HL Deb 17 March 1999 vol 598 cc724-6

2.59 p.m.

Baroness Pitkeathley asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to improve carers' awareness of their right to an assessment under the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, our recently published National Carers Strategy made it clear that general practitioners and primary care teams should tell carers about their right to an assessment from social services. My honourable friend John Hutton, the Minister with responsibility for carers, recently launched the "Ask for an Assessment" campaign, run by the Carers National Association, which is designed to raise carers' awareness of assessments.

Baroness Pitkeathley

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I am sure that she is aware that all the research shows that more needs to be done at a local level to ensure that carers are aware of their rights. It is to that end that the Carers National Association has initiated a campaign, launched by the Minister with responsibility for carers, with the aid of the Prudential Carers Awareness Fund. Can the Minister tell us the Government's view of the recommendation in the National Carers Strategy that all carers should be entitled to at least an annual discussion of what they need and what is available and how the Government intend to ensure that carers actually receive that?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that we need to raise local awareness, and that is why the Carers National Association campaign will be particularly helpful. I also agree that carers, particularly those who provide a great deal of care, should be able to expect at least an annual discussion of what they need, what is available, the help they receive and the care provided. An annual discussion is important because people's needs change over time. We are in the process of finding out what is being done on the ground and how many assessments are taking place so that in due course we can publish guidance to local authorities on this subject. One of the ways in which we shall ensure that this is done is through the new performance assessment framework for social services, which is intended to include the number of assessments of carers' needs as one of its indicators.

Lord Rix

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in a recent survey conducted by MENCAP it was discovered that over 40 per cent. of carers of people with a learning disability had been unable to have an evening off in the previous six months? Can the Minister hold out any hope that before the end of this Parliament short-term breaks may become a statutory right for such hard-working and often elderly carers?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rix, has been pre-eminent among many others in arguing the case for short breaks for carers, their importance and their cost-effectiveness in allowing people who take on a tremendous responsibility to continue to do so. That is why, as part of the Carers' Strategy, we have allocated a grant of? 140 million over three years for local authorities to provide short-term breaks for carers, particularly those with substantial responsibilities. As the noble Lord will be aware, we are looking at ways of doing that more flexibly than in the past so that when carers take breaks the person for whom they care can continue to receive care in the home.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, does not the Minister agree that proper support for carers will reduce the cost to social services and to the National Health Service over the long term for both the carer and the cared-for?

Baroness Hayman

I absolutely agree with the noble Lord. That was the concept to which I alluded when I referred to short breaks as being cost effective, as well as the right thing to do.

Lord Laming

My Lords, does the Minister agree that special consideration should be given in future guidance to the needs of the growing numbers of young people who take on a heavy burden in caring for a parent, sometimes with high dependency needs? That care is often given at the expense of a young person's education and normal contact with other young people.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, yes, this is an important area which was perhaps not properly recognised in the past. It was certainly recognised in the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995, and children who act as carers are covered by that Act. Within the National Carers Strategy we also outlined our concern that the needs of these children, which can often be overlooked in a school setting, should be properly addressed. We are hoping to have someone responsible in every school for ensuring that, in one way or another, support is given to these vulnerable children.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, when does the Minister expect that legislation will be introduced to allow local authorities to provide services directly to carers?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Astor, implies, we are anxious to allow local authorities to provide direct services to carers, not simply to those who are cared for, and that was part of the National Carers Strategy. We shall do it as soon as legislative time permits. The House would not expect me to say anything different. If it is helpful, I can certainly say that we are anxious to get on with it.

Baroness Ludford

My Lords, can the Minister say what plans the Government have to help carers with regard to pensions, given that they are unable to make pension contributions, and whether the Government have proposals for ensuring that carers qualify for old age pensions?

Baroness Hayman

Yes, my Lords. In future, time spent caring will qualify carers for entitlement to a second pension. It is a major step forward and will represent a significant improvement in the financial position of carers and former carers on reaching state pension age. I believe that that is a proper recognition of the value of the work they do when they are caring.