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Lord Astor of Hever moved Amendment No. 99:

Page 57, line 1, leave out (“26 weeks") and insert (“two years")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment is consequential. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 99A not moved.]

Baroness Crawley moved Amendment No. 100:

After Clause 51, insert the following new clause--


(“ . In section 70 of the Contributions and Benefits Act, at the end there shall be added--

    “(11) The Secretary of State shall issue regulations in respect of persons who cease to be in receipt of Invalid Care Allowance as a result of the death of the person in respect of whose care the allowance has been claimed which shall set the condition for the award to be satisfied for a period of eight weeks from the date on which that person ceased to be in receipt of Invalid Care Allowance."").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I speak on this amendment in place of my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley, who has unfortunately been detained. She is in discussions with the Secretary of State in her role as chair of the New Opportunities Fund.

The purpose of the amendment is to extend the payment of invalid care allowance for eight weeks after the death of the person being cared for. At present ICA stops immediately on the death of the cared-for person. This amendment is, I believe, a relatively modest measure. The amendment provides the opportunity to recognise a small but vulnerable group of carers who are bereaved, carers who receive ICA and who look after children or parents who then die. The amendment could help to make the single work-focused gateway operate more sensitively.

If individuals are caring for a spouse who then dies, the new provisions contained within this Bill will mean that they may receive support to help them through their bereavement. However, in the case of carers looking after a child or parent who then dies, there is no such support through bereavement. The trauma is not necessarily any less, as we know. The loss of ICA underlines and emphasises their own personal loss.

There is already a precedent for this suggested addition to the Bill. Carer premium is paid to certain carers who receive income support and is paid for eight

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weeks following the death or the movement into permanent residential care of the person being cared for. This provides a valuable breathing space for those carers. Carer premium is not a benefit in itself but an extra amount of money, worth £13.95, which is paid to a carer receiving income support. In order to receive carer premium, a carer also has to be entitled to ICA or have underlying entitlement to ICA.

If ICA were extended under the similar but more generous rules of carer premium, it would cost around £5 million per year. Invalid care allowance is currently worth £39.95 per week. Although many carers feel that the benefit should far better reflect the amount of support given to relatives, it is, nevertheless, a very valuable benefit. It is the only benefit to recognise that caring has some value. It was introduced because it was recognised that caring had limited the opportunities of the individuals who do that caring; in other words, it is intended for people of working age who give up the opportunity of full-time employment because of their caring responsibilities.

This small but significant change to the rules governing ICA, together with the other measure that the Government have developed in the national carers' strategy, would, I believe, send a strong message to carers that they are both recognised and valued. I beg to move.

Earl Russell: My Lords, this is a good and useful amendment and we on these Benches are happy to support it. There is another precedent; namely, the linking rules on housing benefit introduced in 1993. That draws my attention to one snag which I hope will be avoided in the administration of this amendment. Under the linking rules, housing benefit has to be claimed within eight days, but people are often not told that they need to make a separate claim until the eight days have already elapsed. Therefore, if the amendment is accepted, I hope that the administration will take account of that point. Moreover, while we are about it, I hope that the Minister will look at this defect in the administration of housing benefit.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, Amendment No. 100 would extend the period of entitlement for all recipients of invalid care allowance to eight weeks after the death of the person being cared for and in respect of whose care ICA was being paid.

I have a great deal of sympathy with the intention behind this amendment, which is to provide an opportunity to recognise a small but vulnerable group of carers who receive ICA for looking after disabled children, parents or others who then die. I am grateful to my noble friend for drawing the attention of the House in this debate to this small but deserving group and equally grateful to my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley for doing so during the Committee stage.

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They have enabled me to make clear the Government's agenda in this area following publication of the national strategy for carers earlier this year.

In his preface to that report, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said:

    “Carers are among the unsung heroes of British life",

and they,

    “should be properly recognised and properly supported"--

a view I wholeheartedly endorse. The national strategy put down a marker of the Government's intention to do this by stating that we would,

    “keep under review how financial support for carers--Including Invalid Care Allowance--can best meet [Carers'] needs".

The issue was then immediately underlined by the publication, a few days later, of the report of the Royal Commission on Long Term Care. The Royal Commission suggested that,

    “the system could do more to offer support for carers".

Clearly, therefore, the Government are committed to taking forward a review of the financial support available to carers. In turn, this work must link across to the proposals that we make in our response to the Royal Commission.

I know that the concern of my noble friend is to secure what is in the best interest of carers. So she will be looking to the Government to indicate that we have in hand specific plans to take forward this assessment of financial support for carers which the carers' strategy explicitly proposed, and the Royal Commission implicitly suggested. I am pleased to be able to give that assurance.

Our thinking is, as yet, at a very preliminary stage. I am not able to make any promises to my noble friend, or to your Lordships' House, about specific objectives and outcomes. I hope that she will be able to take on trust that we will indeed seek to reflect the best interests of carers. We will of course be consulting the Carers National Association, and other representative groups, about particular proposals. That would be the only appropriate way to ensure that we are promoting the best interests of carers.

I turn briefly to the amendment. I emphasise that the group of carers which it seeks to help is small, though none the less deserving of consideration for that. However, I should like to assure your Lordships that there is at least already protection for those whose need is greatest. Carers who receive income support and the carer premium, which is the increase paid specifically for people entitled to ICA, receive an increase to income support and continue to receive the benefit, including the carer premium, for eight weeks after their caring responsibility ends. In addition, during this eight-week period, they are also exempt from the need to be available for and actively seeking employment in order to qualify for income support.

Where the death is that of a spouse, bereavement benefits are normally paid within a few days of the claim being made. As such payments take precedence over ICA, a run-on would not be of material assistance to those carers. For those who are most vulnerable and in greatest need, therefore, their income is already

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protected despite the loss of ICA on the death of the disabled person for whom they have been caring. This is, however, by way of offering some reassurance to noble Lords on the specific point. It does not alter what I have already said; namely, that the Government are very strongly aware of the need for adequate financial support for carers and are now seeking to take forward their existing commitment in respect of that support, with a view to addressing the concerns of carers in the round. In the light of that, I suggest that it could be difficult to anticipate specific changes at this stage. Therefore, in view of what I have just said, I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that response. Carers who have put a great deal of store by this amendment will obviously be disappointed, though I am sure my noble friend realises that. I know that we have had reassurances from my noble friend that there is a commitment to a future programme to meet the challenge of carers in the round in future government legislation. Therefore, on that basis, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 52 [Entitlement to Category B retirement pension by reference to new allowances]:

[Amendments Nos. 101 to 104 not moved.]

Clause 53 [Claim or full entitlement to certain benefits conditional on work-focused interview]:

[Amendment No. 105 not moved.]

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