HL Deb 10 June 2002 vol 636 cc4-6

2.45 p.m.

Baroness Pitkeathley

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, on the first day of National Carers Week, I declare an interest as vice-president of Carers UK.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their response to the report recently published by Carers UK Without Us? which updates the figures showing the sums saved for the United Kingdom by carers from £34 billion to £57 billion.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath)

My Lords, the Government recognise the enormous contribution that carers make to society. We will continue to support carers in health and social care through the National Carers Strategy, with improved information, better support and better care for carers.

Baroness Pitkeathley

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. I am happy to acknowledge the progress that has been made for carers through the clear commitment of this Government. However, a new survey published today by Carers UK shows that as well as saving the nation money by the caring that they do, carers are also drivers for social change: they set up services, they take part endlessly in consultations and they advise local authorities and local health services. In view of that, will the Government consider issuing clear guidance, such as that issued about the carer's grant, urging local authorities to follow good practice in consultation, recognising the time and costs incurred by carers?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I certainly recognise the importance of carers having a full role to play in consultative processes undertaken by health and local authorities. I am happy to commend good practice in that area to the NHS and local government. It is one thing to say that we need carers to be involved in consultation, but it is important that we provide the conditions under which they can make a full contribution.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, will the closure of a number of care homes result in a need for even more carers in the personal home? If so, will that great additional cost be borne by families or by social services? What help does the Minister think that the National Health Service or the Government will be able to provide?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, the reduction in the number of nursing home beds in the past few years should be seen in the context of more support in the community—which has resulted in some people who would have entered nursing homes in the past not doing so—and of the impact of the intermediate care packages. Of course we are looking carefully at the situation in the nursing home sector. Our expectation is that in those areas where fees have been inadequate, the increased resources for local authorities in the next spending review will feed through into the fees structure. We have encouraged local authorities to work with home owners to reach a more general understanding of the circumstances in which nursing homes operate and ensure that local authorities take those into account when they make their decisions about fees at local level.

Lord Judd

My Lords, will the Minister bear in mind the considerable contribution in this sphere made by young people in the family? Will he assure us that the Government will at all times have as a priority support for those young people, who, at considerable self-sacrifice, do so much to support their own families and the nation?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I could not agree more with my noble friend. The estimates that I have suggest that there are between 20,000 and 50,000 young carers in this country. Those are people under 18 who have caring responsibilities for another family member who is unwell or disabled. The Quality Protects programme is part of our strategy to help young carers. Connexions, the new youth support service for 13 to 19 year-olds, will also have an important role to play in helping to identify and provide support to such carers.

Baroness Barker

My Lords, the Association of Directors of Social Services recently reported that fewer than one in five local authorities has found sufficient resources to implement the Carers and Disabled Children Act 2000. With that in mind, will the Minister say whether the money allocated to social care in this year's Budget was a forward announcement of the Comprehensive Spending Review?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, the announcement of 6 per cent real-terms growth in relation to the spending review was for a three-year period starting with the next financial year. I believe that that is a very high level of real-terms growth for local authority social services departments. We expect them to spend that extra resource wisely and effectively, and that some of that resource will go towards supporting carers.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, do the Government accept that there is already a shortage of 25,000 residential places in this country and that that number is bound to increase as the present number of carers reduces in line with the demographic trend? If so, will the Government insist that their excellent guidelines for the creation and promotion of village communities, particularly for the mentally handicapped, are respected at local level in future and not flouted as they have been so consistently for many years?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, on Wednesday there is to be a debate in your Lordships' House on that very subject and I am sure that those points will be very fully covered. As I said, although there has been a reduction in the number of residential care places, the reduction has not been as great as has often been reported. The figures quoted also very often ignore the fact that, although there have been closures, new homes have opened. I recognise that the residential care sector is under pressure in some parts of the country. That is why the additional resource for local authorities and the concordat between care home owners and local government are so important in addressing those issues.

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that employers should be made aware of the capabilities that carers bring not only to caring but to other aspects of their membership of the community? I do not think that that fact is often recognised when it comes to recruitment.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend and think that there are some important lessons there for the NHS as an employer.