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Carer’s Allowance

Volume 825: debated on Thursday 17 November 2022


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report by Carers UK Heading for Crisis, published on 18 October, which showed that 40 per cent of carers receiving Carers Allowance are in debt and unable to make ends meet; and what steps they intend to take in response.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as vice-president of Carers UK.

The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work is looking forward to an early meeting with Carers UK to discuss this and its recent report. Our main conclusion from that helpful report is that carers in financial need may wish to check whether they have applied for all the benefits that they are entitled to, including means-tested benefits. That can provide them with an extra weekly income and additional help with the cost of living. For example, carers can get up to £2,000 on the carer’s element of universal credit.

I thank the Minister for her Answer and for her personal commitment to this issue. I know she understands the economic case for supporting carers because they save the nation nearly £200 billion every year, but I wonder if the Government also understand that there is a strong political case here too. Some 84% of the general public think the Government should supply more support for carers, while only yesterday the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services said that 97% of directors thought the Government should provide more financial and practical support for carers. A top-up payment to get them through the winter and a relaxation of the earnings rule, so that they could keep more money if they managed to get a job, are modest enough demands but they would make a huge difference to carers, to health and to social care, and perhaps even give a much-needed boost to the Government’s reputation.

I accept that the requests in the paper are modest—I really do. I must pay tribute to the work that carers do; it is much valued and respected. With regard to a top-up or an extra payment, unpaid carers can already get a top-up through means-tested benefits. I re-emphasise that we must make sure that they claim everything they should. The earnings limit for those in receipt of carer’s allowance who are able to maintain some contact with the employment market is currently £132 a week. I have no information that tells me that that is going to be changed.

My Lords, given that many people in ordinary households are very worried about their fuel bills this coming winter, it seems highly likely that carers, often with very delicate people to support, will be even more worried. Can my noble friend offer them any crumb of comfort?

There are two things. We understand the pressures on carers facing the cost of living crisis, especially around energy costs. They will get support through the energy price guarantee, which is supporting millions of households with rising energy costs. I am just waiting for someone to ask me about uprating. We have nine minutes to go until the Chancellor’s Statement, and I stand here in hope.

My Lords, carers who care for longer are more likely to be struggling to meet the cost of living crisis at the moment and are more likely to be falling into debt. The Carers UK report shows that that is particularly the case for those who have cared for over five years. What plans do the Government have to set up some sort of independent inquiry looking into the relationship between carers and poverty and to try to come up with some solutions for bringing unpaid carers out of poverty?

My very straightforward answer is that there are no plans for a review or working group on this. Knowing how vociferous the noble Baroness is about things that matter to her, I would have thought that a letter to the Secretary of State would not be a bad thing.

My Lords, this Minister and other Ministers constantly tell us that carers are well valued, yet the carer’s allowance continues to be paid at a lower rate than equivalent benefits, despite the growing evidence of the serious hardships experienced by carers. How can this state of affairs be justified? Asking carers to claim means-tested benefits is not the answer.

We should wait and see what the Chancellor says, and I am hopeful about that. I re-emphasise that means-tested benefits can increase payments to carers quite significantly. I am sure that, when Carers UK meet the Minister for Disabled People and talk about the report, they will discuss in detail some plan to raise awareness of those benefits.

My Lords, in response to the Question from the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, my noble friend the Minister replied that carers are not always aware of all the benefits they are entitled to. Could my noble friend enlighten the House on what steps the Government are taking to make sure that more carers are aware of the benefits available to them?

I go back to my previous answer. We have done it for pension credit, and we have had quite some impact there. I cannot commit to doing the same for carer’s allowance, but I am sure that, when Carers UK meet the Minister for Disabled People, that should be if not number one then number two on the agenda. There are other ways people can know about those means-tested benefits, including GOV.UK and through citizens advice bureaux and other organisations such as Carers UK.

My Lords, is the Minister prepared to talk to the Department of Health and Social Care to see whether there could be an additional allowance to carers immediately on a relative being discharged from hospital to try to reduce delayed transfers of care?

I ask my noble friend Lord Markham, “Shall we talk?”. I am very happy to talk to anybody to make life better for people. Maybe my noble friend can follow that through in the next Question.

My Lords, the Minister is rightly encouraging people to claim the benefits to which they are entitled, but can I take her back to the question asked by her noble friend Lady Fookes? Even people on benefits may be struggling at this point. The report showed that those who are caring have extra costs which others do not. The report was incredibly moving. One person said:

“My son is incontinent … if we don’t wash him in warm water several times a day this will cause him to physically decline. So how do we pay for the gas to heat the water if we are currently at max budget?”

Another said,

“my husband has terminal brain cancer, I am worried about how I will cope over the winter months as I can’t allow him to be cold—I need him to be as comfortable as possible in his final months at home”.

Those who are on just carer’s allowance do not get any extra help with fuel. What are the Government going to do to see whether the money given to those who are caring is enough to meet the costs they encounter?

Those who are on carer’s allowance receive the £400. Those who are on carer’s allowance but who are entitled to the carer’s element of UC, where they are not required to look for work, can get another £2,000. The Government are helping, and we are four minutes away from finding out what more they might do around energy costs. The stories and case studies that the noble Baroness read out are harrowing, but the Government are doing everything they can, within the limits of their financial position.

My Lords, have the Government given any thought to those people on carer’s allowance getting automatic increases rather than having to means test? We already know that means testing makes it more difficult for claimants to receive the money they need.

I think the noble Lord is asking me whether people on carer’s allowance will automatically get means-tested benefits. There are other benefits which are means tested and cannot automatically be applied. I have no information that those rules are to change. I agree that the noble Lord is justified in his question.

My Lords, does my noble friend not think that it is high time we had a review of the whole basis of social care? I do not know what the Chancellor is going to announce, but did we not take a wrong turn when we placed the emphasis on people not having to sell their family homes, rather than on getting the resources needed to support professional carers, as well as carers at home, and on reinforcing support where families take on that responsibility but are covered by additional help? It really is urgent, and it is one of the reasons we see ambulances parked outside hospitals and hospital beds being blocked.

I completely agree with my noble friend that the situation is urgent. We have launched the People at the Heart of Care White Paper, which set out a 10-year vision for reforming adult social care. I do not make light of the facts; we are all aware of the extraordinary position the NHS is in with the backlogs. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Markham—I am not passing the buck—has got this under control and will be prepared to share that with noble Lords.