HC Deb 10 January 2000 vol 342 cc5-7
3. Mrs. Sylvia Heal (Halesowen and Rowley Regis)

What support his Department is providing for carers. [102929]

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

Invalid care allowance and the carer premium in income support are specifically designed for carers, who may be entitled to other more general benefits, depending on their circumstances.

Mrs. Heal

Is my hon. Friend aware that the position of carers can be improved not just by those benefits, important though they are to carers, but by improving the help that is available to the disabled people for whom they care?

Mr. Bayley

I agree with my hon. Friend. Measures that help both deserving groups are especially valuable. I am therefore particularly pleased to announce extra help for disabled people who have to spend time in hospital. The change will also benefit carers. I intend to lay regulations to provide that people receiving disability living allowance or attendance allowance will be able to receive benefit for the days both of admission to, and discharge from, hospital. The regulations will also ensure that all disabled people receiving DLA or attendance allowance who pay the full cost of their care and residential accommodation, however it is owned or managed, will be eligible for benefit.

Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds)

Can the Minister explain why someone who is on income support, reaches the age of 65 and wishes to become a carer should not be allowed the carers premium? Is that not an outrageous example of ageist Government policy?

Mr. Bayley

Benefits for carers were introduced by the previous Labour Government under Jim Callaghan. In the 18 years in which the Conservatives were in power, they followed a policy that was adopted before they came to power: that an income replacement benefit, such as invalid care allowance, should not be paid in addition to another income replacement benefit, such as retirement pension. That policy was operated under the previous Conservative Government, the previous Labour Government and the current one, and there is no intention to change it.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

The Minister will be well aware that caring is a difficult job and hard work; that many carers are themselves elderly; that provision of respite care is desperately important for all of them; and that there seems to be no national basis for the respite care provided by local authorities. Is he prepared to examine the current situation—in which different standards of respite care are offered—and ensure that every local authority is required to provide sufficient places, so that every carer is able each year to have at least a few weeks away from having to care for the elderly, the disabled or people with learning difficulties?

Mr. Bayley

My hon. Friend raises an important point. I am glad to say that my colleagues in the Department of Health have improved availability of respite care by making available an additional £140 million as part of the national carers strategy, and that they are creating a charter for long-term care to address the type of issues raised by my hon. Friend. Additionally, the measure that I announced today—which will reduce the amount of benefit lost by those who go into hospital for respite care—will make respite care more generally available.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar)

Although the extra two days are welcome, Opposition Members were disappointed with the Minister's response to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley). Substantial change is occurring within the population, and, in the next 10 years, the greatest challenge facing people in care will be the number of carers who are themselves relatively elderly, but who take care of frail parents or look after disabled children. If the state were to provide that care, the bill would be considerable. Surely it would make sense to help those people to continue to care by getting rid of the age restriction of 65 on invalid care allowance and carers premium. Will the Government reconsider their position?

Mr. Bayley

Invalid care allowance was introduced as a benefit to replace the income of people of working age who were forced to give up full-time work because they were caring for someone who needed care for more than 35 hours a week. It is a benefit for people of working age: it was introduced for that purpose, and it has always been a benefit for that purpose. In the 18 years in which the previous Conservative Government were in power, they did not seek to change the benefit. I am surprised that, having done nothing about it in their 18 years in office, they have suddenly changed their mind.

Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South)

I welcome the new initiatives that my hon. Friend has announced today. They will make a considerable difference to people in my constituency, many of whom are elderly or disabled carers. However, I underline the important point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn). There is somewhat—to put it mildly—of a lottery in local authority social service provision for carers. Will the Minister, in addition to making available the funds that he announced today, ask his officials to consider encouraging—if encouraging does not work, requiring—local authorities to take the matter on board?

Mr. Bayley

My hon. Friend is right to raise that point. The Department of Health is responsible for making services available to carers and for social services policy throughout the country. I have no doubt that Health Ministers will take note of what has been said in the House today. They are already acting on the basis that my hon. Friend suggests.