HC Deb 29 April 1986 vol 96 cc767-8
3. Ms. Richardson

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he will seek to extend invalid care allowance to married women; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister for Social Security (Mr. Tony Newton)

This matter is currently the subject of legal proceedings before the European Court, to which the Government are giving close attention.

Ms. Richardson

Will the Minister accept that if the women, under 100,000, who do not qualify for the invalid care allowance because they are married were not there to provide informal care, the Government would have to fork out between £5 billion and £7 billion in order to provide formal residential care, and that the £85 million that it would cost to extend the benefit to married and co-habiting women is chickenfeed because of the worth of the care that these women provide? Will he recognise that women all over the country are boiling over with anger and frustration because of this anachronistic Government, who should pay up or go?

Mr. Newton

Our most up-to-date estimate is that the cost would be £100 million rather than £85 million. I acknowledge entirely the immense value of the work of these carers and of many others who do not qualify for the invalid care allowance, whatever the law on the invalid care allowance may be. The issue, among others, alongside the legal issue, is about the best way to help such carers in the devoted work that they do.

Mr. Ashley

Why must the Government be dragged, kicking and screaming, into making this payment? Did the Minister read the article in The Sunday Times about the woman who was overwhelmed with caring for her husband who was suffering from multiple sclerosis, and whose family was devastated? Does he appreciate that without the invalid care allowance these women suffer even more because they are confined to their home and lack all help? If the Government do not help them, they lack all hope as well.

Mr. Newton

I have met a number of women, and others, who have been providing this kind of care, and I very much appreciate what they do. However, I repeat to the right hon. Gentleman that it is not automatically clear that a payment of £23 a week, which is what we are talking about, as distinct from the wider availability of respite care or other support services, is the best way to help such women.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

Many people will be pleased to hear the Minister's remarks about those who are caring at home for relatives, but is he aware that many Conservative Members very much hope that he will be able to see his way to extending the invalid care allowance to married women?

Mr. Newton

I am very well aware that feelings on this matter extend to both sides of the House.

Mrs. Clwyd

Why does the Minister think that this country is brought before the European Court more often than any of the other countries in the European Community? Is he not thoroughly ashamed of that fact?

Mr. Newton

Quite possibly—I say this in, I hope, a reasonable spirit—that is because of the number of grotesquely discriminatory pieces of legislation that we inherited from the previous Labour Government.