Skip to main content

Carers: Support

Volume 798: debated on Monday 17 June 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what proposals they have to guarantee support for family carers following the cuts made to local authority and voluntary sector support services.

My Lords, the Government have given councils access to £3.9 billion in dedicated funding for adult social care in 2019-20. Last June, we published the carers’ action plan, a cross-government programme of targeted work to support carers, including a £5 million carers’ innovation fund to encourage new and creative ways of doing so. We are also working with local government to ensure that carers can access the support that they deserve and promote best practice in carer breaks provision.

I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer, which I listened to with great interest. I am the first to acknowledge that much progress has been made for carers in recent years, especially winning rights for them under the Carers Act. But I wonder how the noble Baroness would respond to the carer I spoke to on Friday. She is 79, recovering from cancer that has left her with severe back pain and caring for her 91 year-old partner, who has vascular dementia. Fourteen times she has asked her local authority for the assessment, to which she knows she is entitled. Fourteen times she has either been ignored or refused. Her local carers’ group, which was a support to her, has closed down because its funding has been cut. “It is no good telling me I have a right to services”, she says. “There are no services. There is only me and I am about to go under”. How does the noble Baroness respond to her?

The noble Baroness has raised an important point, which is that we need to provide carers with the support they need, because they do an amazing job. Unpaid care is a vital part of a sustainable health and social care system. This is why the long-term plan has put in place an ambition to ensure that we provide sustainable support across the public health system, and will ensure that we have a quality mark for primary care to highlight best practice. I am very sorry to hear about the experience of the carer in the case that the noble Baroness highlighted and would be pleased to follow this up with her directly, after today’s Question Time.

After decades of being a carer myself, I can say to my noble friend that it would help carers enormously for there to be an integrated approach to the carer and the person they are caring for. I cannot remember how many times I filled in a form asking what my needs are, and wrote across it, in large letters, “If the needs of the person I care for were met, my needs as a carer would be greatly reduced”. Until there is that joined-up approach in practice, carers will continue to suffer.

As so often, my noble friend speaks with common sense and insight. This is something that our carers innovation fund is supposed to root out, with its creative and innovative ways to drive reform and improvement through the system. That is why we brought it in, but it is also a commitment of the long-term plan. Best-practice quality marks in primary care are supposed to drive better identification and support of carers in the system. We will ensure that we see that.

My Lords, 160,000 young carers have been assessed and can get support, but it is thought that there are up to 800,000 young carers. Councils have admitted to the Young Carers Trust that they cannot assess these young people at all. Some of them are doing over 50 hours of caring a week. They know that it is impacting their own physical and mental health. A third of young carers drop out of university and college. What are the Government doing to ensure that the basic funding to provide assessment for these vulnerable young people is in place, and to join up the work between social care and education?

This is crucial. We must ensure that young carers, who are often unseen in the system, have the support that they need and are not overburdened by caring responsibilities. That is why we have been working with the Carers Trust and the Children’s Society. The Children’s Society has led a project to identify and disseminate best practice to support and enable young adult carers, between the ages of 16 and 24, to make a positive transition. Guidance and resources have been published this week, and we will ensure that this is implemented effectively. As the noble Baroness rightly says, this is a crucial part of implementing the carers action plan.

My Lords, one group that is desperately in need of support and respite care is the carers of children who are dying. A recent report stated that hospices for children are no longer able to help parents in those categories. They are having to shut down some of their facilities because of lack of investment. What are the Government going to do to help the families who keep these kids going, without whom the whole system will fall apart? The Government must help children’s hospices.

The noble Baroness is absolutely right. This is an important part of the system. I noted those reports with serious concern. Significant work has been put into providing carers’ breaks and respite care within the Carers Action Plan. Local authorities are required to provide that support. We shall investigate what has happened in those instances.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, made it clear that what is needed is action now, not a long-term plan. What plans do the Government have to help people who are having problems now?

I am sorry if I have given the impression to the noble Countess that action has not been happening now. I can outline that the Government have been taking ongoing action to support carers. The Care Act 2014 introduced important new rights for carers, putting them on the same footing as those whom they care for. Through the Better Care Fund, the NHS has contributed £130 million for carers’ breaks. The Carers Action Plan, published in 2018, set out a broad, cross-government programme of work to support carers, which included 64 points which have been delivered since that time. A review will be published in July. A £5 million carers innovation fund to support innovation was announced just this week and will include innovative ways to improve care for patients. This is all ongoing work which is helping carers now, but we recognise that it is not enough, because carers deserve the very best. That is why we will continue to strive to improve support for carers within the system going forward.

My Lords, according to Carers UK, 8.8 million people are carers in this country—that is up 2 million since 2011. Are the Government reviewing the funding provided in last year’s Carers Action Plan to take account of that? What discussion is the Minister’s department having with the department that funds local government? That is the nub of the problem: austerity has starved local government so that it cannot provide the right kind of care, and carers all over the country are suffering as a result.

I thank the noble Baroness for her question. Of course, £10 billion has been provided for adult social care between 2017-18 and 2020, with an extra £240 million for adult social care to reflect winter pressures and an extra £410 million to improve social care for older people, people with disabilities and children. However, the noble Baroness is absolutely right that a sustainable long-term plan for social care is part of the discussions taking place on the spending review and as part of the Green Paper planning. The consideration of dedicated employment rights and reviewing financial support for carers is part of those discussions.