HC Deb 05 July 1999 vol 334 c635
13. Mr. David Kidney (Stafford)

How his Department (a) identifies and (b) helps young carers. [88038]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Hugh Bayley)

I know that my hon. Friend has a close interest in children's welfare. He will be aware that social security benefits are not available to children under 16 in their own right, but if, unusually, we received a claim from someone under 16 who was clearly a carer and requested help, we would give appropriate advice, such as suggesting that the parent should receive benefits advice or that the family should contact social services.

Mr. Kidney

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that some carers as young as 12 and 13 bear the heavy responsibility of caring for adults with disabilities? The national carers strategy challenges us all to identify and provide help and support to such youngsters. Although the main aim of that challenge is education and health services, there is a role for the Department of Social Security and the Benefits Agency. One inexpensive way of alerting all claimants for invalid care allowance of the possible availability of local support is shown by the south Staffordshire carers support project, which has produced an excellent leaflet called "Young Carers Need You to Listen". Will my hon. Friend look again at the rules for entitlement to invalid care allowance, which currently exclude those who stay in full-time education? Will personal advisers for 16 and 17-year-olds be sensitive to the needs of young carers?

Mr. Bayley

I thank my hon. Friend for that interesting question. I am sure that he joins me in paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North (Mr. Wicks), whose Carers (Recognition and Services) Bill a few years ago contained proposals, opposed by the then Conservative Government, to ensure that the needs of young carers as well as adult carers were taken into account. That laid the groundwork. I have considered the issue that my hon. Friend has raised. It would not be appropriate to pay invalid care allowance to those under 18, because the benefit replaces earnings for those who are unable to work, although there are circumstances in which a full-time carer under 18 who is not in full-time education would be able to claim income support with a carers premium, which answers my hon. Friend's point.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey)

Many people welcomed the words of the carers strategy. However, I ask the Minister to visit the home counties. He would be welcomed in Surrey, where he would find that the social services, education and health settlements meant that there was no prospect of expanding services—it was a question of retreating. Perhaps the most irresponsible step is to mouth the words, but not to make the means available to deliver the objectives.

Mr. Bayley

Many things have changed since the legislation was placed on the statute book and since the publication of the carers strategy. I have visited a number of carers projects in different parts of the country, and they welcome the fact that, as part of the strategy, an additional £140 million has been made available, principally to provide breaks for carers.

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