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11.30 am

The guidance on preparing plans helps to ensure that local councils adopt a long-term strategic outlook to community care planning. It encourages better joint planning between local health and housing authorities and full involvement of relevant local agencies in the successful delivery of high-quality care. The guidance is also designed to provide stronger partnerships between all

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agencies involved in the delivery of community care and with users and carers themselves. It is consciously generic so as to provide a firm foundation to underpin the many other programmes and plans that local authorities prepare. In addition, there are the plans that local councils are revising and reviewing as a condition of receiving the three special grants to promote independence. They do that through breaking down barriers between health and social services, encouraging early intervention to prevent crises, and supporting carers who wish to continue to care.

As I said in an intervention on the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, the revised plans for the spending of the carers special grant for this financial year must be sent to the Department of Health by the end of May. The right hon. Gentleman was concerned whether we were satisfied about the adequacy of those plans and the arrangements for making sure that the money is spent in the way that we intend. I assure him that we are satisfied in all those respects. We take a very close interest in ensuring that the money that Parliament provides to support carers services is spent on carers services, and not anywhere else.

This has been a helpful debate in that a number of centrally important issues on the development of carer services have been aired. For all of the reasons that my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde spelled out, and given the extra assurance that I have been able to give about aspects of how the Government intend to implement the Bill and to develop services in the future, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West will not press the new clause to a vote.

Mrs. Heal rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. May I say to the hon. Lady that it makes for orderly debate if Members seeking to speak to an amendment that they have tabled or to make a contribution to a group of amendments speak when they are given the opportunity to do so earlier in the debate? We have now had a reply from the promoter of the Bill and the Minister. There is no automatic right to speak a second time, so any remarks made now might not be answered.

Mrs. Heal: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I certainly thank you for your indulgence and I apologise for being remiss in not catching your eye earlier.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I should perhaps also say that I had received an--indirect it is true--message from the hon. Lady that she did not intend to speak. That is why we find ourselves in this situation.

Mrs. Heal: Thank you very much, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me this opportunity to speak. I will restrict my remarks, having heard the comments already made.

I tabled amendment No. 11, which would leave out "whether or not" and insert "how" on page 2, line 8. It relates to local authorities and assessments. It is important for us to stop and consider the position in which many carers finds themselves. The amendment is about implementation of the clause. It would ensure that uncertainty for carers is removed. Clause 2(b) already refers to whether a local authority

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My amendment would make the local authority address the question of how those services will be provided. The Bill already makes sufficient reference to give the authority discretion if that is so required when the assessment has been completed.

Uncertainly and lack of information have existed for far too long for carers. They are unsure whether they are entitled to services and, if so, what those services will be and, more important, how and when they will be delivered. The "how" is important, because how the services are delivered may enable many carers to live some of their lives and may provide them with some quality of life in addition to the care that they offer to a disabled person. They may have the opportunity to take a break themselves or to continue working. Therefore, how and when services are provided is a crucial issue.

I craved your indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in allowing me to speak to the amendment. I hope that it still may be considered or that, at least, my remarks on it will be considered by the Minister.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for not rising earlier. I had expected to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (Mrs. Heal).

I shall make a couple of brief points about the amendments and in particular amendment No. 14. I want to follow up a point made by the Carers National Association about the definition of services for carers. It is concerned particularly about transport for disabled people to and from day centres and it fears that the way that the Bill is currently drawn could mean that that becomes defined as a carer service, because it would help a carer to care and would provide respite time while the person being cared for is at the day centre.

The association says that the clause's wording is problematic because it introduces the possibility that carers could be charged for services that were previously considered to belong to the user. I shall amplify that point when we come to my amendment to clause 7.

On Second Reading, an indication was given that the issue would be considered at a later stage, perhaps on Report. As far as I can tell, it has not been addressed, so I hope that my hon. Friends the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) and the Minister, who unfortunately have already replied to the debate, will bear my points in mind as the Bill progresses, I hope, to its later stages.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas: I want to respond briefly to what has been a useful debate. I fear that I have perhaps not carried the House with me on the new clause. I have ranged against me my hon. Friend the Members for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) and for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) as well as my hon. Friend the Minister, not to mention the perceived alliance with the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth).

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for his assurances and very much welcome the fact that a carers plan will be required because of the special grant moneys that will be available next year. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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Clause 1

Right of carers to assessment

Mr. Dismore: I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 5, leave out "16" and insert "14".

I have a sense of deja vu in raising this issue. On Second Reading, it was one of the concerns that I flagged up when I said:

I wondered then whether we should not consider in Committee--I do not think that it was considered there--whether 16 was the right cut-off point. I thought that there was a case for including even younger carers.

When I researched my Second Reading speech, I was staggered to learn from the national carers strategy, which I shall refer to shortly, that between 20,000 and 50,000 young carers look after parents or elderly relatives and that many of them receive no support from statutory or voluntary services. It was in that context that, after Second Reading, I started to do a bit more digging on the issue, and that led me to table the amendment that would reduce the age to 14.

To get more local background information, I spoke to the young carers project which operates in Barnet and Hendon. It is an interesting project which is jointly financed by the London borough of Barnet, Children in Need and the Millie Apthorp trust. It is based at the friends in need joint project in Barnet. The project told me that, in its view, young carers include anyone from the age of six to the age of 18. Indeed, it has on its books several carers who are aged six and who have to make a contribution at home. It is staggering that children as young as six are getting involved.

The amendment does not suggest that children of six should be able to request the facilities to be provided by the assessments in the Bill, but there is a case for considering an age younger than 16, which is the school-leaving age. I suspect that many of the carers who would be caught by the Bill as it is at present phrased would be over the age of 16. We know, however, from research to which I shall shortly refer, that children sometimes find that their school work is affected. The age of 14, when children start doing GCSE courses, would be an ideal point at which they could become eligible to request additional assistance from the local authority.

Some local authorities are starting to address those needs. I mentioned the young carers project in my borough which is trying to work with the local authority and to build links with GPs and schools to help to identify and support young carers. The biggest problem is identifying carers and getting them to come forward. Nobody really knows how many young carers there are in my area, but the best, conservative estimate that I have been given is that there are 200 or more. They desperately need help, but that help must be specifically targeted at younger carers' needs. By reducing the age in the Bill, and thereby including a younger age group in its provisions, we may be able to address young carers' concerns.

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Examples of what the project in my constituency does will inform the argument. It organises time-out meetings at which young carers can meet other children in the same position and age group. The idea is for them to meet and socialise, and not necessarily to discuss their caring responsibilities, although I suspect that they do. The project provides an after-school drop-in service with support, information and advice, which is specifically geared to the needs of young carers. Those services are targeted at that particular age group, which my amendment seeks to address.

The project organises monthly outings, and next Saturday it will take young carers to TGI Friday, the hamburger restaurant. That may not seem a big deal to many people, but it is a big deal for those young carers. If they have a disabled sibling, it can be problematic for the family to go to a restaurant together, and enabling young carers, as a group, to take advantage of that facility is a brilliant idea. Such ideas could well be overlooked if we do not consider the amendment, which would help to identify the particular needs of young carers. The project also runs workshops in schools to try to raise the awareness of children who may not realise that they are carers--they may have drifted into caring. There are also drop-in sessions in schools.

"Caring about Carers", the national strategy document, devotes a chapter to young carers, and I want to highlight one or two of the problems that particularly affect those in the age group that we are discussing. The document says that they may have to care for

They may have to look after

or, as I have just said, a sibling with a health problem or disability.

The strategy particularly highlights the problems facing children in single-parent families in which the parent is in need of support. Those children are particularly likely to spend a large part of their time providing care. Amending the age specified in the Bill to 14 would help those children. Fourteen-year-olds are starting to want to be independent and to develop their own life, but carers, particularly those in single-parent households, find it difficult to do so, not least because of financial constraints on the family. We must enable local authorities to meet the needs of carers aged 14 and over by allowing the carers themselves to ask for assistance. That is what my amendment seeks to achieve, and it would start to address their needs.

We know from the strategy of the problems that carers experience at school, particularly with homework and qualifications. If they can receive assistance outside school, through respite care or a drop-in centre, they may be able to prepare for their GCSEs, free from their caring responsibilities, for two or three hours in the evening. We know also of the problems of isolation from other members of the family.

The strategy identifies the lack of time that young carers have for play, sport or leisure activities. That is exactly the sort of problem that the young carers project in Barnet is trying to address. My amendment would provide great support to those children by enabling them to make their position known to the local authority and have their needs recognised.

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