HC Deb 15 October 2001 vol 372 cc913-4
8. John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland)

What plans he has to introduce benefit payments for carers. [3583]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Eagle)

The Government already pay benefits to carers. Last autumn, the Government announced a package of measures, worth more than £500 million over three years, to enhance the current social security provision for carers. Two of the measures were implemented in April this year. The invalid care allowance earnings limit was increased from £50 to £72 a week and the carer premium, paid through the income-related benefits, was increased from £14.15 to £24.40.

Three other measures require more substantial legislative changes. They are the extension of claims to ICA to people aged 65 and over; the extension of entitlement to ICA for up to eight weeks after the death of the person being cared for; and a welcome change in the name of the benefit to carers allowance to reflect more closely the purpose of the benefit. We propose to introduce those measures by means of a regulatory reform order as soon as possible. In fact, the consultation on that matter ends today.

John Robertson

I thank my hon. Friend for her reply. I welcome the fact that the Department is consulting on this matter, and the proposed change of name from invalid care allowance to carers allowance will benefit people because it is a simpler name to understand. One of the problems has been that people have not understood what a carer is, and the people concerned found the word "invalid" derogatory. However, I am concerned that the allowances of those who claim benefits for the people who are disabled, or who are being cared for, are affected by the fact that the carer receives the ICA. That has caused some problems for the people who receive the allowance, and they feel that they are being treated unfairly. Will my hon. Friend comment?

Maria Eagle

My hon. Friend suggests that those who are cared for may lose benefit when ICA is given to the carer. The only circumstance in which I think that that occurs is where the severe disability premium is withdrawn from someone who suddenly acquires a carer when they did not have a carer before. The severe disability premium is paid to enable people to pay for care where they do not have a carer. Therefore, if they suddenly acquire a carer, or a family member comes to care for them, they are no longer eligible for that benefit, but the carer may be eligible for ICA. I do not consider that that is a case of benefit being withdrawn because a carer receives benefit; it is simply another example of the overlapping benefit rules, about which those of us who are becoming familiar with the field know only too well.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

In the Minister's initial reply, she said that the Government intend to end as soon as possible the discrimination against people who become carers for the first time after the age 65. That is very welcome, but does the hon. Lady recall that, following nearly a year of pressure from the Conservative Opposition, one of her predecessors in office gave a pledge to do that as soon as the legislative timetable permits"?—[Official Report, 30 November 2000; Vol. 357, c. 857W.] When will that actually happen?

Maria Eagle

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman about the pressure coming from the Conservative Opposition. Pressure was not needed, because this is something that we have wanted to do. However, the hon. Gentleman is well aware that legislative time in this place is at a premium.

We will implement the change by using a regulatory reform order and, now that the consultation is over, that order will be laid as soon as possible. The hon. Gentleman may be aware of the new procedure by which the order goes to the Deregulation Committee, which will have 60 days to consider it. Thereafter, it will be subject to the super-affirmative procedure, which I certainly looking forward to getting my teeth into. I hope that the order will become law shortly thereafter, although of course a similar procedure will be followed in the other place.

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