My Lords, we are committed to supporting young carers to ensure that they maintain their health and well-being and have the same life chances as their peers. We will continue to carry out the commitments made in the Carers Action Plan. These aim to increase the identification, support and recognition of young carers. This year, we will publish reports on young carers identification and work on carers from seldom-heard groups.
My Lords, there are now an estimated 800,000 young carers delivering care to family members, and there has been an alarming 83% increase in children as young as five, six and seven undertaking this role. Is it not clear that the Government’s continued failure to tackle the social care funding crisis means young carers having to undertake care and support, at great cost to their own well-being, education and mental health, that should be available in the social care system? In particular, short breaks for respite care funded by local authorities are vital for disabled children and their families, including their siblings, many of whom are young carers. What action are the Government taking to make sure that they fill the annual £434 million funding gap in local authority funding for social care for disabled children in England, identified by the Disabled Children’s Partnership?
The noble Baroness will know that we take with the utmost seriousness the need to put social care funding on a sustainable footing. I heard the serious debate about this that we had on Thursday in the Queen’s Speech debate, and took back the seriousness with which this place takes those issues. On carers’ leave, the Government want to combine rewarding careers and the education of young carers with being able to care, and do not want young carers to take on inappropriate levels of caring. Therefore, the Government have committed to supporting unpaid carers with a leave entitlement of one week per year, which will be taken up in the employment Bill. In addition, I take the noble Baroness’s point about respite care and I will provide her with further detail in a note.
I thank my noble and learned friend for his question. The Government changed the law to improve how young carers and their families are identified and supported, to simplify the legislation relating to this. In addition, in 2016 we funded the Carers Trust to develop and run the Making a Step Change project for young carers and their families. It was designed to embed best practice to champion and identify support for young carers and their families and to provide an effective and integrated way for voluntary and statutory sector partners to identify young carers. We are working even harder to make sure that GPs and other professionals do the best for young carers. NHS England has recently introduced a new framework of quality markers in when identifying carers for GP practices so that they can improve both their health and their well-being throughout the care pathway.
My Lords, the noble Baroness will remember from her previous role at the Department for Health and Social Care that, when carers were consulted prior to the Carers Action Plan, 67% of young carers said that they were not receiving any support at all. Does she have any statistics to show that this situation is improving?
We have now delivered all 12 of the commitments and recommendations in the Carers Action Plan to improve the situation for young carers, but the noble Baroness is absolutely right that the way we will improve on that is by improving identification. As I have said, with support from the Carers Trust and the Children’s Society, we are focusing on making sure that we embed not only early identification but also the right support throughout our work with young carers. We know that we have further to go but we are determined to do so.
My Lords, the Children and Families Act 2014 made a very clear link between the Department for Health and Social Care working with other government departments to ensure that young carers got support, specifically the Department for Education. Also in that Act is a young carer’s assessment that every young carer is entitled to. What are the Government doing to ensure that every school identifies such young carers and makes sure that a referral is made to other support mechanisms elsewhere, including health?
This is a hugely important point, because obviously sometimes young carers are not necessarily identified by health professionals. In 2019 the Department for Education carried out a review of the educational outcomes of children who need or have had need of a social worker, and obviously young carers are identified in that cohort, where they represent around 3% or 16,500 of them. The department has identified the barriers that they face and the best practice needed to help leaders and front-line practitioners overcome them. Work is ongoing in how we respond to that. In addition, the DfE has worked to improve information sharing to safeguard vulnerable children, which would include carers, to make sure that they are picked up and given the support they need and thus ensure that they have the best life chances.
My Lords, do the Government recognise that the shortage of beds which is being experienced across the NHS is having an adverse effect on the ability to provide respite admissions when young carers find that they are literally at breaking point? Funded beds in hospices, nursing homes and other places can be essential to maintaining the cohesiveness of a family unit that is under extreme strain.
Obviously, pressure on the wider NHS and on social care can have a knock-on effect on unpaid carers who provide an enormous and valuable contribution to our health system, and also on those who care for them. I think that many of us in this Chamber will have personal and direct experience of that. That is why we have provided an extra £33.9 billion of funding for the NHS to ease those pressures, why we are working hard to find a sustainable solution to social care reform, and why we want to make sure that we provide carers of all ages with the support they need, first through identification and later by making sure that they have joined-up support right through the system.