HC Deb 07 February 1991 vol 185 cc482-7
Mr. Alfred Morris

I beg to move amendment No. 11, in page 26, line 30, leave out at the highest or middle rate. The purpose of the amendment is to allow carers who are caring for someone on the lower care component to receive the invalid care allowance. It is about preventing injustice which the Bill, as drafted, would introduce.

At present invalid care allowance can be claimed by carers only if the person for whom they care receives attendance allowance at either of the two existing rates. The Bill proposes that only the higher and middle rates of the care component will passport carers to the invalid care allowance. Those who care for people on the lower rate of the care component will not be able to claim it, even if they meet all the other conditions of entitlement, including caring for that person for over 35 hours a week. That is intolerably unfair and self-defeating.

As I said in Committee, and as MENCAP continues very strongly to argue, by introducing a new lower level of attendance allowance, the Government have accepted the argument that attendance allowance, as it is now available, does not address the needs of many groups of the most needful people.

Those entitled to the new lower rate of the care component are people who require some level of care, either continuously or for periods in the day, and thus need a carer to be available. They may need help with personal care such as washing, dressing, cooking or other domestic tasks and shopping. They are people, often severely disabled, who may not be able to live in the community without a substantial level of informal care of this kind and who alternatively would need much more expensive institutional care. That is why the Government's stance is self-defeating.

ICA can be claimed only by people who, because of their caring responsibilities, are unable to work or study full time. Surely, in fairness, if a person, because of the care that she or he provides, is unable to work, she or he should be able to claim invalid care allowance as a benefit to replace earnings. At only £28.20 a week, invalid care allowance provides but very limited compensation for being unable to work and for providing care from which the taxpayer benefits. Yet the allowance does provide important recognition of the extremely valuable service that carers provide.

In a detailed briefing on this amendment, which I hope hon. Members on both sides of the House will read, the Disability Alliance has drawn attention to the contradiction of not allowing people who care for an individual in receipt of the lowest level of care component to have access to invalid care allowance. Under the rules for ICA, however, carers are not entitled to the allowance unless they are caring for a "severely disabled person" for at least 35 hours per week. For the purpose of ICA, a severely disabled person is defined as someone in receipt of the attendance allowance. Schedule 2 tries to limit that definition, as from April 1992, to people who are in receipt of the highest or middle rates of disability living allowance. In other words, people on the lowest rate—£10—are not treated as being severely disabled and entitled to ICA, regardless of their circumstances and of the degree of care that they may need and actually receive.

This exclusion is in flat contradiction of the terms of other provisions of the Bill, since the £10 rate of the DLA will be payable only to people who are severely disabled, physically or mentally, under the new section 37ZB(1) that clause 1 inserts in the Social Security Act 1975. To get the £10 DLA, a person must be severely disabled, yet if a carer attempts to claim ICA, that person no longer counts as being severely disabled. Thus the amendment is concerned as much with preventing the enactment of bad law as with calling for fairness and justice.

I turn briefly to a case that was put to me by the Spastics Society. The case says more about the unacceptability of this part of the Bill than could any amount of formal argument. Janet Allen is a 21-year-old with cerebral palsy who lives with her parents. She is cared for by her mother. Her father works, but earns a low wage. Janet attends a local day centre five days a week, and travels there and back by the centre's minibus. She and her mother have worked out a routine that enables Janet to cope with her very severe disability as well as she now does. Janet qualifies for the lower-rate care component of DLA. Mrs. Allen works as a school meals assistant one hour every weekday and receives a net wage of £14.50 a week. She would like to work more, but this is the only job she could find that fits in with caring for Janet. One of their problems is that the minibus can turn up as late as 10 o'clock in the morning and as early as half past 2 in the afternoon, so Mrs. Allen does not have much time to do a job in between, as well as go shopping and perform all the other tasks that she cannot perform when Janet is at home.

8.15 pm

Because Mr. Allen earns so little, Mrs. Allen would have liked to work full time. However, she can work only five hours a week because she has to care for Janet. In fact, she counts herself lucky that she has found any job that fits in with Janet's hours at the day centre. The three of them get on well together, and neither the parents nor Janet want the alternative of institutional care. The lack of independent living schemes in the area certainly means that Janet's only alternative would be a residential care home. Mrs. Allen is angry that other carers who provide care for no more hours than she does get ICA while she does not. ICA would make a significant financial contribution to the household, would provide Mrs. Allen with a more independent income, and would make her feel that she, as a carer, was being treated less unjustly. Because of the ICA earnings disregard, Mrs. Allen would be able to keep all her earnings of £14.50 a week, in addition to her ICA.

For the purpose of ICA, a severely disabled person is defined as someone in receipt of the attendance allowance. I have sought to show the absurdity of what is proposed in the Bill, and I believe that Janet's case sets in very bold relief the need for this amendment. By accepting the amendment, and by looking at the compelling case for amendment No. 10, which we hoped would be linked, the Government have a chance to show some appreciation of the level and value of the work that carers take on. They would do well also to reflect on the amount of money that carers save them by struggling, often in circumstances of daunting difficulty, to care for relatives or friends at home, rather than place them in residential care.

As Mencap has pointed out, from April 1991 the cost of paying a carer invalid care allowance will be £31.25 a week. This is almost nothing compared to the costs that would be involved if the people they look after were in institutional care. In a survey of 16 registered Mencap Homes Foundation homes in London, it was found that the estimated weekly charges for 1991–92 ranged from £263 to £680. The residential care allowance available from the Government next April—as the Minister, above all other right hon. and hon. Members, will know—will be £218 in London. This is significantly higher than the current level of invalid care allowance, yet, as the Government must see, even the residential care allowance of £218 will not cover the cost of care. Have the Government made any estimate of the amount that they save by relying on the dedication of carers? If not, why not? And will they agree to offer an estimate? Alongside other fundamental criticisms of this Bill, the needs of carers have again been totally ignored. Those are not my words but the assessment of organisations whose knowledge and experience of the problems and needs of carers none of us can question. Invalid care allowance is an already inadequate benefit in terms of the amount of money paid and of the number of people who are excluded due to being over retirement age. The exclusion of further individuals who provide a significant level of care to people who could not live independently compounds its inadequacies very seriously.

Mr. Ashley

I do not intend to say much about the amendment—the case is so obvious. The only point that I want to make is that the number of people cared for by a carer is completely irrelevant. To penalise the carer because she happens to look after more than one person is preposterous and the height of absurdity. If anything, a carer should receive more money and a medal for looking after more than one person.

I do not understand the Government's thinking; it is absolutely inane. It is ludicrous to penalise the carer because one of the disabled people whom she is looking after receives a lower level of care component. The Government are splitting hairs. [Interruption.] Oh, yes, they are. If ever there were a time for magnanimity, this is it.

Mrs. Sylvia Heal (Mid-Staffordshire)

I, too, do not wish to waste the time of the House by referring in detail to the amendment. Both my right hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) and for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) have already covered the ground adequately and, as always, very well.

I want to deal with the position of a group of carers who had hoped to benefit from the Bill. Sadly, it will not lead to additional financial help being offered to many people. As has already been said, many of them are women who care for severely disabled people for 35 hours a week. However, the persons for whom they care receive only the lower rate of the disability living allowance. That group of carers cannot claim the invalid care allowance. However, they offer a great deal of support and care and thereby improve considerably the quality of life of the persons for whom they care. At the same time they save the Government considerable sums of money. It is not an insignificant group of people—there are about 6 million carers, of whom 1.4 million care for people for more than 20 hours a week.

Invalid care allowance is the only benefit for carers. As I have already mentioned, it is available only to those who care for people for more than 35 hours a week. At £28.20, that amounts to less than £1 an hour. The Opposition do not argue that everyone who qualifies for the lower £10 component requires care for 35 hours a week, but what about those who do? They may have a carer who is not working and who is providing at least 35 hours a week of care. Why should that carer be denied any benefit in respect of the substantial care that she provides, as well as being denied the carer's premium?

The example that I intend to give can, I am sure, be repeated over and over again. Let us take the case of a 58-year-old divorced woman caring for her son who is aged 25 and a schizophrenic. He does not receive attendance allowance, but he cannot be left alone for long periods. She may also be caring for her daughter who has learning difficulties. Her daughter may be mobile, able to feed, dress and toilet herself and not requiring regular supervision. The daughter does not receive attendance allowance, but she may be eligible for the lower rate of the attendance component of the disability living allowance. Her mother might be working for only a few hours a week and earning about £22. She would not be eligible for the invalid care allowance because neither of her children requires 35 hours of care a week. She is also denied the opportunity and satisfaction of being able to go out to work. She is thus denied the opportunity to increase the amount of money available to her and her family. Such cases are not untypical.

If the Government are genuine when they say that they care about people in the community and that they are concerned about the needs not just of those who are carers but of others, too, they ought to accept the amendment.

Miss Widdecombe

I join those Opposition Members who have paid tribute to carers, who often perform a tremendously difficult job. Their contribution to care in the community and to the general well-being of elderly disabled people and less privileged dependants is crucial. They make life bearable for those who need to be looked after. No one underestimates the importance of their role. However, the amendment is specifically directed at invalid care allowance. That is not a payment for caring services. It is not a payment to enable a disabled person to buy in care. Invalid care allowance recognises that if someone cares for another person for 35 hours a week, it is unlikely that that person will be able to maintain a full-time job. The figure of 35 hours is adopted because that is the average length of the working week. It is assumed, therefore, that if a person devotes 35 hours a week to caring for someone else, he or she is unlikely to take up gainful employment.

That does not entirely prevent those who care intermittently for others for 35 hours a week from taking up outside employment. Much has been said in the debate about the figure of £28, but that is on top of the earnings disregard. It is not a payment for care and should not be regarded as being set at an insulting level. That figure takes into account the fact that such a person has forgone income from work.

The test of whether someone requires that degree of attention is that he or she requires prolonged and repeated attention or constant supervision, inasmuch as that person might endanger himself or herself because of the condition, or needs full-time supervision, or has other major requirements. That enables people to qualify for attendance allowance. Even if people qualify for the lower of the two top rates of disability living allowance, they will still have to satisfy those very stringent requirements. Invalid care allowance is not designed for people who need only a couple of hours attention when getting up in the morning, two more hours when they go to bed at night and a little attention at lunchtime. It is designed for those who require attention for a very large part of the working week. It is inappropriate, therefore, to link the invalid care allowance to a level of care that has been introduced specifically because we recognise that there are people whose needs are not being met under the present system, since they do not have that high degree of need. For that reason, we cannot accept the amendment.

The hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mrs. Heal) appeared to be speaking to an amendment that was not selected, because invalid care allowance does not come within the scope of the Bill. However, she has identified a very important group of people—those who are caring for people for 35 hours a week and who are therefore precluded from taking up full-time or gainful employment. They do not, however, devote those 35 hours of care just to one person; they split it between several members of the same family. The hon. Lady knows that, although we cannot do anything for that group of people in this Bill, the Government have taken into account her concern. She will also be aware that since Committee, when she raised the problem, we have carefully looked at the provisions and that we are still looking at them. I cannot guarantee the outcome of the investigation. We may decide that the present provisions are right. Nevertheless, we are examining them. I hope that that reassures her that the Government have not dismissed her concern.

Mr. Alfred Morris

For my guidance and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mrs. Heal), is it possible for the Minister to give any time scale? When does she expect to reach conclusions on what is a very important matter? Does she feel that in the case that I mentioned—that of Janet Allen—she may, before long, have some helpful message for a family which, I am sure she will agree, is in considerable and urgent need?

8.30 pm
Miss Widdecombe

I pay tribute to the care being given by Mrs. Allen, and I am not unsympathetic, but the right hon. Gentleman will understand that he based much of his case on that one instance. I do not mean this dismissively but, if we are to try to legislate for things such as the times of minibuses, it will become an impossible task. We are asking one basic question: is the person who is disabled in need of constant and repeated attention? I can give the right hon. Gentleman no hope whatever that we would be able to extend the range to help the case that he has mentioned. I can give him no specific timetable for the outcome of our investigations into the case of caring for more than one person during the 35 hours a week. Obviously, many things need to be looked at, including costs, definition and whether the provisions are adequate now. I cannot give him a guarantee about when we will reach a conclusion, but I can guarantee that we are looking at it seriously. Therefore, I ask the House to resist the amendment.

Mr. Alfred Morris

I hope that this extremely important amendment will produce a more positive and sympathetic response in the other place. I shall not press it now and, therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 19, in page 26, line 31, at end insert— '4A. In subsection (4) of section 165D of that Act (restrictions on entitlement to benefit in certain cases of error) in the definition of "adjudicating authority"—

  1. (a) in paragraph (a), after the words "a social security appeal tribunal" there shall be inserted the words ", a disability appeal tribunal"; and
No. 20, in page 27, line 11, at end insert— '7A. At the end of subsection (2) of section 17 of the Social Security Act 1980 (proof of decisions of statutory authorities) there shall be added the words "and a disability appeal tribunal appointed under Schedule 10A to that Act".'.

No. 21, in page 27, line 13, leave out 'the Social Security Act 1980' and insert 'that Act.—[Miss Widdecombe.]

Forward to