(HANSARD) in the second session of the fifty-third parliament of the united kingdom of great britain and northern ireland commencing on the thirteenth day of june in the fiftieth year of the reign of





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House of Lords

Monday, 23rd June 2003.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Peterborough.


Baroness Pitkeathley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What measures are being taken to improve carers' opportunities for employment and learning, for maintaining their own health and well-being, and for accessing information to help them in caring.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner): My Lords, the Government are working with Carers UK to tackle barriers to carers who wish to stay in work or return to work. The Government's work-life balance initiative encourages greater flexibility by employers for people with caring responsibilities. The carers grant supports local councils in providing short breaks to carers to enable them to maintain their own health and well-being. By 2005-06, the grant will have doubled to 180 million per year that councils should use to provide services and 130,000 further breaks to carers. The new flexibility in the grant will enable it to be used for a wide variety of training opportunities. We shall continue to work to improve the quality and accessibility of information for carers and the new carers online website is an example of improvements that can be made.

Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. I am very happy to acknowledge the huge progress made for carers under this Government. My noble friend will perhaps remember

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some of the reports which he wrote for Carers UK and that the changes and improvements for which he called have largely happened. Does he agree that the latest report from Carers UK, Missed Opportunities, shows a worrying and disappointing picture of the impact that new carers' rights have had on the accessibility of services? Does he further agree that moving towards a system of measuring outcomes for carers in terms of services, which I believe the Government are considering, would be an effective way of bringing about much needed improvements?

Lord Warner: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for reminding me of my previous work in connection with what was then the Carers National Association. It shows that the Government have not only talked the talk but walked the walk in this particular area. I share my noble friend's disappointment that the Carers UK report, Missed Opportunities, suggests that we have not progressed as fast as we would like. However, in the report carers recognise that waiting times for assessments have decreased. The carers grant increases and the new flexibility in use of the grant were seen by many carers as very helpful, as were direct payments.

We are reviewing the findings of that report with stakeholders. As my noble friend will know, the Government are increasing funding for social care by an average of 6 per cent over this and the next two years—that is, an extra 1 billion. We expect to see better outcomes for carers as councils use those additional resources to improve services.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, as carers often have to be on their own when looking after their charges, does the Minister think that enough is being done to support carers in those situations?

Lord Warner: My Lords, it has always been the case that carers are a difficult group to reach to help them get access to services. They are often isolated and it is important to bring them together to share news and experience and to provide mutual support. To this end we are helping to fund what is called the "Ring Around

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Carers" scheme which reaches out to hidden carers. This project uses the power of local radio to help people identify themselves as carers and uses telephone conferencing as a way of bringing carers together to discuss their experiences.

Lord Chan: My Lords, while on the subject of hidden carers, what is being done for carers who are looking after people who are not fluent in English and therefore have an added disadvantage, particularly if they happen to be their children?

Lord Warner: My Lords, there are issues particularly around black and minority ethnic carers. The department continues to work towards achieving better services for people in this category and those whose first language is not English. We funded a good practice guide for practitioners working with black carers, developed by the National Black Carers Workers Network. We shall continue to study this area carefully and try to make further improvements.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the most important things which can be done to help carers is to provide adequate respite care? Are the initiatives which the Government have brought forward working to that effect?

Lord Warner: My Lords, the assessments for carers and the work that the Government have done, particularly in areas such as direct payments and the carers grant, all work towards giving carers not only more access to respite care but also more choice over the way they access that particular care and greater capacity to buy that extra support for themselves.

Baroness Barker: My Lords, in the report the carers cite the 21-hour study rule as a barrier to returning to education and work. What do the Government intend to do about that?

Lord Warner: My Lords, this is an area where I shall have to confer with the other Ministers concerned and write to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Noakes: My Lords, the Minister said that choice in respite care is important. That is all very well if carers are aware that respite care is available. For example, the Motor Neurone Disease Association has estimated that only a quarter of carers for people suffering from that disease are even offered respite care? What are the Government going to do about that?

Lord Warner: My Lords, we know that there is a problem for some carers in getting access to information. That is why in my Answer I referred to the improvements in gaining access to information on which the Government are working. The new website is one such example. This is always a difficult subject.

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In many places, local authorities are making a better job of providing information to carers on how to access those kinds of services.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, how many children act as carers to their parents or siblings? How are schools being equipped to meet the particular needs of those children?

Lord Warner: My Lords, the issue of young carers has been with us for a long time. I do not carry the numbers in my head. I shall write to the noble Earl on this issue. It is a long-standing area of concern. The Government have taken a number of initiatives to improve the lot of young carers.

Iraq: Women and Children

2.44 p.m.

Baroness Rawlings asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What actions they are taking to protect the security of women and children in Iraq.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): My Lords, while coalition forces currently conduct more than 2,000 security patrols every day, the key to improving the security situation in Iraq lies primarily in re-establishing the Iraqi police and judicial system. This will benefit the whole population, especially women and children.

United Kingdom forces in southern Iraq have been working with local police chiefs and community leaders to improve the security situation since the earliest days of the conflict. Thousands of police are now back at work in our area of operations and local courts and prisons are beginning to function again.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. In an interview with the Financial Times last week, the Secretary of State for International Development, the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, admitted that she had to cancel her trip to Baghdad because of a fear of being assassinated. This will no doubt bring home to everyone how bad the law and order situation in Iraq has become. We have heard numerous reports from charities working in Iraq of women and children being raped and abducted, possibly to be sold into slavery or prostitution. What is being done to further improve security in Iraq? More specifically, what is being done to bring those responsible for crimes against women and children to justice?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. She should not confuse what the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, said in her interview last week with the position of ordinary Iraqi women and children. The noble Baroness, Lady Amos, was very

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disappointed to have to postpone her planned visit to Baghdad and Basra at short notice but, as far as she was concerned, the security situation did not allow for it. She would have been a prominent figure in a country with which we were at war recently. She has made exactly the right decision. She hopes, of course, to visit as soon as circumstances allow.

As to the separate question of security in Iraq and the effect on women and children, the crucial factor is that law and order is improving on the ground. It must be remembered that it was only at the end of last year that Saddam Hussein released all criminals from his prisons. That in itself has made the position of women and children much more difficult. The fact that a great deal of policing is now going on and the court system is being resurrected is, in many ways, the best protection there can be for vulnerable groups in society.

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