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Carers: Financial Support

Volume 830: debated on Tuesday 16 May 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government whether they plan to review the financial support available to unpaid carers following new research by Carers UK and the University of Sheffield which found that they contribute £445 million daily to the economy in England and Wales.

My Lords, the Government recognise the vital role played by millions of unpaid carers across the country. We are already providing them with record amounts of financial support through the benefits system, including nearly £3.5 billion per year to around 1 million carers through the carer’s allowance alone. Those unpaid carers in lower-income households could also receive an additional £2,200 per year through the universal credit carer element.

My Lords, I was only asking for a review; it seems a modest enough request in view of the £445 million contributed every day by unpaid carers. May I ask the Minister something very specific which, if there should be a review, he would be able to consider? The earnings limit for carer’s allowance is not rising as quickly as the national living wage. The number of hours carers are allowed to work will reduce from 14 to 13 before they lose their entitlement to the benefit. This means that carers are very limited in their ability to undertake paid work and combine it with their caring, which many of them wish to do. Does the Minister agree that deterring carers from working is really not sensible, and that the earnings limit should be increased to a minimum of 21 hours at national living wage rates?

I know the noble Baroness has much experience in this particular area. On the carer’s allowance, I can reassure her that we continue to review the limit and make changes where we feel they are warranted and affordable. The carer’s allowance has an earnings limit, which she alluded to, which permits carers to undertake some part-time work; it also recognises the benefits of staying in touch with the workplace, which we regard as important, including providing greater financial independence and social interaction. As the noble Baroness will know, it can be extremely lonely and very hard work being a carer, as the hours are often long and the work very demanding.

My Lords, a place in a local authority care home will cost a local authority a minimum of £800 a week, which is over £700 more than is paid to a carer who cares for more than 35 hours a week, as carer’s allowance is only £76.75. Does the Minister agree that the Government and local taxpayers are getting a very good deal on the backs of unpaid carers?

We definitely want to applaud the huge number of unpaid carers who work in our society. Caring for a family member or friend, as we know, can be enormously hard work but it can also be incredibly rewarding. To pick up on the noble Baroness’s point, means testing comes into this and this can increase weekly income and act as a passport to other support, including help with fuel costs through schemes such as the warm home discount and cold weather payments, and more recently payments to help with increases in the cost of living.

My Lords, as an officer of the APPG on 22q—a genetic syndrome that is half as prevalent as Down’s syndrome, with similarly far-reaching effects—I know carers who are parents of disabled children who can suddenly find that they have to be in hospital with their child for several days. They also attend far more medical appointments than normal. Do the Government perceive a need to encourage and enable employers to show greater flexibility in these unavoidable circumstances, and how might they do that?

My noble friend makes a very good point. As I said earlier, we are committed to supporting unpaid carers to balance the care they may give alongside work, if they are able to do so. Some caring responsibilities are extremely demanding. My noble friend may know that the Carer’s Leave Bill is currently going through Parliament. This will introduce a new leave entitlement as a right from day one to those being employed, available to all employees who are providing care to a dependant with a long-term care or support need.

My Lords, we have received the Government’s response to the report from the Adult Social Care Committee and we are grateful for it. Is the Minister aware that in that report we recommended that carer’s allowance be reviewed in the next year? We recommended that the threshold for the hours of caring be reduced so that people could access carer’s allowance more easily, and that the allowance be uprated in line with the national living wage. All those recommendations have been rejected. Can the noble Viscount tell me why?

First, I wish the noble Baroness a very happy birthday. Moving on swiftly to her question, I very much note the points the report has produced; I read it over the weekend and it makes some important points. I said earlier how much we value the role of unpaid carers. Yes, the rate of carer’s allowance is £76.75 a week. The total caseload is 1.4 million and I think it very important indeed that we continue to review the role of carers and the carer’s allowance, but, as I mentioned earlier, there is a means-tested element here and top-ups are available for those in need.

My Lords, in addition to the issue of financial support for unpaid adult carers, we must not forget the contribution of young carers, who provide invaluable support to their families. What are the Government doing to ensure financial support for respite support, as well as access to a young carer’s lead in their school or college, as is currently available in Gloucestershire?

The right reverend Prelate makes a very good point, and that is certainly an element of what we are doing and looking at. As I said, the main point is that we very much recognise the importance of carers and their work. Indeed, Carers Week runs from 5 to 11 June this year. On respite care, the right reverend Prelate makes an important point.

My Lords, there are many young carers between 16 and 25 in full-time education—around 375,000—but they seem to get a particularly raw deal, in that they are not eligible for any state financial support and have to look to charities. Will the Minister take a look at their predicament?

I am very aware that some carers are extremely young, and I say again that I recognise the role of unpaid carers. The carer’s allowance is not intended to be a replacement for a wage or a payment for caring services, so we cannot compare it to the national minimum wage or the national living wage, for example. The noble Baroness raises another important point that we should continue to look at.

My Lords, universal credit is a replacement for a wage, and there are people on it who can work only part time because of the need to care for a loved one, and, in some cases, because they simply cannot get hold of formal social care any more —things are pretty tough at the moment. They are not automatically excluded from the requirement to look for full-time work while on universal credit, so what guidance is given to universal credit work coaches in those circumstances?

The guidance is continually updated for them. The noble Baroness will be aware of the link between the carer’s allowance and the universal credit tapering system, so that, if tapering is involved, you receive 55p for every £1.

My Lords, I am glad to hear that the Government want to support unpaid carers, but one of the problems is that they are invisible to all systems, whether that is health and care services, benefits or other government departments. So what are the Government doing to ensure that we identify carers who have this important role?

Again, there is more to be done to highlight the enormous amount of tremendous work that carers do. We are working on this, particularly in tandem with our colleagues in DHSC. I have certainly noted this and will take it forward. If there is something that I can write to my noble friend with, I will do so.

My Lords, the whole House will recognise that, at any time, the whole lifestyle of any of us could be changed by a dramatic illness of a close relative. As indicated, the position of unpaid carers is largely not recognised or sometimes ignored, so that, when they are concerned about their relative and get in touch with one of the agencies, they are often disregarded because they are not the patient, and their views are not sought, even though they are providing a huge amount of care. Can the noble Viscount assure us that everything is being done to improve the recognition of unpaid carers’ contribution?

Absolutely, and this ties in with my noble friend’s question. I reassure both the noble Lord and my noble friend that we are improving the recognition, identification and involvement of unpaid carers, particularly in local areas. There are new duties in the Health and Care Act 2022 around involving carers, including in hospital discharge, and new guidance has been prepared for the integrated care strategies, as well as new SCIE guidance for commissioners on breaks for adult carers.