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That this House notes the Resolution of 31st October 2006; recognises that there have already been four separate independent committees of inquiry into military action in Iraq; further recognises the importance of learning all possible lessons from military action in Iraq and its aftermath; and therefore declines at this time, whilst the whole effort of the Government and the armed forces is directed towards improving the condition of Iraq, to make a proposal for a further inquiry which would divert attention from this vital task.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): We now come to the second debate on the Opposition motions. I should announce to the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.
That this House recognises the vital contribution that the UKs six million carers make to society; welcomes recent announcements on carers including the Government review of the National Strategy for Carers, the New Deal for Carers and the Treasury report Aiming high for disabled children: better support for families as steps towards an improvement in recognition and support for carers; notes that 54 per cent. of carers have given up work and one in five carers feel forced to do so; recognises the impacts which caring responsibilities have on family incomes, relative poverty and the health of carers themselves; is deeply concerned that an estimated 175,000 young people are carers of adults with the consequent pressures on them; calls on the Government to reduce the bureaucracy of social care provision that puts so much pressure on carers; and asks the Government to bring forward proposals for simplifying the benefit system in order to provide better support for carers and to ensure that the review of the National Strategy for Carers has both short term and long term objectives to enhance support for carers and to respond to the vital role played by carers in society.
Today is the first day of carers week, the week when we as a country celebrate and recognise the extraordinary work of 6 million people who give up huge amounts of their time, energy and effort to look after disabled and older friends and relatives. Here is the problem: the social care budget, for which the Under-Secretary of State for Health, who is in his place, is responsible, is currently £19 billion, but Carers Week has estimated that if the amount of unpaid work done by those 6 million carers were costed, it would come to £57 billion. That means that if they stopped doing that work tomorrow and we wanted to continue with the same levels of care, we would have to quadruple the social care budget, just to stand still.
It is not just a matter of the tax implications. There is a much more fundamental question of the type of society that we wish to be. Those of us on the Conservative Benches think that it is fundamentally right that wherever possible the main caring role is undertaken by family and friends. That is what carers want and what the cared-for person wants. The brutal truth is that because of demographic trends, the huge growth in the numbers of disabled children, and the rapidly ageing society, very soon 6 million carers will not be enough. If we want the number of carers to grow, we must be prepared to answer difficult questions about the role of the state and whether it enables and supports that caring role, or whether, as is all too often the case, it hinders and obstructs that role.
This years carers week theme is My life as a carer. When I read that, it reminded me of the first carer whom I met when I was a prospective parliamentary candidate. For my sins, I had agreed to be a refuse collector for the day in my prospective constituency. I had spent the morning getting mucky and dirty picking up bottles, cans and newspapers for recycling and
generally thinking that it was remarkable that anyone could want to do that kind of job full time. Then I spoke to the driver of the refuse van that I was with, and he told me that 10 years ago his wife had had an accident in their garden and had become wheelchair-bound and unable to get up, get dressed, wash or cook. Although he had been able to carry on his work, his life outside work had been turned completely upside down. Rather touchingly, he said to me that he would not change her for the world. The question is whether we are doing enough to help and support people who are playing that kind of extraordinary role; Conservative Members believe that we are not.
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Motor Neurone Disease Association would agree with his view that we as a society have not done enough to recognise carers? Is he aware that the cost to the state of caring for people suffering from motor neurone disease is £241 million per year, and that it would be a great deal more if we did not have the enormous voluntary contribution that he is discussing? It is about time that we recognised that and gave those carers the rights that I imagine he would agree with.
Mr. Hunt: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I am happy to praise the Motor Neurone Disease Association because he said earlier that if I did so he would buy me a pint in the bar later. In fact, I am genuinely happy to praise its work, because carers for people with motor neurone disease demonstrate one of the critical factors about carers, which is that their caring role often lasts for 24 hours, creating enormous stress and pressure. That is why it is incredibly important to do everything to support that role.
Before I talk about the things that are going wrong, it is also important to talk about the things that have gone right. There have been a lot of changes over the past 15 years that have helped the role of carers. The Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995 set up carers assessments. In 1999, we had the first ever national carers strategy. The Carers and Disabled Children Act 2000 extended the right of direct payments to families with disabled children. The Carers (Equal Opportunities) Act 2004 gave local councils an obligation to promote carers assessments to those entitled to them. Last year, as I am sure that the Minister will tell us, we had the Work and Families Act 2006, which extended the right of flexible working to carers. We have had some modest improvements in respite care. The Pensions Bill, which is before Parliament at the moment, will strengthen the rights of carers in terms of entitlement to state pensions.
However, eight years on from the national carers strategy we are still in a situation whereby three quarters of carers say that they are worse off as a result of their caring role, 79 per cent. of carers say that their health has been affected by their caring role, and one in five carers say that they have had to reduce the amount of food they buy because of the financial pressures created by their caring. I am afraid that the Governments response has been disappointing. They have promised yet another reviewa review of the strategy involving, we are promised, the widest ever consultation with carers. In the end, however, this is the
politics of talk, talk. The danger of that is not only that it does nothing in itself but that it obscures the fundamental problemthe Governments thinking that the only solution to these problems is financial, which means that carers are made to wait in a queue alongside everyone else who is calling on public resources and get restricted to the occasional scraps. We need a much more radical and imaginative approach. In particular, we need to slay the myth that the only way to improve the lives of the UKs 6 million carers is to increase spending on the system, when often it is the system itself that is failing.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): There was a consensus following the Sutherland report, and it is disappointing that that was broken by the Government on financial grounds. There should be free nursing and social care, but people should have to pay for their accommodation once they get above a certain income threshold. If we had moved in that direction, we might have solved the problem.
Mr. Hunt: The hon. Gentleman is right. There is a huge challenge ahead in terms of how we finance social care provision, and it is particularly acute given the changing demographics. I hope that he will agree with what I am about to say about changing the system to ensure that much greater resources are directed to carers.
Two Under-Secretaries from two Departments are present, so let me deal with them one at a time. I shall start with the Department of Health. Let us consider the example that I gave of the refuse collector from Farnham. When his wife became disabled, he would have had to grapple with three levels of bureaucracy in the social service system. The first is the carers needs assessment. For that, he would have to provide 140 different pieces of information spread over 40 pages and three different forms. Secondly, his wife would have to undergo possibly five different assessments. She would have to: go through a contact centre to ascertain whether she was eligible; do a fair access to community services assessment followed by a community care assessment, and she might have to undergo a specialist assessment for physiotherapy or occupational therapy. She then might have to do a further assessment, which is namedsomewhat ironicallythe single assessment process. If we examine the questions that both must answer, two thirds of the questions that he has to answer are already asked of her.
Councils throughout the country would like to reduce the bureaucracy of the assessment process but legislation requires much of the assessing, thus making reduction difficult. The third layer of bureaucracy is perhaps the worst because it is hidden. It is the bureaucracy that providers of social care must tolerate. It comprises: reports to get star ratings from the Commission for Social Care Inspection; 26 performance assessment frameworks, including key thresholds; delivery and improvement standards reports for the Audit Commission; best value performance indicator reports; comprehensive performance assessment reports, and, for the Department of Health, the referrals, assessments and packages of care reports. All that bureaucracy comes at a huge price of £2 billion. That money is used in the assessment and commissioning process, not in delivering the services that carers and disabled people need.
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