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Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords, there are few noble Lords who would welcome this change with greater joy than I do. Carers have for many years regarded as discriminatory the requirement that carers must be under 65 to claim invalid care allowance. We first identified the problem in 1986, when I first joined the carers' movement. I was shocked to discover how many people in their 70s, 80s and even 90s were still caring for someone else. The change does not necessarily mean that carers will receive the benefit. However, the underlying entitlement not only gives them access to the carer's premium as a top-up to income support; it recognises that carers have additional costs in caring. It also gives them an underlying entitlement to housing benefit and council tax benefit.
For me, the eight-week extension only too clearly recalls Baroness Seear. I was with her when the carer said to us, "We are expected to go from the graveside to the job centre". I remember that phrase being used, as will the noble Lord, Lord Newton, whom I am very glad to see in the Chamber. This change is also extremely welcome.
With the introduction of the work-focused interview, carers felt that they were not in a position to benefit from back-to-work advice. Moreover, many carers felt that that would be inappropriate. This change gives them some breathing space and brings the benefit into line, as the Minister has reminded us, with other benefits such as the carer's premium. The order also recognises that financial as well as emotional adjustments have to be made when caring ceases. I think that that is a very important point.
Some may not think that the name change is greatly significant, but that is not how carers feel. On the basis of carers' comments, Carers UK feels very strongly that the change is significant. The change is also extremely welcome because it will reduce confusion. Many carers already call this benefit the carer's allowance. Furthermore, as the Minister said, the word invalid is outdated and many disabled people find it offensive.
The war for carers is certainly not over, but many battles will have been won if the order is passed. On behalf of the carers' movement, I should like, if I may, to add my own personal tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, for her tenacity on this issue over the years and her total commitment to getting a better and fairer deal for carers.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I am delighted and so pleased at the warm welcome for the order. I was puzzled when the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, mentioned the word burden as that was the last thing that I had in mind. I therefore spent some time trying to find the word in the order, after which I asked my noble friend Lady Farrington if she could find it. We could not find it, and we wondered whether
Lord Higgins: My Lords, as far as I am aware, my copy of the order came this afternoon from the Printed Paper Office. I am therefore somewhat puzzled by the matter. As my preparation for this was rather late, it is unlikely to be out of date. However, if the burden has been removed, let me ask the Minister a hypothetical question. What is the burden that has been removed?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, to give a hypothetical answer to a hypothetical question, it was removed because it was not a burden. I offer my sincere apologies if your Lordships have received a draft that is not as up-to-date as it should be. I presume that noble Lords have a formatted version which has now been changed. I intervened as regards the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, because I was baffled by his comment. Regulatory reform orders must be exposed to a series of analytical questions before they can proceed. Is it a burden? The answer clearly is that it is not. If there is anything further I can add as regards an earlier draft and the current one, I shall write to noble Lords. But, as I say, I am puzzled by that remark.
The substantive point concerned what the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, called "losers". The noble Lord will know that the general rule is that there is no overlapping of benefits. One does not receive both retirement pension and carer's allowance. That is why it is available to those people who have incomplete retirement pension records, and so on.
However, there is another important advantage. If you are on retirement pension topped up by MIG, you would be entitled to a carer's premium worth £24.80. That is an additional resource for those over 65. A small number under 65 will not continue to receive it. All of those who currently receive carer's allowance and are aged 65 and over are transitionally protected. In other words, only people who would have come on to the benefit in future are affected. It was always something of an anomaly that someone coming on to carer's allowance in their fifties or sixties could continue to receive it after the eight week period of adjustment time when the person they cared for had died, whereas someone who became a carer over the age of 65, whatever the degree of their responsibilities, was never eligible. That is what we have tidied up.
Obviously, anyone between 60 and 65 who is not yet a carer but may become a carer will be eligible for MIG. It is worth reminding ourselves that, particularly for younger carers under the age of 65, the average period of caring is about three to three and a half years. So people move quite quickly through the caring situation unless they are mothers of a severely disabled child. The long-stay carersI look to my
As I say, I am delighted that the measure has received such a warm reception, particularly from my noble friend who did so much before she joined the House to advance the cause of carers. I also pay tribute to Harry Cayton of the Alzheimer's Society. Those two people together have turned much of our thinking around. As the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, said, if you are a carer you are likely to find yourself not only in poor health and in poor finances but also so isolated that when your time comes to be cared for there is no one to care for you. I am glad that we are making a modest contribution tonight by helping, at least in a financial sense, to avoid that sorry situation for people who have devoted their lives to helping other people.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 21st March be approved [24th Report from the Joint Committee].
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Government announced as part of the action plan for farming that they would review the scope for properly trained and regulated paraprofessionals to undertake certain activities which the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 currently reserves to veterinary surgeons. This amendment order is the first step in a series of proposed changes to the legislation which will allow fully competent and qualified lay people to carry out certain acts of veterinary surgery without detrimental effect on animal welfare.
Currently, a qualified veterinary nurse is permitted under Schedule 3 to the Veterinary Surgeons Act to administer medical treatment or carry out minor surgery not involving entry into a body cavity on companionthat is, petanimals at the discretion of the employing veterinary surgeon. There are essentially two parts to the amendment order. First, it would enable registered veterinary nurses who have had appropriate training to carry out any medical treatment or minor veterinary surgery not involving entry into a body cavity on animals of any species provided the directing veterinary surgeon is satisfied that they are qualified to do so. Secondly, it will allow student veterinary nurses to give medical treatment and carry out minor surgery during their training. This must be under the direction of a veterinary surgeon and under the direct supervision of a veterinary surgeon or a registered veterinary nurse. Where students are carrying out surgery, that supervision would be direct, continuous and personal.
The principal reasons for these proposals is the desire to extend the role of veterinary nurses in animal care. We agree with the representations received from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the British Veterinary Nursing Association that the current legislation is unnecessarily restrictive. A significant number of veterinary nurses are qualified to undertake more than is allowed currently by the Act. A wide range of interested parties have been consulted and the proposal is broadly welcomed by all those who responded provided that nurses are qualified to treat the species involved.
Finally, the proposed amendment is a reflection of this Government's commitment to listen to the representations of professions in the veterinary and allied sectors. With that in mind, the Government believe that this work is important. I commend the order to the House.