Previous Section Index Home Page

1 July 2010 : Column 323WH—continued

I hope that the Minister supports those or similar outcomes in the refreshed carers strategy that he announced. New Members may not know that we did not have a national carers strategy at all until 1999. It has been refreshed once, but however good those strategies are, looking at them again and taking them forward is very welcome.

I support the comments of the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard). The revised NHS operating framework mentioned making dementia a priority, but did not mention support for carers, which carers organisations have noted. I hope that it is an omission that can be corrected in the next revision. We did not have an oral statement in the House when the important changes in the revised operating framework were announced, so today has been the first chance that we have had to ask questions about that. I hope that it can be taken on board. Ministers and civil servants need to understand that these days there is so much support in the House for carers that if carers are not mentioned in a document, it will be noticed pretty quickly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) and other hon. Members rightly highlighted the importance of respite care and breaks for carers. The coalition agreement states that the Government will use better community-based provision to improve access to respite care. I asked the Minister yesterday to tell the House how the Government planned to deliver that promised increase in access to respite care through improved community support provision, because support provision is already starting to fall away. Carers organisations are reporting that cuts in local authority funding are already leading to cuts in funding for charities and other providers of care. The Minister repeated the commitment that the Government will deliver on their promises to carers, but he did not give us any more information. Carers and carers support organisations need to know exactly how community support provision will be improved.

A 25% cut in local authority budgets, together with further pressure from the council tax freeze, could pose a substantial risk to essential care and support services. My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) made a passionate case against the local council action to axe the carers centre in his area. I am very glad that he was able to do that. I hope that his contribution helps to highlight the case against what sounds like a damaging and unnecessary action by that council.

1 July 2010 : Column 324WH

In debates last year, both the Minister and the former shadow Minister for care services, who is now the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, expressed concerns about whether the £150 million allocated to primary care trusts for emergency respite care was used for the purpose for which it was intended. If the Minister and his Conservative colleagues were concerned to see ring-fencing of budgets for respite care, I hope that now that they are in government, they will be committed to ring-fencing of budgets for essential social care services. I am not convinced that the transparency at local level that he mentioned is enough. History has proved that ring-fencing is the best way to ensure that money goes where it is intended to go.

The coalition Government say that they understand the urgency of reforming the social care system to provide much more control for individuals and their carers and to ease the cost burden that they and their families face. The Minister said yesterday that an announcement will be made soon about the commission on long-term care; I should be grateful if he would tell us more about that today. I am pleased that all the options for funding care will be considered, including an inheritance levy, which the Opposition support.

The Government have pledged to extend the greater roll-out of personal budgets to give people and their carers more control and purchasing power. The Labour Government made the social care reform grant available to local authorities to enable the development of personalised care and personal budgets, but that grant is now in its final year. How will the Government encourage local authorities to extend the roll-out of personal budgets and to provide more control to individuals and their carers, given that, as we heard earlier, local authorities are facing cuts to their social care budgets?

I shall touch on the caring with confidence programme. Training for carers in their caring role is a vital way of supporting them and giving them confidence. The hon. Member for Banbury mentioned that aspect. The Minister announced the decision to cancel the caring with confidence programme; will he consider how local carers groups and carer centres are to fund that vital training? Offering materials for free is to be welcomed, but the organisations also need trainers and premises and to have their costs covered if they are to run that training. The carers strategy aims to ensure that carers will be supported so that they are not forced into financial hardship through their caring role. I hope that the Minister will support that aim. However, many carers are now concerned about Government plans that will hit disability and carer benefits. We have heard quite a bit about that this afternoon, and rightly so.

Concern was expressed this afternoon about the measure to increase benefits annually by the consumer prices index rather than the retail prices index. Carers UK estimates that indexing carers allowance by the consumer prices index over the past 10 years would have cost carers £5 a week, or about £270 a year. The Labour Government did not do that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) said, whatever the country's financial difficulties, carers should not have to take the biggest hit. Under the coalition Government's plans for indexing benefits, carers allowance would be worth £62.95 by 2015 if uprated by the retail prices index, but only £60.35 if the consumer prices index is used. That is a difference of some £130 a year.
1 July 2010 : Column 325WH
Does the Minister think it fair to hit carers in that way? Carers and those whom they care for will also be affected by a similar change to the attendance and disability living allowances. Carers UK has said that single parents caring for a disabled child, a partner or elderly parent may have to rely on carer's allowance, disability living allowance and the other means-tested benefits as their only source of income. Carers UK believes that making savings in that way will hit hard the incomes of the most vulnerable-those who are already struggling to make ends meet-and I agree.

Hon. Members have referred to the extreme concern among unpaid carers caring for relatives with disabilities about the introduction of a medical assessment for the disability living allowance. If the person cared for becomes ineligible for the allowance, the carer's own income would be hit, as carer's allowance and other benefits are based on the disabled person receiving a certain level of disability living allowance. A poor medical assessment could spell financial disaster for carers and their families. I understand that the Office for Budget Responsibility questions whether savings could be achieved, given the cost of implementation and the large volume of subsequent appeals. I urge the Minister and his colleagues to ensure that any changes are fully thought through, and that they avoid the stress and anxiety that a new system or poor decision making, or both, could cause.

My final thought about carers and financial hardship is on the axing by the Government of the savings gateway scheme, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston. The savings gateway would have given carers in receipt of carer's allowance an additional 50p for every £1 that they saved. I am sure that Members will have seen research by Carers UK showing that carers spend their savings over the years, which leaves many of them caring unpaid around the clock, and with no savings and no buffer against large purchases. That places an enormous strain on carers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) made a strong case for raising carer's allowance. When the Minister was in opposition, he asked the then Minister for a timetable by which carer's allowance would be raised. He also asked for its eligibility to be extended so that pensioner carers would get proper recognition in the payments that they receive. Will the Minister take on board comments about the coalition's plans for benefits for carers and those whom they care for, and will he consider giving us the timetable that he asked for when in opposition for increasing carer's allowance and dealing with the eligibility of pensioner carers?

A further matter is the work being done by carers organisations, with primary care trusts and schools, to identify carers and refer them to sources of advice and support. In Salford, The Princess Royal Trust for Carers has two excellent projects to identify and support carers. One works with primary care teams and the other with local schools. The primary care project run by the excellent Julia Ellis has developed effective partnership working with teams at Salford primary care trust and at Salford Royal hospital. Over recent years, Salford has moved from having a low level of recognition of carers to a situation that sounds as good as might exist elsewhere. There is a carers link in most GP practices and a new GP toolkit; NHS staff and staff at the Salford Royal hospital act as the lead on carers issues; there are carers
1 July 2010 : Column 326WH
information files on all wards at Salford Royal; and there is increased awareness among carers' social workers at the hospital. Another recent development is that pharmacists and other professionals in Salford are now supporting the work of identifying carers.

The coalition Government propose radical changes to primary care trusts; they also propose that schools could opt of local authority control. I am anxious that excellent practice in identifying carers, such as that developed in Salford, will be affected by the changes. How can carers organisations ensure that a strategic view of the needs of carers in an area can be taken once GPs and schools are acting independently?

The importance of signposting carers to sources of information should not be underestimated. Signposting is done by carers centres and carers support groups, but I believe that it can and should be done more by GPs, their primary care teams and by hospital staff. However, we must be realistic about the work that it entails. Members have spoken of the big society and volunteers, but identifying carers means reaching a large number of people working throughout the health service. The figures for NHS and social services staff in 2008 are as follows: there are 33,730 GPs and 88,435 hospital doctors; 92,000 people working in primary care trusts, including 4,200 doctors involved in primary care delivery; and 49,800 social workers, of whom 2,205 provided health-related social work.

The role of reaching out to all those GPs and primary care staff, hospital doctors and health-related social workers cannot be left to primary care projects such as the one in Salford. The Princess Royal trust has recently worked with the Royal College of General Practitioners in developing an action guide to help GPs and their teams to support carers. That guide has been distributed to every GP practice. The royal college also piloted a training programme for GPs. I believe that the Government could give more of an incentive for GPs to undertake the vital task of identifying carers.

I commend to the Minister and the House the private Member's Bill that I introduced to the House in April 2007-the Carers (Identification and Support) Bill. The Bill would require health bodies to identify patients who are carers or who have a carer, and would require identified carers to be referred to sources of help and support. It would also require health bodies to ensure that health services for patients and carers took the carers' needs into account. In a second version, it would have required schools to have a policy to identify and support young carers. Without such legislation, GPs have as an incentive only three points in the quality and outcomes framework awarded for work undertaken to identify carers in their practice population. That does not seem much of an incentive. I hope to reintroduce my Bill to the House, and I hope that the Minister and all present today will support it. I understand that the Minister has said that he wants to see GPs identifying carers more often.

An important link has been identified today-that of raising the matter with GPs and developing similar guidance for schools. Ofsted highlighted in a report that local authorities were identifying fewer young carers than might have been expected. We do not know the precise number of children and young people who care for family members. In my Worsley and Eccles South constituency, the young carers project supported by
1 July 2010 : Column 327WH
Salford carers centre is doing some excellent work on identifying and supporting young carers in two local high schools. I met the young carers on an adventure day out and also when they launched their DVD on bullying-bullying is a serious problem for young carers.

Family pathfinder projects have done some good work on improving support for young carers. The Labour Government provided funding to the Princess Royal Trust for Carers and the Children's Society to help them raise awareness of the issue and to build skills in supporting young carers. They published guidance for schools, developed information sheets for GP practices and produced other materials, such as DVDs on listening to young carers. I hope that the Minister and his colleagues in the now Department for Education support the continuation of that funding, and adopt and develop the good practice coming out of the 19 young carer pathfinder projects.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) spoke movingly about the needs of young carers and the difficulties that vulnerable young people have in their transition to adult services. A possible impact of the personalisation agenda might be that a family that includes a young carer of a person who is self-funding through an individual budget may have little or no contact with professional agencies. If professional agencies are not good at identifying carers when they have contact, they will definitely not be good at it if the family is managing the budget themselves. There is concern about that, and it makes awareness-raising work with professionals important. The role of schools and GPs in identifying carers becomes crucial to ensure that the child or young person gets help and support.

It has been a pleasure to be part of this debate today. Some 10 Members and the Minister have made contributions. As the hon. Member for Banbury said, the Minister understands the issues for carers and for social care. He also understands, I think, the strength of our expectations that he will continue to be a champion for carers. It is delivery on commitments that matter to them.

4.41 pm

Mr Burstow: I absolutely agree with that point, and that is why we will not promise to pay cash sums into the NHS baseline that therefore cannot be delivered to where Ministers claim that they will be delivered, and it is why we will ensure that we, as a Government, will provide both leadership and, when appropriate, direction to deliver the sorts of things that hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber have outlined today.

This helpful and useful debate will help to take our thinking forward as we begin our work on refreshing the carers strategy. Hon. Members cited many examples of good practice on the ground, and they offer beacons of hope for how services might look across the country. Challenging those who commission services locally to ensure that they learn from such examples of good practice is a task for not just the Government, but everyone. Examples of best practice do not come from the statutory sector alone, even though the most innovative parts of that sector are themselves beacons. As many hon. Members have said, we also have to applaud and encourage the social enterprises and social entrepreneurs who have spotted opportunities to do something for their communities and found the resources to do so.

1 July 2010 : Column 328WH

I have identified a number of key issues from this debate: what we can do better to identify carers, whether they are young, old or from ethnic minority communities; what we can do to provide information and support for carers so that they can navigate their own way through the system; and what we can do to make the system simpler so that it is not the maze of benefits and complex rules about which we have heard so much in the debate. We realise that people who wear the label "carer" are not all the same. Carers are unique individuals confronting unique circumstances that require individualised and personalised responses. I agree entirely with hon. Members' points about the need to empower carers as well as the people being cared for.

I will try my best to answer the questions that have been put today, but if I miss anything out, I guarantee that I will write to hon. Members with a fuller response than I can give today. I will also ensure that the points that have been made, particularly in respect of benefits, are raised in cross-ministerial and cross-departmental discussions on the carers strategy at the right place and at the right time. I want them to be taken into account as the work around simplifying and modernising the benefit system is taken forward.

The hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley), who spoke for the Opposition, made a number of points, many of which we can work on together. Many hon. Members will be aware of her track record inside and outside the House. Elements of her speech made me feel that she expected me to take full responsibility for the things that the previous Government did not quite get right, such as the times when their implementation of a measure was flawed or when they failed to take note of representations. Although it is entirely fair for her to rehearse the points that I made in opposition-I certainly take those to heart-she will understand if I say to her that the last Government's record left a lot to be desired, by which I mean that the improvements for which carers were hoping were not actually delivered.

Reference has been made to the huge financial pressures in many of our public services at the moment. I was struck quite strongly by the way in which the cuts that have been in train in local authorities for many months are somehow being laid at the door of this Government. In reality, those cuts were initiated and conceived under the last Government, and I just wish that there was a bit more humility and understanding of that. We have a shared challenge when it comes to dealing with the huge public sector deficit in this country. It is all well and good challenging this Government about what they will do in terms of the spending review over the next few months, but it would also be appropriate for a responsible Opposition to offer up suggestions that they believe would be painless that we could do instead.

Barbara Keeley: I do not know whether the Minister has experienced this during his parliamentary career, but the constituency that I represented between 2005 and 2010 covered two local authorities, and it was interesting to see the different priorities that those authorities gave to their work in social care and for carers. We heard a very good example of that in the debate, as Hammersmith and Fulham is adopting a swingeing policy that could take away a vital resource from carers, which I hope that something can be done about. I have heard the leader of
1 July 2010 : Column 329WH
Salford council hotly defend the fact that he would rather spend money on adult social care than on potholes, yet quite a lot of people in the city want money spent on potholes. Transparency and localism is one thing but, as with other aspects of health and support services, we could end up with a situation whereby a council such as Hammersmith and Fulham could remove a service, leaving its carers with nothing, while another area, such as Salford, would have excellent voluntary organisations and a council that prioritised social care.

Mr Burstow: The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) made some important points about the situation in his constituency and what his local authority was doing. The hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) also made references to the impact of tendering. Those are issues to consider, but I am not going to become a Minister responsible for micro-managing every single local authority and the decisions that they take on the allocation of resources-that is not a Minister's job. However, we do need to ensure that there are not unintended consequences with respect to the rules and procedures followed by local authorities that fall under the Government's responsibility. I will be very happy to hear further from both hon. Members, either in this debate or afterwards, to ensure that we have the correct rules. We want to support local services that are appropriate to a local community and that the community actually values.

Mr Slaughter: For the avoidance of doubt, I just want to say that it is not so much the financial situation in my area that I am concerned about, because my local authority says that it will, in due course, provide a service for carers. I am more concerned about the impropriety and mismanagement that has led to a long-standing service being simply dissolved overnight although there is no provision in place for the best part of a year to come. I would have thought that that was something in which a Minister and the Government would be interested. It is not to do with involvement in individual cuts; it is to do with the fact that a local authority is unable to manage its own affairs.

Mr Burstow: The hon. Gentleman has been a Member for some time, so he will know that there are regulatory systems in place that would deal with local authorities that were performing in the way that he describes. I am not aware that the authority's activity has been reported in such a way. However, I stand by the offer that I have made, and I will be happy to receive further representations about the impact of tendering arrangements.

Next Section Index Home Page