The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege): My Lords, there is no formal register of carers. The general household survey estimates that there are about 6.8 million people in the United Kingdom who give some informal care on a regular basis. We do not know how many carers receive money from public funds, although a wide range of benefits is available, depending on individual circumstances.
Lord Constantine of Stanmore: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. Is she aware that the Benefits Agency, with its complicated procedures, might discourage carers who expect some form of remuneration in return for the services that they give?
Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, my noble friend has a point. Sometimes people are put off from claiming benefit because of the complications involved. The Government have tried very hard to streamline all those benefits and they certainly put out a lot of information now through libraries, the citizens advice bureaux and various other places.
Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I am absolutely delighted to see that the noble Baroness is back in her usual place. Is she aware that what is really needed now is a thoroughgoing review of the status, work and income of carers? Can she initiate that?
Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, at the moment we have a review taking place. We shall be putting out a consultation paper in the near future as regards the social services which will cover carers. I am aware that the noble Lord has this issue very much at heart. I shall keep him informed as the work progresses.
Lord Gainford: My Lords, can my noble friend say whether it is possible for information about carers to be available not only in libraries, but also for some general information to appear in the daily press?
Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, perhaps that is a matter at which the department would like to look. At the moment there are national initiatives. Indeed, the Department of Social Security has a budget of £12.6 million in order to publicise its benefits. At local level there are customer service phone lines and district offices supplying information as well as hospitals and social services advice centres which are all involved in this work.
Lord Molloy: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that we in the Royal British Legion are most grateful for the concern that she and her department always show? Is she further aware that the situation as regards carers can be somewhat complicated? For example, a man who was wounded might not have needed a carer immediately after the war, but as he gets older the need for such a carer increases. Can that point be taken into consideration and can the Royal British Legion, if it so wishes, come to speak to the noble Baroness about it?
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that most people are very appreciative of the greatly increased financial support that has been given to disabled people over the past 17 years? Will she take on board that the training and provision of carers is a very different matter indeed? Will my noble friend take back to her colleagues in the department the fact that the training of carers is in a deplorable state? It is no good referring me to the NVQ qualification, which seems to me to be more about telling carers that they should tell their clients about their rights not to be discriminated against on grounds of sex, ethnic origin or religion, than about telling them how to clean someone else's teeth. Is the Minister further aware that very few disabled people have the financial resources, despite all that has been done, to pay between £500 and £800 as a placement fee to private agencies who produce carers who on many occasions are poorly trained, untrained or unsuitable for the task? In other words, does she not agree that something should be done to ensure that carers, whether as professionals or as members of a family caring for another member of a family, should be given some reasonable opportunity to get adequate, but simple and sensible training?
Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for those comments. I appreciate what he said about NVQs--it is pointless if the whole attitude is one of political correctness and not of practical application, which the courses should be. Perhaps we can look at the contents of those courses. There are some social services departments now which are training carers and which recognise the importance of this area of work. I am sure that there is more that can be done. Perhaps I may come back to my noble friend on that matter.
Baroness Seear: My Lords, is the Minister aware that I find myself in somewhat surprising agreement with every word that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, said--it must be the first time that that has happened--and that his comments underline the very strong case for having a register of people who are approved to work in other people's homes? That suggestion has been made previously in a Private Member's Bill and I believe that it has been revived. Will the Government think again about exercising some control (through a register or by some other means) so that people who are quite unsuitable do not enter other people's homes in that way?
Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, as the noble Baroness is aware, we have considered the question of a national register for carers. I believe that Susan Brooks is trying to get a voluntary scheme going. However, a number of difficult issues are involved, such as precisely who would be covered by a register, what standards would be required and how we should enforce those standards. A consultation paper is to be put out shortly which will explore some of those issues. We shall want to see the results of that consultation.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, perhaps I may echo my noble friend Lord Ashley of Stoke in saying how pleased we are that the noble Baroness is back in the House this week. Is she aware that during her absence last week we had some somewhat unilluminating exchanges on the subject of support for carers with the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and that she invited the department to look carefully at some of the questions that were put? On that occasion, I asked a question, which I should like to repeat now to the Minister, about the status of the Bill on respite care for carers which was introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Rix? That Bill has now left this House, so I wonder whether it is to be given a fair wind in another place by the Government or are the Government to introduce similar legislation to meet that important need of carers?
Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I am grateful for the welcome back that I have received from your Lordships' House. The rumour that I stayed at home just to watch the Test Match is erroneous. I must say that the National Health Service was excellent, as always.
I have read last week's Hansard report of the Question on carers and I understand the anxiety of the noble Baroness to know the Government's attitude to the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, which has now left this House and gone to the Commons. I understand that a date has been put down for Second Reading and that that will take place this month. The noble Baroness will have to be patient and see what happens then.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, is the Minister aware that for the past 10 years I have been the chairman of an organisation which has developed a package for the training of carers in the community? Initially, we had tremendous trouble with one organisation over political correctness and now rely on City and Guilds and BTEC for our qualifications which are now used throughout Herefordshire and Worcestershire and are also purchased by other local authorities. It is an employer-led organisation, so the requirements are thoroughly understood.
Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I thank the noble Countess for that information. I shall see how we in the department can follow that through to try to meet the needs outlined by my noble friend Lord Tebbit.
The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne): My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, but I observe that we are nearly half-way through our time and that we have finished only one Question. I hope that your Lordships will agree that it is now time to move on.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): My Lords, we are working actively for a universal, effective and verifiable comprehensive test ban treaty (CTBT) by the end of June. We continue to play a leading role in the efforts to design an effective verification regime for the treaty.
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