Skip to main content

Carers in England

Volume 828: debated on Monday 6 March 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to recognise the role of carers in England and their contribution to the economy.

Carers play a vital role in our communities and we owe them all a debt of gratitude. The adult social care sector employs 1.5 million people, with Skills for Care estimating that paid carers contribute around £50 billion to the English economy. In 2016, the ONS also estimated that the gross value added of unpaid care in the UK was £59.5 billion. The Government recognise the value of unpaid carers and provide financial recognition, primarily through the carer’s allowance.

Yes, the Government are at last starting to recognise the value of carers. In spite of the excellent work of front-line carers, the paid-for system remains inadequate, even with the adult social care Bill—a Private Member’s Bill. We know that it is inadequate because millions of men and women, and even children, have to step in as part-time carers, limiting their time in work, education or training, at great cost to the economy. When are the Government going to introduce the social and economic reforms to the social care system that would enable these voluntary part-time carers to fully participate in and contribute to the economy?

The Government have set out our long-term plan for the reform of adult social care. In the autumn, we announced that we were making additional funding of up to £2.8 billion available in 2023-24, and £4.7 billion in the following year. Those decisions also involved a delay to rolling out some of the reforms that we had set out, so we will be updating our plan to implement that vision this spring, setting out the path forward.

My Lords, about three years ago, my most reverend friend the Archbishop of York and I commissioned the Reimagining Care Commission, which the Minister is probably familiar with. It published its final report the other day. It sought to reimagine social care for our time, particularly to answer the question of who is responsible for what, given that it is not just the Government. Will the Government consider the commission’s main recommendation—that a national care covenant be created to set out clearly the mutual responsibilities of the Government, communities, families, churches and other organisations around care and support?

The Government welcome all contributions and ideas to this space, and I am sure that we will consider the proposals very carefully. As I have said, the Government set out their own plans in this area last year. We will update those plans, looking to put people at the heart of the social care system, this spring.

My Lords, with over 7 million people in the UK juggling work alongside unpaid care, and continuing to contribute their much-needed skills to the economy at a time of labour shortages, will the Government commit to produce a cross-departmental strategy for unpaid carers? Will the Minister agree to meet me to discuss how this might best be done?

I will happily take the suggestion from the noble Baroness back. I, or perhaps someone else in the Government, could meet her to discuss it. She talked about many people juggling unpaid care with working responsibilities. That is why I am pleased that the Government are backing the Private Member’s Bill on carer’s leave, which will provide one week’s unpaid leave for carers.

My Lords, carer’s allowance is the lowest benefit of its kind. Research by Carers UK found many unpaid carers in poverty and struggling to make ends meet. Why, therefore, do the Government continue to refuse calls from Carers UK and others to raise the real value of carer’s allowance if, as they claim, they genuinely recognise and value the work that carers do?

My Lords, carer’s allowance and the carer’s element of universal credit will be uprated by inflation this April. For those carers on low incomes, the Government’s focused cost of living support will also help. That is worth up to £650 this year and £900 next year. I believe around 60% of low-income working-age carers are also in receipt of universal credit, so may be eligible for that support.

My Lords, I was honoured to be a member of the Adult Social Care Committee over the last year. We produced the report A “Gloriously Ordinary Life’’: Spotlight on Adult Social Care, led by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. We are still waiting for the Government to respond. Among the 36 recommendations, we suggested that:

“The Government should establish in the next 12 months a Commissioner for Care and Support to act as a champion for older adults and disabled people and unpaid carers”.

Does the Minister agree?

My Lords, I thank the committee for all the work that it has done. I recognise that there has been a delay in responding to that report. I cannot pre-empt that response, but I reassure the noble Lord and all members of the committee that the Government are looking very carefully at the recommendations and taking them seriously.

My Lords, considering the role of paid carers as well as unpaid, has the Treasury done any modelling of the effects of raising carer salaries above the national minimum wage, where many of them are stuck today? Does the Minister agree that such a move to lift carer salaries could help with recruitment and retention as well as boost local economies, where most carer salaries are spent?

My Lords, the Government have considered a number of aspects for the adult social care workforce, including the support for training that can be provided and proper recognition of the profession. Of course, the noble Lord makes a point about pay as well.

My Lords, the Government have long promised an employment Bill, which would allow Ministers to address some of the specific issues faced by carers, as well as others who face barriers to full economic participation. Given the absence of the Bill from last year’s Queen’s Speech, does it remain the Government’s intention to bring it forward? If so, when will we see it and, if not, how else will these issues be addressed?

My Lords, perhaps I can pick up on the noble Baroness’s final point. The Government are supporting the carer’s leave Private Member’s Bill to provide an entitlement to employees of one week of unpaid leave per year. We also support the flexible working Private Member’s Bill, which will make requesting flexible working an employment right from day 1, also providing more flexibility for those seeking to balance work and care. We are seeking to take forward the policies and proposals that we have set out while we await the arrival of the employment Bill.

My Lords, the Treasury does not seem to understand that by spending more money in one area, you can save even more in another area. If we spend more money in care homes, we can save a lot of money in the health service. As my noble friend Lord Haskel said, if we spend more money on carers, they can go out to work and help the economy. I have great faith in the noble Baroness. She has a lot of experience and is very persuasive. Will she go back to the Treasury and try to persuade it of this truth?

Perhaps I can persuade the noble Lord to have a little more faith in the Treasury’s attitude towards these things. I set out in an earlier answer the additional money that is going into social care this year and next, which was announced alongside healthcare spending. But the amount that we were putting into social care was precisely to acknowledge the role it plays, for example, in reducing delays to discharge that are affecting our health system.

The noble Baroness will know that if a patient has cancer, they are entitled to comprehensive healthcare free at the point of use. If they have dementia, they are subject to a very hard means test with often wholly inadequate care. Does she think this is justifiable, with all the challenges we face, particularly for older people?

My Lords, the noble Lord has set out the difficulties that there can be in drawing the lines between health and social care, but those distinctions are made in our system and removing them could have significant cost implications. The Government have set out their vision for the way forward on social care and will update it later this year. It is about reforms matched with increased funding.