The hon. Gentleman must be telepathic, as I was about to make that exact point. It is crucial that respite care is flexible enough to cover emergencies and unforeseen circumstances, as well as set and specific periods of care. That would enable the needs to be met.
Carers need advice and access to information. Many carers feel isolated. They do not know what, if any, services are available within the local community. At present, the vast majority of carers receive neither training nor support. There should be medical assessment of both the carer and the dependant. It is impossible to know what sort of services would be most suitable if neither the clinical condition of the dependant nor the medical capability of the carer has been checked. There should be a continuous back-up service and reviews so that help can not only be provided at times of crisis, but adjusted to match changing circumstances.
The Government in their amendment complacently talk about
continuing improvement in the level of support given to statutory and voluntary agencies".
For millions of carers and dependants that is a cruel joke. The lie is proven by the pathetically low community care expenditure, the continued rate support grant cuts and the drastic cuts in the voluntary sector budget due to the Government's abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties.
The Government are proposing a so-called social fund in the Social Security Bill. That fund will undermine community care policy and force many thousands of people into institutions. The Government have rejected the invalid care allowance for married women and revealed their true attitude to carers. On 28 January, the Minister for Health dismissed my plea for increased income support for carers on the ground that it would mean
a great big nanny state".—[Official Report, 28 January 1986; Vol. 90, c. 779.]
We reject that nauseating disregard for those who have given unremitting care and support to the disabled and the elderly year upon year, without complaint and without any allowances. By contrast to that disregard, the Labour party pledges to extend the invalid care allowance to married and cohabiting women. We do not accept the Government's feeble excuse that they cannot afford the meagre benefit of £23 a week for 96,000 women, when the same Government can find the money to pay private nursing homes £250 a week to look after elderly people.
We will appoint a carers' liaison officer to each social services department to identify carers in its area and to assess how best to meet their needs. We will seek to provide respite care and a flexible system of support services for carers. It will take time, and the services will have to be phased in as our economy recovers. However, we acknowledge the objective and will not shirk that responsibility.
We do not accept the present position, whereby carers are presented with the stark choice of looking after a dependant with minimal support and at great, sometimes crippling, cost to themselves or of putting their relative into permanent residential accommodation. The vast majority of carers are devoted to looking after and keeping their relatives at home. To do so they need financial, social and practical support. If the Government will not provide that, we will.