HC Deb 04 March 2002 vol 381 cc3-4
2. Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe)

What steps his Department is taking to improve work opportunities for carers. [36325]

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

Last April, we increased the earnings limits for invalid care allowance so that carers who combine some work with their caring responsibilities can keep more of their earnings. The earnings limit will now be increased regularly in line with changes to the lower earnings limit. However, ICA is not designed to be an in-work benefit. Carers are also benefiting from the introduction of our new Jobcentre Plus service. In pathfinder areas, a personal adviser will help carers who are making new or repeat benefit claims to look for employment or training that suits their circumstances and provide support to them.

Dr. Palmer

I very much welcome my hon. Friend's comments. Does she agree that there is still a problem with income support and carers allowance, because, above a fairly low level, the benefit is withdrawn, pound for pound, if the carer takes paid work? Does she agree that a policy review would be in keeping with our policy of encouraging people to take at least part-time work where that is possible?

Maria Eagle

My hon. Friend refers to the interaction between different benefits. People on income support lose their eligibility if they work more than 16 hours a week. as such work is full-time. He should remember that the income support carers premium is payable only to people who are receiving ICA, which, as I said, is not an in-work benefit. Eligibility for ICA depends on spending at least 35 hours a week undertaking caring responsibilities. However, as the average length of time spent on ICA is, I am told, two to four years—I do not quite understand why it is not three years—we are keen to ensure that recipients can stay in touch with the labour market.

The ICA earnings limit is intended to allow carers to undertake part-time work. My hon. Friend should also remember that the earnings limit is calculated only after allowable expenses, which might include tax, national insurance contributions, half of any superannuation payments and help with the disabled person's cost of care, are taken into account. In practice, therefore, someone on ICA can earn much more than £72 a week and retain their entitlement to that benefit.

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South)

Last week, I was visited by a constituent who is looking after her daughter, who has ME, but is working and is obviously over any of the limits that my hon. Friend described. What help can she expect? She is clearly saving the taxpayer money by looking after her daughter at home, and it would cost the taxpayer a great deal more if her daughter moved out and lived independently. She is obviously looking for some help from the Government. Can they give her any help at all and reward her for looking after her daughter at home?

Maria Eagle

The assistance that we could give would depend very much on the individual circumstances of my hon. Friend's constituent. I would be perfectly happy to make some suggestions if my hon. Friend wants to write to me and we can get a full account of those circumstances. ICA is not primarily an in-work benefit and the rules on earnings are intended to allow people who have to undertake at least 35 hours a week of caring responsibilities to keep in touch with the labour market and gain some part-time earnings. There may be other benefits or tax credits from which her constituent could gain some advantage, so if she would care to write to me with the full details I shall look into the case.