HL Deb 09 June 1999 vol 601 cc1430-2

2.59 p.m.

Baroness Pitkeathley asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress they have made on the implementation of the national carers' strategy.

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

My Lords, since the publication of the National Strategy for Carers in February, the Government have acted on a number of issues, including the special grant for carers to have a break from caring and issuing the draft long-term care charter for consultation. We have recently written to the main carers' organisations and other interested bodies explaining how we intend to implement further key policy strands. I am placing a copy of this letter outlining our plans for further action by April 2000 in the Library of the House.

Baroness Pitkeathley

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. She will know that it is a year today since the Prime Minister first announced the national strategy for carers. Carers everywhere and their organisations are extremely grateful for the progress that has been made. It is National Carers' Week again, and the Carers National Association has recently published a report, We're in this Together, showing that caring is still a source of huge stress and strain within family relationships.

In view of that, can the Minister tell the House what progress has been made on bringing in legislation to give carers a right to services to help them with their caring duties, as opposed to the right to an assessment, to which they are entitled under the carers Act?

Baroness Hayman

Yes, my Lords. Since it is National Carers' Week, it is appropriate to pay tribute to the outstanding work of my noble friend in the field in terms of focusing attention on the needs and contributions of carers throughout the United Kingdom. I think she will understand that I cannot anticipate the future legislative programme, but we recognised clearly in the carers' strategy the difficulties inherent in the current position We made clear our intention to extend the powers of local authorities to provide services to carers and to introduce legislation when parliamentary time allows. That was again made clear in the letter that was issued this week.

Lord Laming

My Lords, does the Minister agree that because of improved health and social care there has been a huge increase across the whole of the age spectrum of people living much longer, despite disabilities of one kind or another? We should bear in mind that most of those people live in the community rather than in hospital. Does she agree that this has placed a great burden upon carers? That being so, does the Minister agree that every local authority should have a strategy in place to identify carers and ways of providing them with proper support and help?

Baroness Hayman

Yes, my Lords. The noble Lord is absolutely right in pointing out that we need to pinpoint those organisations that can give support to carers. One in six households in this country now contains a carer. They contribute an enormous amount and deserve more support, as well as more recognition than they have had in the past. Local authorities have a specific role to play. The recently announced awards scheme will draw the attention of the public and carers to their needs and to how organisations, employers and local authorities can support them. It will be very valuable.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House what information the Government seek to obtain in the next national census on the number of carers, the kind of work they are doing and their needs?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, the work on the exact details of what the census question will contain is part of the activities outlined in the programme of action that my honourable friend John Hutton described this week. That question will be absolutely crucial; it will be the first time that we have a question on carers in the census and it will give us a better base of information from which to work than in the past.

Lord Addington

My Lords, along with the aim of helping carers in their own right, can the Government give us an assurance as to whether they will introduce the second state pension for carers within this Parliament as opposed to having to wait for a new one?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, again I cannot anticipate the legislative programme. However, in our manifesto we promised that we would look into the matter. Carers will receive flat-rate credits for the new state second pension so that in broad terms they will get £1 a week pension for each qualifying year. Roughly 2.5 million carers, including 2 million child benefit cases, will begin to build up credits from the scheme's inception.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that one of the fundamental needs of carers is to have regular breaks, especially when they are caring for elderly people suffering from Alzheimer's disease?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I agree. That is why one of the first actions taken after the carers' strategy was announced was the introduction of special grants to allow carers to have just such a break from caring.

Earl Howe

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the research mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, indicates that many families find the social security system complex and off-putting? They find it hard to obtain comprehensive information about available benefits. What plans do the Government have to make the social security system more user-friendly?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, there is an enormous challenge in making the social security system more user-friendly. I know that my noble friend Lady Hollis and others are rising to it within the department. But there are ways in which we can help carers specifically. One of the interesting ways that is being supported by the Government and the Department of Health is the StartHere project, which provides accessible information on a wide range of subjects that include social security, specifically aimed at carers.