HC Deb 26 April 2004 vol 420 cc618-9
2. Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion) (PC)

If he will make a statement on his policy regarding the interviewing of partners of those in receipt of carer's allowance. [167676]

The Minister for Work (Jane Kennedy)

From April 2004, partners of those receiving prescribed working age benefits—the income-based jobseeker's allowance, income support, incapacity benefit and severe disablement allowance—in Jobcentre Plus areas will be asked to attend a work-focused interview when the benefit claim is 26 weeks old.

Mr. Thomas

I thank the Minister for that reply, but she must be aware that many carers and their partners are concerned about such interviews. Can she confirm that in order to look after their partner, carers receiving the carer's allowance must be working 35 hours a week, and that their partner must be accepted as severely disabled and in need of frequent or continuous care? In that context—and in the light of Government support for carers and of the Carers (Equal Opportunities) Bill—what can she say to carers in my constituency and throughout the country to alleviate their distress at the prospect of this series of interviews? Also, can she say something about her staff, one of whom told a constituent of mine that "35 hours a week is just a day and a half; you still have five and a half days to work"?

Jane Kennedy

If distress has been caused, I regret that, but it is worth pointing out that there is no suggestion that people should give up caring in order to work. We recognise the important work that carers do, and we acknowledge the debt that we owe to them.

Some carers do combine work and caring, and caring responsibilities do come to an end. What we are doing is offering those who want to consider work the opportunity to do so. The benefits of economic growth and record levels of employment have not been shared across households. We put forward these proposals as a result of our intention to help carers who wish to consider their options.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Coop)

One of my constituents is the partner of a person receiving one of the benefits that the Minister mentioned. Although she was still working full time, she was asked to attend such an interview. What was the purpose of that, when the original flagged up intention was that interviews would take place only in cases where the partner contributed in some way towards the benefits of the recipient?

Jane Kennedy

The purpose is to reach all those carers who, in the circumstances I mentioned earlier, would be interested in taking advice on how to obtain work. I believe that it is important for partners of those receiving benefit to have individual support and advice from their own personal adviser through the interviews. It is worth paying tribute to the willingness and enthusiasm of jobcentre staff in embracing the changes that we asked them to undertake and in undergoing the training necessary to equip them for the interviews. I cannot respond to the specific example that my hon. Friend raised, but I point out to him and the House that a system of deferrals and waivers is in place in respect of those for whom the work-focused interviews are inappropriate. All that is necessary is for first contact to be made and for the carers to explain their individual circumstances. There will then be the possibility of the waiver.