Caring for the Carers

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:47 pm on 1st May 1986.

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Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Secretary of State, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 4:47 pm, 1st May 1986

I believe that if a Labour Government had been in power for seven years, they would have paid the invalid care allowance to married women without waiting for a decision by the European Court. We do not believe in discrimination in social security matters. A British Government should not need external prompting.

It is no good the Government making noises about spending money on services. The fact is that invalid care allowance is an income replacement benefit. The Government have no more right to offer invalid care allowance or services to carers than they have to offer a state retirement pension or home helps and day centres to elderly people. Carers are entitled to income and to services. It is false economy not to provide this balance of aid. In the absence of both, many carers are forced to give up a role that they would otherwise maintain. The alternative, institutional care, is a far greater cost to the state.

Carers want access to respite care, both in the home and in a residential setting, which is of a quality acceptable to the carer and the dependant. Such evidence as we have shows that respite care is patchy. I am aware that some local authorities provide excellent respite care, but they are few in number and mainly Labour authorities. More Tory authorities should provide such care. The existing respite care, however, is patchy, inflexible, inappropriate and often directed at the dependant rather than the carer. All too often, carers are placed in an intolerable position when the person they care for refuses to go into respite care, or states that they do not need it because they have a daughter to look after them.

I know that it is invidious to pick out the name of a voluntary organisation, because there are so many performing an important role, but I think it is fair to pay tribute to the work of Crossroads and other care attendant schemes which seek to offer a multi-purpose, paid worker, round the clock, every day of the week. It is only such schemes which enable carers either to continue at work or to take time out from caring to meet their own needs. That is the right model for respite care. All the tasks of the carer need to be covered; otherwise breaks for more than a few hours from caring would be impossible.