HC Deb 12 December 1995 vol 268 cc826-7
9. Mr. Riddick

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what is the total annual spending on benefits for long-term sick and disabled people and their carers; and what was the equivalent figure in 1978–79. [3577]

Mr. Burt

In 1978–79, under a previous Government, the nation spent £2 billion on benefits for long-term sick and disabled people and their carers. This year, we expect to spend more than £20 billion. That represents an increase of more than 280 per cent.

Mr. Riddick

Do not those figures demonstrate that, by targeting help where it is most needed and by cutting unnecessary spending, it has been possible for this Conservative Government to target help on the most vulnerable people in society—in this case, long-term sick and disabled people? Does he agree that, if one wishes to extend benefits to a wider band of people, one should be prepared to say how one would pay for that, something that the Labour party, with the exception of 10 hon. Members, is not prepared to do?

Mr. Burt

Yes, my hon. Friend has got it absolutely right. The way in which we have looked after the economy over the years has enabled us not only to honour our commitments to long-term sick and disabled people but to increase the range of benefits offered. It was this Government who brought into effect in 1992 the disability living allowance, which has so far brought some 460,000 people, who would not previously have qualified for support from the state, into some sort of benefit support. Only a Government who manage the economy properly can afford to take such care of long-term sick and disabled people.

Rev. Martin Smyth

We welcome the increase in money spent on the care of long-term sick and disabled people, but how much has been spent for and on carers? Will the Minister recognise that many of them have never looked for it, but that some of them require more financial help, especially if they are young women with no husband looking after disabled children, or spinsters looking after elderly parents?

Mr. Burt

Some years back, the Government significantly increased the invalid care allowance's coverage to married women. It is one of the fastest-growing benefits. Yesterday, I had a meeting with Francine Bates of the Carers National Association to discuss caring matters. Over the years, the Government have maintained substantial support for carers. We consider that matter constantly to find out whether we can make any further improvements. We welcome and value the care that families provide for the people whom they look after. Over the years, we have been able to expand our provision for them. We keep the matter under constant review.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Following the excellent supplementary question from my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth), does my hon. Friend the Minister accept that carers are the unsung heroes of our society? They take the major burdens in respect of people who have been put out into the community. Does he accept that the encouragement that we give them in respect of payments or in fiscal terms is minimal and that, if we need to do anything further to our social security system, it is to recognise the voluntary carer's vital and growing role?

Mr. Burt

We recognise that role. The amount of care that we have provided through invalid care allowance has grown substantially. The Government expanded its coverage to a great extent. We value and welcome families' role in looking after people who need care. As I said to the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth), we keep that matter firmly under control but, in a variety of ways over the years, we have expanded that provision, and we meet regularly with people who support and encourage other carers.