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Baroness Maddock: My Lords, I shall resist the temptation to talk about matters other than the order. I, too, welcome the order, as do my colleagues on these Benches. Interestingly, not only does it give more sensible powers to local authorities, consolidating what has gone before; it gives local authorities more freedom to deal with disrepair.
The last time that I spoke about an order that was before the House, I was very critical of the way in which the consultation had been carried. This time, it seems to have been exemplary. Where possible, in the advice accompanying the order, the Government have taken on board much of what was said.
I particularly welcome the fact that park homes are included in the provision. I feel strongly that they provide a very good form of housing for elderly people. It has been a problem that those living in such homes have been unable to get things done that others have been able to do. This is a good sign. I should like to see park homes treated much more as a part of mainstream housing.
One of the issues raised in the consultation was that although the permissive powers are very good, the resources to carry them out are not huge and have been reduced in recent years. In 1979, subsidies for building and refurbishment were £11 billion; by 1999, they had been reduced to £3 billion. The reverse was the case for housing benefit. We need to consider carefully how to deal with this matter.
To return to an "old chestnut", if VAT were to be reduced on refurbishment, the money that local authorities had to carry out their responsibilities in assisting with the refurbishment and repair of properties would go a good deal further. It is a point worth making. Some 2 million homes in this countrymostly privately ownedare in urgent need of repair. That would be a useful thing to do.
With the proviso that I want to see ways of getting more money into this areaadmittedly the loan facility will mean better use of the moneyI welcome the order. However, when the Minister has an input into the spending review, will he bear in mind the issue of the funding of repairs; and will he again take the opportunity to raise the issue of VAT on repairs?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount and the noble Baroness for their support for the order. On the point raised by the noble Viscount, the order has yet to be signed. It will not be signed until the process has ended, on 6th June. It will be signed by the Minister of State and by the Secretary of State for Wales, so I am quite sure that it will be valid.
I particularly endorse the noble Baroness's reference to the park homes issue. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Graham, is not in his place to hear it mentioned. On the point that she made in relation to the spending review, she will know that I cannot comment on those issues.
The noble Viscount referred to the Secretary of State's resignation today. It was done with considerable courage and dignitywhich is more than can be said for the remarks that the noble Viscount has just made.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham rose to move, That the draft regulatory reform order laid before the House on 17th December 2001 be approved [19th Report from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee].
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the provisions of this order do three things. First, they help older carers, particularly those on low incomes. From the end of October 2002, carers over the age of 65 will be able, for the first time, to qualify for invalid care allowance (ICA) on the same basis as younger carers: that is, they must be caring for a minimum of 35 hours a week for someone receiving certain qualifying benefits, usually attendance allowance or DLA care component at the middle or higher rate, and not be in gainful employment or full-time education.
The order will help older carers with no retirement pension, or a low rate of retirement pension, by increasing their income by up to £42.45 a week. It will also help carersthe more usual group, I suspectreceiving the minimum income guarantee by giving them access to the carer premium, currently £24.80 a week. An estimated 40,000 older carers are expected to benefit from the change over three years.
This change removes the present anomaly which prevents carers aged 65 and over from claiming ICA, but allows people who qualified for the benefit before they reached that age to continue to be entitled after that age even though they have ceased to be carers or have entered gainful employment. From October 2002, subject to a further change that I shall describe in a moment, entitlement to ICA will stop when the person ceases to be a carer or otherwise no longer satisfies the conditions of entitlement to the benefit.
People aged 65 and over and entitled to ICA at the date of the change will not be affected by this change. They will continue to be entitled until their claim ceases for some other reasonfor example, residence and presence conditions.
Secondly, the provisions of this order will ensure that, from the end of October 2002, entitlement to ICA will continue for up to eight weeks for carers of all ages following the death of the severely disabled person. This will help ex-carers who have recently been bereaved by giving them time to adjust and make plans for their own future. An estimated 10,000 carers will benefit over three years. The carer premium already has a similar eight-week roll-on. In other words, at present, those on income support receive the roll-on; those who are not, but are in receipt of ICA, do not. We are now extending the roll-on to other carers.
Thirdly, the order changes the name "invalid care allowance" to "carers' allowance". This is not a cosmetic change; it is both essential and appropriate. It was very much wanted by the Carers National Association. It is essential to underline the fact that the
Moved, That the draft regulatory reform order laid before the House on 17th December 2001 be approved [19th Report from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee].(Baroness Hollis of Heigham.)
Lord Higgins: My Lords, the noble Baroness and I had an exchange at Question Time today; we have spent some three hours in Grand Committee upstairs since then; and now we are opposite each other again. Someone is bound to say that we cannot go on meeting like this!
Although the noble Baroness, from time to time, pleads collective responsibility when her enthusiasm for a particular measure may be doubtful, this order is something of a personal victory for her, and she ought to be congratulated on it. It is a significant improvement for a group of people whom we are now to know as "carers". The representations that we have had on their behalffrom Carers UK, for exampleshow just how much this help is needed. A third of such people are on income support; eight out of 10 have to give up work in order to care for someone; one in three are, or have been, in debt; they have very little by way of savings, indeed some have no savings at all. Therefore, this is a welcome order, and we are glad to see it.
I hope that the noble Baroness may be able to clarify one point. The order is introduced under the regulatory reform programme. This is the first occasion on which we have amended a social security Act under that programme. Therefore, the Secretary of State has to make various statements at the beginning of the order. I am slightly puzzled by paragraph (b), which, after "Whereas", states that,
As the Minister pointed out, there is also a change in the name of the benefit from invalid care allowance to carer's allowance. Name changes have been controversial in many cases, not least in the change of "social security" to the rather sordid "work and pensions". However, the change to carer's allowance is entirely appropriate and we welcome it.
The Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform made a number of points on the order in the context of the regulatory reform programme. Although it does not recommend any change to the order, it had one concern. It seems that a very small group of carers aged under 65 will not be able to benefit from the current concession allowing entitlement to the allowance of those over 65 to continue after the death of the person cared for. We certainly welcome the fact that the benefit is to continue after the death of the person cared for, albeit for a limited time, because clearly it is a period of great trauma when those concerned are under considerable stress. However, what we are not clear about is how the Government propose to resolve the problem with regard to those just under 65.
I gather that, annually, on averagealthough it is a rather precise number for an averageabout 233 individuals would be affected by withdrawal of the current concession. Various ways of getting round the problem have been examined. As I understand it, the department has argued that, in such a situation, the individuals concerned would be protected by other forms of income support including the minimum income guarantee. I think that, in her opening remarks, the Minister explained how that particular provision would operate. However, will this particular group receive an amount over and above the minimum income guarantee, equivalent to the amount received by those helped by the order?
Those are the main points that need to be made. We congratulate the Minister on the way in which she has sought to help this particular group. I hope that, in her reply, she will answer the specific points that I have raised.
Lord Addington: My Lords, we on these Benches welcome this package, which almost completely mirrors the proposals in our own policy document. I do not know whether it is a matter of great minds thinking alike or of someone copying over someone else's shoulder, but I do not suppose that it really matters very much. The changes are generally to be welcomed, although we could discuss in detail and at length where we should go from here. The main point, however, is that the changes are definitely beneficial. In relation to the eight-week continuation period, I remember my much lamented friend Lady Seear saying that we should not expect people to go straight from the grave to the benefits office. People have long struggled for that civilising factor, and I welcome it.
There is much more to be said about future reforms to enable more people to benefit and to transfer other related benefits to carers. For now, however, I shall simply say that we welcome this package.
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