HL Deb 03 June 1996 vol 572 cc1081-4

2.53 p.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are considering any new initiatives for the carers of disabled people.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, support for carers is a key aim of our community care reforms. We recently reinforced that with the implementation of the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act which came into force on 1st April this year. That important new initiative to support carers is backed by our continued funding of carers' organisations. The work of our community care development programme involves a number of innovative projects to assist carers. Further work is planned by the Social Services Inspectorate to identify examples of good practice and innovative respite services to encourage all authorities to improve provision.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that carers are among the most admired people in our society, but that, despite her answer, they are also among the most neglected? Will the Government try to help by reviewing the invalid care allowance level and also the criteria for receipt of that allowance? Will the Government also try to head the efforts being made to inform the estimated 50,000 carers who are entitled to that allowance but who do not receive it because they do not know about it and do not apply for it? Can the Government help in that regard?

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, the noble Lord is aware of the eligibility criteria; that is, that the carer must spend at least 35 hours a week caring for a severely disabled person who receives the middle or high rate of disability living allowance. With regard to raising the ICA, it is an income maintenance allowance and not a payment for care. As with all other benefits, it is uprated annually. In relation to informing the 50,000 people who do not know about it, the Benefits Agency publishes details of entitlements and levels of benefit as widely as possible, including the provision of a free telephone line.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, why do the Government not support a national register for carers and assessors?

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, the Government share the view that all concerned should do all that they can to ensure that the risks of abuse of vulnerable clients by care workers are minimised. They understand why Susan Brooks established the organisation that she did. However, the Government believe that we cannot endorse a national register for carers until the wider issues have been fully debated and explored. We have said that other options will need to be explored.

Lady Kinloss

My Lords, can the noble Baroness say whether or not the Government are satisfied that all local authorities can afford and are funding the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1996 properly? If not, what do they propose to do to ensure that carers and the cared for receive the respite care which the Government agree is so necessary?

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, the noble Lady raises two points. The carers' assessment under the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act is a matter of existing good practice. There should not be any significant cost, therefore, to an authority which has been following that good practice. With regard to respite care, the department has made more money available to authorities for respite and domiciliary care and monitoring shows that more respite care is available. An extra £20 million was allowed in 1994–95 and £30 million in 1995–96; 97 per cent. of all local authorities report that they are able to provide better support for carers in that way.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, may I on behalf of the Royal British Legion thank my noble friend Lord Ashley for tabling this Question and the Minister for her most encouraging reply?

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, who is always generous to me when I stand at this Dispatch Box.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, despite the great number of people who are carers—everybody with patients in their care will be very grateful—flexibility in the ground rules is extremely important to carers and it should be encouraged by those who employ them?

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, perhaps I may say, first, how wonderful it is to see the noble Baroness back. As much as I dread answering Questions at this Dispatch Box, it is a pleasure to see her today and to answer her question.

Part of our community care plans is that the ground rules should be flexible. Nothing is directed from the centre in order that the local needs of a disabled person and the conditions in the local area can take full play.

Lord Murray of Epping Forest

My Lords, does the Minister agree that giving up paid work, with the consequent loss of income, pension and friendship, is a major catastrophe for those who have to go into caring and should be avoided if at all possible? As part of her initiative, therefore, will she consult the CBI and the TUC with a view to ensuring that in employment arrangements special provision is made for carers? For example, there could be provision for career breaks and the reinstatement of carers if it is possible for them to return to work; if the carer is able to continue work on a part-time basis, provision could be made for part-time and flexitime arrangements to enable that person to continue working; and special needs leave could be provided where possible as a positive way of encouraging people to stay at work as long as possible.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, the noble Lord asks an interesting question. I am sure that everyone agrees that it would be wonderful to be able to do everything possible to help a carer stay in work, have the required breaks and so on, but we do not live in a perfect world. The very best I can offer the noble Lord is that I shall ensure that someone reads his question in Hansard so that I may have some better advice for him on another occasion.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I am delighted, as I am sure is everyone on these Benches, that the Government are now putting such reliance on the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act, which was introduced in this House as a Private Member's Bill by my noble friend Lord Carter and in another place by my honourable friend Mr. Wicks? Will the Government give equal attention in this Session to the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, on the subject of short-term breaks? If they are not prepared to give that Bill a fair wind, will they introduce similar legislation themselves?

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, as the noble Baroness knows, the Bill has completed all its stages in this House and it is now a matter for another place. It would therefore be quite inappropriate for me to comment on what she has said.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, I hate to spoil these amicable exchanges, but is the noble Baroness aware that, although she knows the eligibility and necessities and I know them, 50,000 other people do not? There is no point in saying that the Benefits Agency is doing the work. The Government should step in to supplement the work of the agency. Those 50,000 people are suffering poverty quite needlessly because of ignorance. Can we not help?

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, I can only say to the noble Lord, as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Murray, that I shall ensure that someone reads his question.