Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Astor of Hever: We on these Benches have considerable sympathy with the proposed new clause, as outlined so clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. We do not believe that the cost of this proposal would be very high. We probably all have experience of the problems attached to the winding-up of the estates of parents or relations. Genuine problems are encountered by bereaved carers and this proposal would provide a breathing space for them at a distressing time.

The Minister in the other place was sympathetic to the amendment and said that the Government would look at the matter in the round. I therefore look forward with some hope to hearing the Minister's reply.

Baroness Pitkeathley: I, too, should like to speak in support of the amendment. I never forget the carer who once said to me, "We're expected to go from the graveside to the jobcentre". I believe that the death of someone for whom you have been caring, especially if the situation has gone on for some years, is most distressing. I am sure that my noble friend the Minister will do her best to look sympathetically at this proposal.

We are all aiming to enable carers to get back into the workforce so as to help them both financially and emotionally. Sometimes they will need such a period of time in order to get themselves geared up for seeking new employment. I remind the Committee that there is a precedent for the eight-week breathing space, as it were, in that the carer premium on income support extends for eight weeks beyond the death of the cared for person. That too may encourage the Minister to look sympathetically on the amendment.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Amendment No. 182 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. As the Committee is aware, I have a great deal of sympathy with the intention behind this amendment. I hope that I may respond to it in terms of the Government's agenda of the National Strategy for Carers--Caring for Carers--which was published last year. In that report the Prime Minister said that,

and that they,

    "should be properly recognised and properly supported".

I believe that the entire Committee would share that view.

The national strategy made clear the Government's intention to do this and, among the many positive initiatives that they introduced, stated that they would,

    "keep under review how financial support can best meet [carers'] needs".

22 May 2000 : Column 599

Clearly, therefore, the Government are committed to taking forward a review of the financial support available to carers. In doing this, however, we must take account of the work currently being done to prepare our White Paper response to the Royal Commission on Long Term Care, which we hope to publish later this year. I can, therefore, confirm that the financial assistance given to carers is currently under careful consideration, and, as and when we have specific proposals to make, we shall, of course, consult the carers' representative groups.

I turn to the amendment itself. I was not quite sure where the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, stood as regards the differences within groups of carers, as the group of carers which the amendment seeks to help is small, though none the less deserving of consideration because of that. Bereavement is a universally difficult time, and family finances have to reassessed. However, the benefit system already provides the kind of protection he seeks for many carers whose need is greatest, in particular for those on low incomes and those who have lost a spouse--those who move from being a carer to going to the jobcentre.

About half of all carers who receive invalid care allowance also receive income support and the carer premium, which is the increase paid specifically for people entitled to ICA. Those who would not receive it would tend to be the wife who is married to a working husband caring for either her mother or his mother. As a result of being married to someone who is in work, she would not be eligible for income support. However, if she were the only daughter, or the daughter looking after her mother as a full-time unwaged job and she therefore received ICA topped up with income support, under the current rules she would receive the eight-week rollover. The eight-week rollover is already given to those in financial need. However, it is not given to those whose emotional stress may be no less difficult but who do not have the same level of financial need because they are not dependent on the benefit system.

As I say, about half of those carers who receive the carer premium, IS and ICA will continue to receive the rollover for eight weeks after the 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 IS. This gives them time to adjust. Therefore the amendment would not help them.

In addition, a quarter of all carers who receive ICA are looking after a spouse. Again the woman in that situation would not normally receive income support on top of her ICA because the man would receive the benefits, for example, IB or whatever. Any top-ups would be paid to the man. When a spouse dies, bereavement benefits are usually paid promptly--within a few days of the claim being made. As such payments are made in preference to ICA--in the sense that one is not paid twice for the same contingency--an ICA run-on would be of little or no material assistance for those carers either, because normally such a person would then qualify for widow's benefit, which would displace the ICA.

22 May 2000 : Column 600

For those who are most vulnerable and in greatest need, therefore, their income is already protected, despite the loss of ICA on the death of the disabled person for whom they have been caring. The amendment would, in practical terms, help only those carers whose income is over income support level. There are, of course, priorities in terms of expenditure here. Nevertheless, whether or not this is a well targeted proposal, I hope that I have made clear that, in broader terms, the Government are aware of the need for adequate financial support for carers. They are also aware of their existing commitment to keep this under review in the context of longer-term care issues and the need to address the concerns of carers in the round.

I do not feel that I can ask the Members of the Committee to take it from me today that we shall be specifically revisiting this matter, but, in the light of the fact that we are producing a White Paper in response to the Royal Commission, in which a range of issues will be covered--I am not party to that review but I suspect that issues such as financial support for carers and respite care and so on will be explored--I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

10.45 p.m.

Lord Goodhart: I am grateful for the support that the amendment received from the noble Lord, Lord Astor, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley. Although I accept, as the Minister pointed out, that not everyone who is a carer will necessarily lose income as a result of the ending of the invalid care allowance, this is a substantial problem--not least for those who are not formally married but who have partners, either of the opposite sex or of the same sex.

I am grateful that this is one of the issues which will be considered during the course of the consultation on the White Paper. We shall have to consider whether to bring this amendment back again in the light of what has been said today, but, for the time being, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 183:

    After Clause 65, insert the following new clause--


(" .--(1) In paragraph 2 of Schedule 3 to the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 (contribution conditions for short-term incapacity benefit), at the beginning there shall be inserted "Subject to paragraph 2A below".
(2) After that paragraph there shall be inserted--
"2A. A person shall be taken to satisfy the contribution conditions for short-term incapacity benefit mentioned in paragraph 2 above if, throughout the last two complete tax years before the relevant benefit year, he has been precluded from employment by responsibilities at home.".").

The noble Earl said: In moving the amendment, I should begin by offering an apology to the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley. She may remember that in a particularly moving speech during the Welfare Reform Bill, when we were discussing the tightened contribution conditions for incapacity benefit in

22 May 2000 : Column 601

Committee, she pleaded for an exemption from these contribution conditions for those who had given what were perhaps the last years of their life in which they would have been capable of regular work to the task of caring for someone unable to care for themselves. I think that the Minister heard that speech with a certain degree of cautious sympathy. I hope that she will not dispute that description. I thought at that point that an amendment was probably in progress which might have been accepted at a later stage of the Bill--but, of course, we ultimately knocked that clause out. You cannot amend words that are not there, and when the Bill came back from another place it contained no concession to the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley. I hope that she will understand what moved us to go ahead and knock out the clause. It is a regret, which I felt at the time, that it was not possible in those circumstances to give a hearing to the very powerful case she had made.

We do not want to discourage those involved from caring for sick or elderly relatives. There is an argument of common humanity here--and that argument is not to be dismissed. There is also a very strong argument from the point of view of the Treasury. I do not know what is the latest update of the figure of the amount of money which carers save the Treasury. When I first came into this House it was £24 billion; since then I have seen it quoted as £30 billion. It may have gone up again. I thank the noble Baroness for confirming that that is the latest figure.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page