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I recognise that my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North thinks that we should not just introduce a taper but perhaps remove the earnings limit altogether. I understand that the ambition to do more for carers is something that echoes around many parts of the House, and we are always considering what more we might do to help them. The problem is that, if we lift the earnings limit, we would remove the rationale for carers allowance itself, which is to provide a measure of help for carers who are disadvantaged by limited employment opportunities. Those who provide 35 hours of care a week will tend not to have high personal earnings. It is the minority who are in a
relatively more favourable position with regard to earnings who would gain if the earnings limit were removed.
My hon. Friend also suggestedthis links with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr. Brown)the introduction of a tapered earnings limit for carers allowance. Of course, with a taper, carers who earned more than the carers allowance earning limit would find that their carers allowance was reduced by a percentage of their earnings, not by the total.
I must be quite frank that the problem with tapers is that they can often add additional complexity to the system and incur quite significant additional administrative costs. However, I hear what my hon. Friend has said about one of her constituents who had to go to Benefits Agency almost every other week or month, or whatever, to get some sort of qualification for her carers allowance. In fact, her constituent should have to undertake that sort of additional exercise only when her income regularly fluctuates.
Helen Jones: I am sure that my hon. Friend knows, if she thinks about this, that many women who work in retail jobs have variable hours and experience a regular variation in income and that many carers are forced to accept what hours they can get.
Mrs. McGuire: I do not have enough time to do so this evening, but these are some of the issues that I want to address inside the Department and with carers organisations. I shall, however, briefly mention the response that the Department and I, as the Minister with specific responsibility for this issue, are making. I have asked my officials to look carefully at some of the points that my hon. Friend and others have raised and, to this end, I have established a small stakeholder working group to focus on benefit and employment-related issues, some of which have been highlighted tonight. It will also cover how we deliver those policies through the Disability and Carers Service, Jobcentre Plus and the Pension Service. I am delighted to advise my hon. Friend that about a dozen organisations have agreed to participate with me in the working group, and they include Carers UK, the Princess Royal Trust for Carers, Carers Scotland and Carers Wales. We will look at some of the issues that she has raised.
I am sorry that we have not had a longer opportunity to refer to some of the other issues by which we are looking at enhancing our support for carers through pension entitlements and so on, but I reassure my hon. Friend that I have listened carefully to the significant and serious points that she raised. I give her my commitment that I will look at them in the cold light of day after this debate.