HC Deb 05 July 2004 vol 423 cc547-8
21. Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth) (Lab)

How many carers in (a) England and (b) Wales are in receipt of carer's allowance. [181908]

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

On 28 February 2004, the latest date for which information is available, some 351,000 carers in England and over 29,000 carers in Wales were receiving carer's allowance.

Mr. Edwards

I acknowledge till improvements that the Government have made to carer's allowance, but does my hon. Friend accept that it is the lowest income replacement benefit of all at £44.35? Will she acknowledge the campaign to try to increase it to the level of the state pension, which would be a significant improvement in the provision for 400,000 carers and one more measure to add to the many that the Government have introduced to increase provision for carers?

Maria Eagle

I am glad that we have reached a question about carer's allowance, which is something that I can talk about at length, if you would allow me, Mr. Speaker. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his well-known efforts on behalf of carers. He is recognised in the House as a persistent and effective advocate for their rights and opportunities, not just in his own constituency but throughout Britain. I am aware of the campaign highlighted by Carers UK in the recent carers week to increase carer's allowance.

My hon. Friend thinks that £44.50 or so a week is at the lower level of income maintenance, but carer's allowance can give rise to other payments. Some 300,000 carers are eligible for carer's premium in the income replacement benefits and the Government recently increased that premium by more than £10 a week, so there is an additional £25.55 a week, Mr. Deputy Speaker—I am sorry for demoting you, Mr. Speaker—in income-related benefits. A slightly different payment—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Deputy Speaker will be on duty by the time that the hon. Lady finishes.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con)

Does the Minister acknowledge the tremendous work and contribution of carers throughout the country? The figures that she gave the House suggest that a significant number of people are not benefiting from the allowance and I suspect that a number of my constituents who do a fantastic job, day in, day out, caring for others may be ignorant of their entitlement. What assurances can she give my constituents and those of other hon. Members that the Department will draw attention, through advertising and other targeted means, to the fact that they might benefit from the allowance?

Maria Eagle

The hon. Gentleman is right that many carers eligible for carer's allowance do not claim it, but 420,000 do so. We make every effort to make clear to people who interact with the benefits system what benefits are available and many local carers' groups also undertake such work. I am sure that, as a result of efforts by the Department, hon. Members and carers' organisations, carers who may benefit from those payments will find out about them and apply for them. They can now do so via the internet, as the allowance is one of the first Government benefits that can be e-claimed and 3,400 people have already made such a claim.

Mr. Speaker

I thank the hon. Lady for her brief reply.