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Unpaid Carers: Support

Volume 798: debated on Thursday 13 June 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that unpaid carers receive the support to which they are entitled.

My Lords, we are committed to supporting carers to provide care in ways that protect and preserve their own health and well-being. Last June, we published the Carers Action Plan, a cross-government programme of targeted work. This included a £5 million carers innovation fund, to encourage innovative and creative ways of supporting carers. We are also working with local government on a sector-led improvement programme of work focused on implementing the carers Act duties for carers.

I thank the Minister for her Answer. As Carers Week draws to a close, I point out that we owe a great debt of gratitude to the 6.5 million carers in the country who save us more than £100 billion a year, given the costs that we would otherwise have to bear. The problem is that nearly three-quarters of those carers say that they suffer mental health stress as a result of their caring duties, and over 60% say that they have physical health problems. Will the overdue Green Paper on social care put sustainable funding in place to properly provide support for carers and ensure speedy access to health services for them?

I thank the noble Baroness for her important Question. I suspect that the majority of noble Lords have not only been carers themselves but have benefited from caring. I would not be standing here myself were it not for the caring support of my own family. We should pay tribute to carers up and down the country, without whom we would not have a sustainable health and care system. I assure the noble Baroness that proposals for putting in place sustainable funding to support carers, and considering their employment status, are part of the work that is going on in implementing the long-term plan and preparing the social care Green Paper. I hope that reassures her.

My Lords, a growing number of older people are providing unpaid care while trying to manage their own health and care needs, in many cases co-caring for each other with partners, adults or children with learning difficulties. In particular, there is an alarming increase in the number of carers aged 85 and over, who are more likely than other carers to be caring round the clock, be suffering anxiety and be in poor health themselves. What are the Government doing to ensure that these carers are getting the vital social and community help they need? Are they still the priority, as was promised in the NHS five-year forward view?

I thank the noble Baroness for her question. She is absolutely right that we need to ensure that we target support at those who need it most, but that we also identify those who are carers within the community, because of the burden that we know caring can impose on the health of those who are caring. That is why the Carers Trust has been undertaking research into best practice in identifying carers and targeting support. It is also why the Department of Health and Social Care has been working with local government on a sector-led improvement programme of work focused on the implementation of the carers Act duty for carers. We have just begun phase 1 of this and we are implementing phase 2 to ensure that best practice is disseminated across the system, so we can deliver on the commitments we made within the carers plan.

My Lords, I am sure that we all want to encourage stronger family and community life, which is the very bedrock of healthy societies, but there is one group in particular that needs help and that is the 166,000 underage carers in England. Research by the Children’s Society suggests that that is just the tip of the iceberg—indeed, a huge underestimate. Many of these young people do not realise that they classify as carers: it is just what they have had to deal with. In many cases it is affecting their schooling and mental health. What are Her Majesty’s Government able to do to help and support underage carers in particular?

The right reverend Prelate is quite right to identify this as a crucial issue. The Government believe that children should be protected from inappropriate and excessive caring responsibilities. We changed the law to improve the way that young carers are identified, and we are supporting schools to support carers and working with the Carers Trust to identify and spread best practice. Just today, working with the Children’s Society, which he rightly says has led this project to identify and disseminate best practice, guidance and resources will be published to enable young adult carers to make positive transitions between the ages of 16 and 24. We hope that this will improve the outcomes that young carers experience.

My Lords, I am delighted by the Carers Action Plan, which is a very important piece of work for many thousands of carers in the country. Can my noble friend say exactly what progress is being made in implementing this plan and how success will be measured?

I thank my noble friend for this important question. The Carers Action Plan was a real step in the right direction. It has 64 action points and good progress has been made. There will be a progress report in July. Some key steps in it are promoting best practice for local authorities, clinical commissioning groups and other providers in order to give carers much-needed breaks and respite care, which can be the difference between coping and not coping; and providing carer-confident benchmarks for employers who can identify carers within their systems and give them the support they need. Of course, there is also the work I have already mentioned: the £5 million carers innovation fund to find more creative and innovative ways to support carers, who are so crucial to our health and care system.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that any future proposals for the funding of social care need to be sustainable? Any proposal that requires the burden to fall on those who need social care or their families will not be sustainable and will therefore require contributions from wider society.

I completely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Patel, who is absolutely right that we must ensure that we sustainably fund social care. The Government have provided £3.9 billion more in dedicated social care funding, but we recognise that there is a need for a sustainable financial footing for social care as a whole, which is what we are working towards with the spending review. Nevertheless, carers will continue to play an important part in our healthcare system, as they do within our society. Many people consider that they are making a rewarding and important contribution within their family and community, and we must be grateful to them for that.

My Lords, the implication of what the noble Baroness has just said is that the work around the Green Paper on a sustainable mechanism for funding long-term care is focused on the medium and long term. If that is so—and I think the Minister could say something about the actual remit of the work—the question then arises: what about the short term? We know that the money she talked about is a drop in the ocean compared to the money that has been taken away from social care, alongside the increasing demographic pressures. Can she tell me whether, as part of the spending review, which I assume will occur at some point, the immediate pressures are also going to be taken care of?

The noble Lord will know that the spending review has not yet started, so I cannot tell him what is happening in the negotiations. What I can tell him about is the work that has already gone on to improve social care funding: giving local authorities access to around £10 billion more in dedicated funding for social care from 2017-18 to 2019-20; an additional £410 million of new money to improve social care for older people, people with disabilities and children; and £240 million more for winter pressures. However, the noble Lord is absolutely right that it is no good improving the medium to long-term outlook for social care if we do not ensure that we also address the immediate challenges that it faces.

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate mentioned one group of carers. I would like to ask about those from the BME community, many of whom do not know about the benefits to which they would be entitled—the carer’s allowance, for example, and even the national insurance waivers that come with it. What are the Government proactively doing to support them?

This is a really important question, because the carer’s allowance has increased and is available as a non-means-tested support. I can reveal today that one of the key issues that is being looked at as part of the social care Green Paper is ensuring that financial support and employment status for carers are clearer, so that they can access all the support they are entitled to, but also to try to make things simpler.

I declare an interest as a former Mental Health Act commissioner. While we are talking about carers, there is a considerable number of people who are caring for members of their family who have been suffering from mental illness and are now in the community. Would my noble friend not agree that we should be more concerned to give assistance there as well, rather than merely to those who care for people with physical ailments?

The burden of ill health, anxiety and depression is an important issue that has been clearly identified, and it can be caused by caring for a loved one. There is specific evidence about the threshold at which the number of hours spent caring causes such challenges. My noble friend is right that we should not only identify those who are caring but signpost them clearly to the support available for carers and make sure that they can access that care easily.