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Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman not only on coming high up in the ballot, but on introducing a Bill of this kind. Before he begins his detailed discussion of the Bill, will he tell us what conversations he has had with local authorities or their organisations about the impact that the Bill will have on them? How do the local authorities see themselves fulfilling the obligations and duties that the Bill would lay on them?

Mr. Pendry: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his constructive intervention. I have held discussions with local authorities--my own in particular--and with caring organisations. There is certainly a grey area, in that the authorities do not know exactly what the impact will be. However, they all seem confident that they can cope with the Bill. In addition, clause 9 contains a financial provision, which will provide a stop-gap by which we can assess the Bill's effects if, as I hope, it becomes an Act.

Clause 1 also provides that a carer should have a right to an assessment from a local authority if the carer provides or intends to provide a substantial amount of care on a regular basis for another individual aged 18 or over, and the carer asks the local authority to carry out an assessment of his or her ability to provide and continue to provide care. That would be particularly helpful where the cared-for person had refused an assessment for community care services or the delivery of community care services following assessment, as is the case with Sheila's daughter.

Clause 4(1) amends section 1 of the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995 and enables local authorities to take into account, for the purposes of an assessment under clause 1, any carer's assessment previously carried out under the 1995 Act, where the information may be material. That assessment would enable the local authority to decide whether to provide services to the carer under clause 2. The local authority would have to consider the assessment and decide whether the carer had any needs in relation to the care that they provided for the person cared for. The authority would then decide whether or not it could provide services to meet those needs and whether or not to provide them.

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That decision would depend on whether the cared-for person had refused help from the local authority or whether it would be more appropriate for the service to be provided direct to carers to support them in their caring role or maintain their own health and well-being.

This is a very important change to the way in which social services departments may provide support. The aim of the Bill is to focus on enabling those who choose to care, and whose care is wanted by another person, to do so without detriment to their own health and well-being. The Bill is sensitive to the complexities of the relationship between the carer and the cared-for person.

Clause 2(3) states that some services, though provided to the carer, may be services that could be delivered to the cared-for person by way of community care services. If such services are delivered to the carer, they may not, except in prescribed circumstances, include anything of an intimate nature. There is a power to set out in regulations what is, or is not, a service of an intimate nature. Services that may only be delivered to the person cared for might include dressing, feeding, lifting, washing or bathing.

Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge): Will the hon. Gentleman clarify whether the provision of services directly to the cared-for person could happen when that person had refused an assessment? Could the services be provided against the wish of the cared-for person?

Mr. Pendry: As I understand it, that could happen, but it would be done after discussion with the local authority.

The Bill does not offer the carers of adult users the right to determine the services to be delivered to users. Nor does it give local authorities the power to provide carers with services that are of an intimate or personal nature. However, the Bill recognises that users of services--cared-for people--and their carers are closely linked. The Bill ensures that local authorities can look at meeting carers' needs as well as meeting the needs of the person cared for.

The effect of clause 4(2) and (4) is that, where a local authority is deciding whether to provide a particular service to the carer under the Bill, or to the user under community care legislation, the authority must make it clear who is the recipient of that service. For example, it must make it clear who will be liable for any charges, or who may complain in relation to the service in question.

For many carers, a break from their caring role is a key issue. However, a short-term break does not mean the time that a carer needs to spend away from home for such tasks as buying the weekly shopping. A break that helps carers maintain their health and well-being is an opportunity to have a life of their own. In particular, it is the chance to spend time with family and friends--or indeed with the person for whom they are caring, but free from their usual caring responsibilities.

There are two important issues that dictate whether carers will enjoy a break: first, that there is flexibility in the timing of the break; and secondly, that the additional services provided to the user benefit the person for whom he or she is caring. For a carer to enjoy a break, it is particularly important that the person who is usually cared for is content with the type of additional support that is given.

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Clause 3 enables the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales to make provision in regulations for local authorities to issue vouchers for short-term breaks. That scheme will offer carers and the people who are cared for flexibility in the timing of the carer's break, and choice in the services delivered to users while their carer is taking a break.

A typical situation would be that a carer was assessed by the local authority as needing regular breaks from his or her caring role. The local authority would need to assess the user's need for additional support to allow that carer to take a break. The cared-for person may choose to have vouchers rather than directly provided services. It is intended that the regulations will include provisions for vouchers--whether for money or for the delivery of a service for a period of time--to be redeemed by the voucher holders, at a time of their choosing, for services delivered by local authority approved providers.

The short-term break voucher scheme will introduce a simpler way of achieving more flexibility and choice in the delivery of short-term breaks than is currently available via direct payments. It is important to the users of social services and their carers that they have that choice and flexibility in the timing and nature of services delivered to meet their assessed needs.

It is especially important for carers--who give so much--that they are recognised as individuals in their own right. They must have more choice for themselves concerning the way in which they care, and more control over their lives. At present, disabled people may ask their local authority to assess their need for support to live independently in the community and, as an alternative to receiving services from the local authority, can have the money to purchase the support that they need.

Mrs. Llin Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme): Is my hon. Friend aware that, in my constituency, the local authority is already holding consultations with NCH Action for Children to set up respite care for disabled children, to provide information and to give outreach support? Does he agree that that would fit well with what he wants to provide through his Bill?

Mr. Pendry: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing our attention to that excellent scheme. Local authorities take different approaches to these issues, but I am sure that they will all welcome the Bill.

Clause 6 would add a new section to the Children Act 1989 to extend the option of direct payments to parent carers to meet the needs of their disabled children, and to disabled children aged 16 and 17. The responsibilities of parent carers are often made more arduous by the difficulty of accessing mainstream services--for example, child care, including after-school clubs and leisure activities. When parent carers do not think that services are sufficiently tailored to meet the needs of their family, direct payments offer more choice in service delivery.

The clause adds a further section to the 1989 Act to enable the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales to make provision in regulation for local authorities to issue short-term break vouchers to parent carers. The extension of the option of direct payments to 16 and 17-year-old disabled children may be helpful for

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young disabled people who want to become more independent; for example, because they want to go into further education or to move away from home.

Clause 7 enables local authorities to charge carers for the services they receive. There is some controversy about charging, and many organisations have approached me on that point.

Mr. Hammond: Would that clause provide for the means testing of any cash payments or vouchers that were provided?

Mr. Pendry: I was about to say that we need to examine that matter closely in Committee. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be helpful in that regard. Carers look after friends or relatives who might otherwise be a cost to the state and a charge on the taxpayer. There is much feeling among those carers that they should be given a better deal. I understand that talks are taking place in the Department, so I hope that the Minister will be helpful.

Although it would not be possible for a private Member's Bill to try to change Government policy in these matters, I would welcome some response from my hon. Friend on charging for social and other services. I have talked to caring organisations and listened to their concerns and am convinced that we need to amend the measure when it goes into Committee. I hope for support from both sides of the House. I cannot quite see a smile on my hon. Friend's face, but he is a caring man and I am sure that he will listen to our case.

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