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House of Lords

Tuesday, 13th June 2000.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Birmingham.

Carers' Benefits

Baroness Pitkeathley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made on a review of carers' benefits.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): My Lords, the Government remain committed to the support of carers. As we said in our carers' strategy, we are keeping the financial needs of carers under review. We shall continue to do that in the context of government spending plans.

Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. I am happy to acknowledge the great progress that has been made for carers in the past three years. My noble friend will know that this is National Carers' Week. I am pleased to see some noble Lords and noble Baronesses wearing ribbons to demonstrate that. She will also know that yesterday the Carers National Association published a report, Caring on the Breadline, which gives a stark picture of the effects on carers' income of their caring duties. Given that 58 per cent of the respondents said that they had had to give up paid employment in order to become carers, will my noble friend tell us the Government's view on adjusting the benefits system to enable carers to do that more easily and on encouraging employers to recognise the one in eight members of their workforce who have caring duties?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I am grateful that my noble friend, who has had such a long and distinguished record with the Carers National Association, marks carers' week by asking her Question today. I am sure that the whole House will join with me in recognising the achievements of the CNA in keeping carers afloat in what is often a demanding and gruelling experience for so many of them.

My noble friend is absolutely right to say that one of the main reasons carers are poor is that so many of them have to leave work to care for others. As my noble friend said, the figure is about six in 10. She asked what the Government are doing in this area. First, we are trying to keep carers in contact with the labour market on a part-time basis, if a full-time basis is not available. We are trying to bring them into the ONE system for advice and counselling. We are extending the earnings disregard so that "mini" jobs

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are possible--obviously many carers will benefit from the minimum wage--and, above all, in the Bill that is currently going through your Lordships' House we are bringing carers into the new state second pension in which for every year of caring they will gain approximately an extra £1 on their benefit in retirement.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, while the proposal to help carers with the state second pension which the noble Baroness has just mentioned has been welcomed, is there any guarantee that when it is paid it will be higher than the minimum income guarantee?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, that depends on the circumstances of the family concerned. A large proportion of pensioners have income in addition to their retirement pension in terms of occupational pension and savings. Clearly if a couple or a single person have no income other than their retirement pension they will be eligible for the minimum income guarantee (MIG). However, the vast proportion of those carers who currently receive ICA would not normally be entitled to MIG. In that sense, the question as posed by the noble Lord does not arise.

Lord Addington: My Lords, can the Minister give us the figure which shows how much money the Government have saved through carers taking on this work? Would that figure be taken into account when considering whether to raise benefits for those who take on that work?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, the Government have not done a costing as such. However, I believe that the costing in the report, Caring On the Breadline--my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley will correct me if I am wrong--is about £34 billion. That is the estimate of the value of carers' work to our community. That is a higher figure than the entire sum spent on retirement pensions and about 50 per cent more than we spend on all NHS hospitals. That gives some idea of the scale of indebtedness of our society to carers.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the charging policies of local authorities are causing enormous distress to carers all over the country, partly because the charges are unfair and partly because the criteria are crazy? Can she offer any help on that point?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Ashley is absolutely right to raise that issue. Our White Paper, Modernising Social Services, recognised that the scale of variation in local councils' discretionary charges for non-residential care is unacceptable. This has now been confirmed in the Audit Commission report, Charging with Care. My noble friend Lord Hunt tells me that a first consultation meeting--I think that it will be held tomorrow--will take place between government officials and representatives of service users, carers,

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local authorities and other parties in order to work towards developing statutory guidelines to address the very real problem that my noble friend has identified.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, is my noble friend aware how warmly many of us welcomed the Minister of State's helpful amendments to the Carers and Disabled Children Bill of my honourable friend Tom Pendry at Report stage in another place; and that we wish him all possible speed and success in achieving its enactment?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley will have the honour, the pleasure and the reward of introducing that Bill when it arrives at the House of Lords. I am convinced that it will have support from all sides of your Lordships' House.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, can the Minister tell us what additional assistance the Government are thinking of providing to carers who are not wage earners? I am thinking particularly of those people whose elderly parents become in need of care after they have retired; or, at the other end of the scale, of those children and school pupils who are providing caring services to members of their families.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, again, that is a very real problem. Something like three-quarters of all carers, those receiving ICA, are family members--either a spouse or a child--and of course have incomes other than the carer's income coming in, including disability living allowance of either £35 or £50, according to the rate being paid. But clearly if the person being cared for lives outside the family home and is an elderly person, there is no such extra income coming into the family because the person being cared for receives disability benefit. That is one of the reasons why the Government have made available an additional £140 million for respite care. But these and other issues are being reviewed by my noble friend Lord Hunt and his department in terms of their wider response to supporting carers.


2.43 p.m.

Baroness Rendell of Babergh asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to deter those who deface historic buildings and monuments with graffiti.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My Lords, deterrents to tackle all types of graffiti are already in place. Graffiti and vandalism are offences under the Criminal Damage Act 1971. Where the value of criminal damage is more than £2,000, the maximum

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penalty is 10 years' imprisonment for those aged 18 and over; and up to two years' detention in a young offenders institution for those aged 15 to 17.

Baroness Rendell of Babergh: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. If I may extend my Question to include buildings in general--that is, masonry, brickwork, metal surfaces and so on--is the Minister aware that there are areas near central London where one can hardly walk more than a couple of yards without passing graffiti, much of it highly obnoxious? As specialist manufacturers are producing coatings which deter and repel spray paint, does my noble friend agree that it should be government policy to use those coatings and to recommend them for private, domestic and local authority use?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the methods that the noble Baroness suggests should be used are valuable. I understand that they have been used successfully both here and abroad. I also commend to your Lordships' House the activities of those local authorities which employ teams of "graffiti busters". I understand that they have been successful in Stevenage and that there are very good schemes in the London Borough of Sutton and in the Boroughs of Croydon, Merton, Kingston and in Liverpool. I strongly commend that those authorities work closely together with crime and disorder partnerships to do all that they can to deter the widespread nuisance of graffiti, which defaces our excellent public buildings and spoils many local environments.

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