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Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his comments. I am interested to hear about the work of Stirling University. I would be deeply disappointed if devolution meant an end to learning from each other in these areas. I am sure that we have much to learn from that centre. I shall ensure that we investigate ways in which the practices developed there can be spread.
The noble Lord will be reassured to know that in Scotland the commitments are being taken forward by an action plan to modernise community care, published in October. A key element of the plan is to provide £5 million additional money for respite, homecare and other services. The thrust of the policy described for England and Wales is very definitely being taken forward within Scotland.
Baroness Ludford: My Lords, I was about to give way to the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, in recognition of her valuable role. I am honoured to be the ward councillor representing the Carers National Association in my ward of Clerkenwell, Islington.
This is definitely a solid step forward in the recognition of the vital contribution of carers but, as my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones said, it obviously will not solve all the problems. The Minister has stressed that the ringfenced £140 million is just one aspect of the increased funding. Unfortunately, the reality on the ground is that many local authorities are having to make severe cuts in social services. The additional funding is £20 million in 1999-2000. My local authority is having to cut £15 million from its budget, of which several million is for social services. Welfare advice agencies are also being cut. That will affect the advice given for claiming minimum income support.
Will the Minister keep up her efforts for greater funding? The reality on the ground, as experienced by carers, is that this is a mixed bag because of general cuts in social services. When the new legislation to extend the powers of local authorities to address carers' needs is introduced, will the Minister ensure that the money to implement those powers is available; otherwise, instead of greater hope for carers, it could lead to some disillusionment?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I note what the noble Baroness says. Of course it is very important. Resources are essential--and everyone wants to see greater resources--but an issue like the new legislation, which establishes the principle that carers will be entitled to help in their own right, is a very important one. It is very significant for individuals and organisations working in this field.
It is tremendously important to recognise that sometimes we can do things by having more flexibility without spending extra money. For example, it might be better for a carer who wants to go out for three hours to attend evening classes to receive money for a taxi home. That avoids the need for someone to be in the home for four hours because of a longer journey time. At the moment, a local authority can only provide the service to the people who need it, not to the carer--so we are not always talking about extra money.
The £140 million will be ring-fenced. In the package we are bringing together--on the housing front; on the proposals for family friendly policies; in recognising the needs of carers who are in employment; and particularly in the proposals for young carers in respect of their educational needs--we recognise the burdens that carers carry. This is a tremendously important area, not necessarily hugely expensive, but one that can make an awful lot of difference to their lives.
Lord Rix: My Lords, as the person who introduced the Disabled Persons and Carers (Short-Term Breaks) Bill into your Lordships' House during the term of the previous government, which was supported by all sides of the House, including of course the current Government, I have three brief questions. First, will the legislation to be introduced place a statutory obligation on local authorities to ensure that carers' needs are assessed and that assessment takes account of both the needs of the disabled person and the carer in regard to respite care and short-term breaks? The Minister may notice that I am holding in my hand a booklet published this month by MENCAP and entitled Fully Charged: How Local Authority Charging Is Harming People With A Learning Disability. That leads me to my next question. Is the Minister aware that a number of local authorities charge for respite care for children with learning and other disabilities? Therefore, will the new funding put a stop to this practice and enable parents to make full use of the breaks which are to be offered to them?
Lord Renton: My Lords, I declare an interest. I have a very severely handicapped daughter--she is mentally and physically handicapped--and like the noble Lord, Lord Rix, I was chairman of MENCAP. I have not yet had the advantage of seeing the Statement. When I heard it, I welcomed it. If I may say so, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, deserves credit for the very caring way in which she deals with these matters when they come before your Lordships.
I do not know how far the Statement goes in providing for those cases where the family can no longer provide care. That arises when the parents are either too old or die--or one of them dies--or when the child is so severely handicapped that he or she could not be looked after at home. If the Statement does not go that far, I wonder whether, before long, the Government will issue a statement about the help that can be given to village communities, which have a great advantage, and to those living in the community who are not so severely disabled that they could live in a small home and perhaps go out to work. Those are the two most important ways of looking after handicapped or disabled people when they can no longer be looked after at home.
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Renton. I know of his long-standing concern in this area. The issue of village communities has been discussed in your Lordships' House before. I know that my honourable friend John Hutton, who has responsibility for this area, met representatives of the movement to encourage village communities. He is well aware of the feeling that a range of provision needs to be available to people with learning disabilities. I recognise that in some areas there is a feeling that this is the most appropriate form of provision. I recognise the anxiety that parents often feel about their ability to cope in the future as handicapped children grow older and about what will happen to them when they are not there and able to cope. It is part of the long-term planning responsibilities of social services departments to ensure that provision is available after the caring is no longer done by the carer. There is a responsibility for doing that planning--not imposing sudden change, which can be very disruptive, but involving carers in discussing long-term plans before they are needed.
Does my noble friend agree that this marks the passage of carers from the margins to the mainstream of social and health policy? Does she further agree that how we monitor and evaluate the allocation of specific sums of money to local authorities is important in ensuring the best possible value for carers and ensuring that the needs of all groups of carers, including not just young carers and parent carers but the needs of carers from minority ethnic communities, are not overlooked?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend has had a chance to speak on this subject. It would have been deeply ironic had she not, given her immense personal contribution to the cause of carers in this country. She demonstrated some of the vision that has made her such an effective campaigner by focusing not on "this sum of money" or "that sum of money" but on how we transform the way in which we think about carers and how we integrate their needs into the planning of health and social services. I very much take her point that we need to monitor and evaluate. Whatever money we spend, we want to ensure that it is spent effectively. The Statement refers in particular to the needs of young carers, but my noble friend is right to remind us that carers and the people for whom they care are a diverse group. They may include short-term carers and long-term carers; there may be people who have a physical disability or a mental illness; and there may be people with very specific needs because of the ethnic group from which they come or for a variety of other reasons. That is one of the reasons why it is important that we push down to local level the responsibility for ensuring that local plans are sensitive to the needs of local communities.
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