their friends and lost the person they were caring for, and they continue to need support. Will that be available to these carers?

The noble Baroness will know about the Care Act 2014, under which local authorities are asked to consider the needs of carers. Part of that was to set up peer support groups. I do not think there is anything in legislation or secondary legislation about what a carer does when the person they care for has died, but I imagine that the support from those peer groups will continue.

My Lords, it is very good news that in the Autumn Statement last week the carer’s allowance was increased—to £110—as well as, particularly for unpaid carers, the element of hours that they can work and still receive it. Will my noble friend outline other support offered to carers? For example, there is the carer’s passport to give them support in finding their way around the NHS.

Certainly. Carers have rights, thanks to the Care Act. Under the carers strategy, we are considering four areas: identifying carers—there are still too many carers that we do not know about; ensuring that that all carers can fulfil their potential; it is really critical that we personalise the support for carers; and it is very important that we keep carers fit and well.

My Lords, do the Government regret whipping against and voting down the amendment to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, which would have revealed how much blood-relative carers contribute to the economy? Is the suggestion of several billion pounds annually very far adrift? Is that why the Government did not want it made public? Will the Minister now tell us what these blood-relative carers contribute to the national economy?

I do not have figures that split out blood relatives from other carers. I shall find out whether such figures are available and let the noble Lord have them.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that providing good quality home care and respite care is crucial to enabling carers to take up work and remain in jobs and not to descend into poverty or debt? Good care means dignity, respect and a better life for the person carers care for. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that health and social care commissioners recognise this point and provide for and pay for decent care?

It is critical that carers have lives outside that of caring for the individual. The Government are therefore working very hard to ensure that carers can remain in employment or get employment but also have a social life outside their caring duties. Anyone who wants to return to work can get support from Jobcentre Plus and, as of 30 June this year, carers can request flexible working from their employers.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness care to address the question she was asked by my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley about the pledge that was originally made, and when she does so, can she tell the House why it was dropped in the first place?

The whole carers package was reviewed in 2010. I was not party to the discussions, but I imagine that the Department of Health and the other departments which put together the carers strategy took a look at the broader economic situation they found themselves in and decided that they would support carers in other ways than giving them a living wage for what they were doing.

My Lords, the Carers Trust and Mencap have demonstrated how unpaid caring often has a detrimental impact on working life and mental health, yet carers—who are often parents of people with long-term disabilities such as autism—must regularly battle tooth and nail to support those whom they care for to stay afloat, particularly since the Government removed the ring-fencing around funding for respite breaks and local authorities to save money, which drastically restricted short breaks for carers. Will the Government commit to ending the postcode lottery in short breaks for carers by reinstating the state ring-fence and at the very least monitor and report back to the House the impact of the cuts in this area?

The noble Baroness is right; when you are a carer and the person you care for is difficult to deal with, that can cause very severe emotional and mental stresses. Therefore, under the Care Act, which comes into effect on 1 April next year, a carer is entitled to exactly the same level of assessment as the person they care for, so that sort of thing will be looked at. Local authorities make decisions about how to spend their money.