HL Deb 13 July 1993 vol 548 cc121-3

2.52 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their reaction to the report of the Alzheimer's Disease Society on Deprivation and Dementia, drawing attention to the needs of carers of people with dementia.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege)

My Lords, we welcome the report Deprivation and Dementia published recently by the Alzheimer's Disease Society. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health will be meeting representatives from the Alzheimer's Disease Society on 27th July to discuss the findings contained in its report.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful Answer. Is she aware that if the state were to pay for the duties carried out by the carers, that would amount to about £10 billion per annum? The carers relieve the state of that burden. In those circumstances, is it fair that 41 per cent. of the carers have had to draw on their private resources, and take out mortgages or private loans to discharge that responsibility; and that more than 60 per cent. have taken early retirement from their employment to undertake those caring responsibilities? Is it fair that such a situation should prevail?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, with regard to the first part of the noble Lord's question, the Government are well aware of the enormous contribution that carers make towards looking after the more vulnerable members in our society. With regard to the second part of the question, social security benefits have been increased markedly and the new disability living allowance extended so that the number of people receiving help has risen from 360,000 to 2 million. The Government also introduced the carers' premium in 1990, and are well aware of the financial situation of many of those who look after vulnerable people.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, does the Minister agree that if the methodology and the statistical conclusions are correct, it means that there are half a million sufferers from this terrible disease? If that is so, is it not unacceptable that 46 per cent. of the carers, who are over 80, are having to devote more than 80 hours a week to the care of their relatives?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I appreciate that many people care for elderly relatives who would not chose to do so if there were alternatives; but we should not lose sight of those who want to undertake that task and who do it freely and with enormous self-sacrifice in some cases. But the department has recognised the need of carers. We support them. We now give more than £2 million in grants to national voluntary organisations to help carers, and the National Users and Carers Group has been set up to give Department of Health Ministers feedback about the experience of users and carers of the community care reforms. We have also provided £565 million to local authorities for their new responsibilities under the National Health Service and Community Care Act.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

My Lords, I am sure that the Minister is aware that caring for a relative who suffers from Alzheimer's Disease is probably one of the most difficult forms of caring. Most sufferers cannot be left for even five minutes, because they are unpredictable. One does not know what they will do. I should like to ask the Government to concentrate upon ensuring that carers are given respite; that they can have time off every week; that they can have a week off occasionally. They do not mind caring, but they cannot go on 24 hours out of 24.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness. That is why local authorities have increased their day places specifically for people with mental illness by 70 per cent. since 1979, and local residential places for people with a mental illness have risen by 23 per cent. since 1979.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there are patchy instances where respite care is not being provided for such people? I think the report shows that some people are being asked to pay £3,000 or £4,000 a year for respite care for their relatives, which they can ill-afford. Will she please ensure that respite care is provided over the whole country and not just in certain parts?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, it is an important issue. The Social Services Inspectorate will take that into account when they review the National Health Service and Community Care Act.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, is the Minister aware that some people with Alzheimer's disease are single women without carers? Loneliness can be a great problem, especially in rural areas where there are not even day centres for them to attend.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, yes, I accept that this is a challenging area, and that there are people who need further help. I believe that I have illustrated to your Lordships this afternoon that an enormous amount of help is being given, although I appreciate that it does not cover all the needs and demands of the population.

Earl Russell

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the estimates made in 1990 by the Social Security Select Committee in another place that carers save the state £24 billion per annum? Will she draw that fact to the attention of her right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and rely upon him to draw his own conclusions?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, as I believe I have said, many people chose to care for their elderly relatives. One should in no way diminish their choice and self-sacrifice.