|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I join the noble Earl in thanking the Minister for repeating the Statement. In many ways, the strategy document is a very impressive one. From these Benches, I pay tribute to the something like 6 million carers who, I believe, save the state around £34 billion--a very large figure--in terms of the work that they do in looking after friends and relatives. Such caring would otherwise have to be paid for by the state. We are certainly very conscious on these Benches of the work that they do and also of the voluntary organisations which represent them so effectively. A number have been mentioned today and also feature in the document.
We welcome the commendable and notable speed with which the strategy has been put together since last June. The carers' strategy contains many important practical elements but the financial aspects of the package are somewhat modest. We should not become carried away by the proposals. We welcome the respite care proposals and also the brochure which accompanies the strategy paper. Can the Minister confirm that the Government will consider more generous measures in future? If one calculates the amount per carer of the financial package for this coming year, the amount is about 15p per week. Will the Government therefore consider more generous measures in future?
My next point was mentioned by the noble Earl. The Government have acknowledged that social services' budgets will be about £100 million short this year. We know that the carer assessments are not up to scratch and only about two out of 10 carers have so far been assessed by their local authorities. What impact will the lack of resources for local government have on those assessments? As regards retirement, we welcome the announcements about second pensions. We look forward to hearing further details in due course. Today's carers are of key importance. What consideration are the Government giving to providing benefits beyond retirement age to today's carers?
We also welcome the consideration that is being given to extending the New Deal to carers returning to work. When will that decision be made? We welcome the Government's commitment to carer-friendly employment policies and their commitment to monitor those policies. However, monitoring by itself is not enough. That needs to be benchmarked against best practice by other major employers and other government institutions. We welcome the statement about national priorities guidance and in particular the requirement on health and local authorities taking account of carers' needs. But what consultation requirements as regards health improvement programmes will be built into legislation?
The Government make strong and welcome statements in the strategy document about information for carers. I welcome the references to the StartHere project. That may play an important role in providing information for carers and health professionals. Will the Department of Health consider bringing forward the evaluation of that project to a date earlier than April 2000?
The Government have naturally raised expectations through this strategy. We welcome many of the proposals. However, the strategy is not so much a revolution as modest evolution towards proper consideration of the needs of carers. We welcome it but we look forward to hearing of more extensive proposals on the financial aspects.
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl and the noble Lord for their support of the thrust of government policy and also for their generous recognition of the enormous role that carers play in the fabric of society and communities in this country, and the individual and communal support that they provide to many of our fellow citizens.
First, I shall mention funding and resources. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said that the proposals were modest. I urge noble Lords not to look simply at the £140 million special grant, but to recognise that, for example, £750 million will be allocated to local authorities over the next three years to help them to promote independence by concentrating on prevention and rehabilitation. That will be important for people who need care and for their carers. I refer also to today's council tax announcement. Those measures will all be helpful.
The £140 million special grant is new money in the sense that it is ring-fenced. It is part of the £3 billion extra money for personal social services that will be made available during the CSR period. It will be distributed in the yearly tranches to which I referred in the Statement. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, asked exactly what the money would be allocated for, the role of the voluntary sector and about getting away from some of the rigidities as regards the models of service and breaks that have been offered in the past. The measure is aimed at widening the scope of the provision that is available and encouraging innovation based on the articulated needs of people in different local authority areas.
One of the conditions of receiving respite care grant is consultation with local carers and the voluntary services about the kind of services which should be provided. I believe that the search for diversity will result in a greater focus on home based services and flexible services that may allow people to spend a period out of their own homes rather than the person needing care having to leave his or her home in order for the carer to have a break. Often the carer knows that that is not acceptable to the person receiving the care and therefore the carer does not get a break. We shall seek to provide respite in a more acceptable way. That is the philosophy that the Diana nursing teams will seek to follow. For example, we seek to allow parents the opportunity to attend parents' evenings for their other children, secure in the knowledge that someone whom they trust is looking after the child who needs care in their own home. I believe there are much more flexible ways in which we can provide that kind of help.
I was asked about the New Deal. We shall certainly consider the best ways of assisting carers to return to work. I am afraid that I have lost my place in my brief and I shall have to write to the noble Lord on that point. Carer-friendly employment policies will need to become an integral part of our policies to encourage family friendly employment. Our strategy is to promote good practice in that regard. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for welcoming the respite breaks publication which accompanies the report. That document shows how this measure can be provided.
As to pensions, we should not undervalue the importance of the new entitlement to a second pension. In the nature of pension provisions, it takes time to build up. Carers are particularly vulnerable as regards not building up a pension entitlement because of the interruption of their employment during times of caring. That can be exacerbated for women who become carers after a period of interrupted employment for the purpose of being at home to look after children. In the long term, it is very important that we ensure that the thousands of carers who have to take a break from employment benefit from these proposals.
In the short term, from April 1999 the Government will introduce a minimum income guarantee for the poorest carers, who will receive a minimum of £75 a week through income support. Very clearly, in all areas of health policy, social security and taxation, our duty is to provide support to the very poorest.
I take the point that the £140 million of the special carers grant will not solve all the problems or provide a vast array of services for every carer in the country. We want the grant to stimulate more concerted action by local authorities, working closely with the health service, to systematically identify the needs of carers in the locality; to draw up plans to meet those needs; to ensure that the provisions offer much greater diversity and flexibility than the existing provisions; and to systematically involve carers and carers' organisations in their planning and implementation. If we put in place that framework, we will have done an enormous amount on which to build.
Lord Taylor of Gryfe: My Lords, I declare an interest. For many years I have been associated with a voluntary organisation operating in this field, Scottish Action on Dementia--SAD--which is an appropriate name. I congratulate the Minister and the Government on this very important and belated recognition of the debt we owe to carers in our society.
Recognising that health will be devolved in May of this year, I would ask the Minister whether similar legislation is anticipated for the provisions made in this Statement to apply in Scotland. That is terribly important.
I congratulate the Minister on her recognition of the role of the voluntary services. In the organisation to which I referred, we have a network of community groups in towns and villages in Scotland who perform voluntary services. They will be encouraged by the Statement. That is important because many of them lose heart when voluntary work goes unrecognised.
We have established in Stirling University a chair for carers, for training people to care. That is why I was glad to hear the reference to training. I hope that that outpost, which is difficult to maintain and finance, will continue to be recognised as a national training centre, not necessarily as a Scottish operation. Can the Minister give me some encouragement that the important principles in this valuable Statement will be extended to Scotland, despite the activities of devolution in the year ahead?
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page