Monday 13th September 2021

(2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department of Health and Social Care

Question

Tabled by

Baroness Pitkeathley Portrait Baroness Pitkeathley
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration they have given to providing extra support for family carers given the delay to social care reforms.

Baroness Wheeler Portrait Baroness Wheeler (Lab)
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On behalf of my noble friend, and with her permission, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in her name on the Order Paper.

Lord Bethell Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Care (Lord Bethell) (Con)
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My Lords, we recognise that family carers play a vital role. When we announced an additional £4.5 billion over three years for social care, it included a commitment to take steps to ensure unpaid carers have the support, advice and respite they need. We will publish a White Paper later this year with more detail. The Health and Care Bill also places a duty on integrated care boards to promote the involvement of unpaid carers.

Baroness Wheeler Portrait Baroness Wheeler (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister has acknowledged that our 1.6 million unpaid carers are reporting high levels of fatigue and stress and are worn out and exhausted by caring during Covid-19. On average, carers have lost 25 hours a month of crucial support over the past 18 months, and 81% are providing more care. Essential daily support services for them and their loved ones are still not up and running in many areas. Was it not therefore reasonable for carers to have expected immediate funding support from the Prime Minister’s health and social care funding announcements last week? The situation is desperate and needs addressing now, not just with more kind words and another “White Paper tomorrow” promise.

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, I do acknowledge the pressures on unpaid carers and pay tribute to the incredible contribution they have made during these very difficult 18 months. We are continuing to work with local authorities, in collaboration with ADASS and MHCLG, to support local authorities in meeting their duties, particularly in the area of respite, which the noble Baroness rightly pointed out. We have also made contributions to Carers Trust, Carers UK and to “See, Hear, Respond” services to support unpaid carers. In the long term, our commitment is to social care reform and the financial proposition that we will bring forward in the White Paper.

Lord Lilley Portrait Lord Lilley (Con)
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My Lords, would my noble friend confirm that he just said there would be only £1.5 billion a year going to social care from the large increase in national insurance? Can he confirm that nearly half of that will be absorbed by the need to pay for the extension of free social care to those with valuable homes? That means that nothing will be left to help domestic carers.

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, the maths that my noble friend has done is a little bit premature. The White Paper will come out later this year; it will spell out the precise financial arrangements, and I am looking forward to that.

Lord Laming Portrait Lord Laming (CB)
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My Lords, the Minister has already indicated an understanding that many carers sacrifice a huge part of their lives in trying to care for a loved one. Many of the community support services that used to be available are no longer available. When these arrangements break down and a crisis occurs, it is understandable that the only option left is to call an ambulance, which places increased pressure on the health service. Will the Minister champion a new approach, which is this: “Protect the NHS by supporting carers”?

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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Yes, I would endorse that sentiment. That has been one of the learnings of the pandemic. It is instinctively true in any case, and the evidence base during the pandemic was quite right. They are interlinked; that is one of the reasons we are bringing forward a Health and Social Care Bill that brings both services much closer together and brings a responsibility on the ICSs to combine health and social care at the same time. Our population-wide measures will try to bring those care responsibilities much closer together, as the noble Lord suggested.

Lord Haskel Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Haskel) (Lab)
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My Lords, we will now have a virtual contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
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My Lords, the Disabled Children’s Partnership reports that parents of disabled children say that two-thirds were not able to access care at home during the pandemic. In the two years prior to the pandemic, large numbers of respite care beds for disabled children had already been shut down. Given that none of the new social care levy is targeted towards disabled children and young people, can the Minister say whether urgent funding will be provided for this vulnerable and too-often forgotten group, where unpaid carers are often on duty 24/7?

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, I do recognise the problem: 23% of carers—1.3 million—provide care for 50 hours or more a week. That is an absolutely astonishing figure, and I pay tribute to the contribution they make. The overall contribution by carers is around £56 billion a year. We cannot undervalue that contribution in either emotional, care or financial terms. The precise allocation of funding for this new financial package is not yet confirmed. When it is, I will make sure that the reasonable points the noble Baroness made are heard clearly in the department.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab)
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My Lords, in his first Answer, the Minister mentioned the Health and Care Bill and a more general duty to promote the interests of underpaid carers. Can he tell me why, at the same time, the Government are getting rid of the current provision in law of a carer’s right to an assessment when they take on a new caring role and the right to be consulted on whether they are willing and able to care? It is a crucial right of carers to have a proper assessment. Why is it being taken away?

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, I completely agree that the carer’s assessment is the building block of our system. It is incredibly important; we do a lot of work to encourage more carers to get it. I do not know specifically about the point that the noble Lord makes on this additional component, but I would be glad to enter into correspondence with him on it. The broad principle of the importance of the carer’s assessment is one with which I wholeheartedly agree.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield (LD)
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My Lords, research shows that, pre pandemic, 600 people a day had no choice but to leave work to manage their unpaid caring responsibilities and that, since Covid began, an additional 2.8 million workers now juggle work and unpaid care. Having access to carer’s leave would help millions of carers and support many of them to remain in work alongside their unpaid caring responsibilities. When will the Government publish their response to their consultation on carers’ leave, which closed on 3 August last year?

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, I recognise the challenge referred to by the noble Baroness. Some 2.9 million carers are employed; that is more than half of all carers. One can only imagine the pressure that they feel trying to juggle their roles as carers and employees. The consultation has been tied up by the pandemic, but we are keen to get a response out soon. Now that we have announced this package, it makes that all the easier. I very much look forward to bringing the response to the House.

Lord Haskel Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Haskel) (Lab)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, was not present in the Chamber so all supplementary Questions have been asked. We will now move on to the next Question.