Caring for the Carers

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:06 pm on 1st May 1986.

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Photo of Mr Barney Hayhoe Mr Barney Hayhoe , Brentford and Isleworth 5:06 pm, 1st May 1986

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:

`noting that there are a substantial number of people from the age of seven to 70 years caring for disabled and elderly relatives at home, often for many years, pays the warmest possible tribute to these carers; and, further noting the research which shows that carers themselves often suffer from mental and physical illness, social isolation and disadvantage, recognises the action already taken by the Government to improve their position, especially in view of the undoubted savings to public funds which flow from their commitment; and in particular welcomes the Government's intentions, in line with its stated policies on care in the community and the availability of resources, that: (a) adequate respite care, both at home and in short-stay facilities, be assured by continuing improvement in the level of support given to statutory and voluntary agencies, (b) a flexible system of appropriate support such as home helps and home nursing be available at times when the carer needs them and (c) any judgment which may be made by the European Court relating to the invalid care allowance introduced by the Labour Government in 1976, be carefully considered by the Government and made the subject of a report to the House.'. This debate gives the House and myself a chance to pay a warm tribute to the role of informal carers. I certainly welcome that part of the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), which was otherwise characterised by pessimistic and exaggerated descriptions of these matters. I hope that his tribute to informal carers is echoed in all quarters of the House.

Last week The Sunday Times graphically described the pressures that a heavily dependent person represents to a family. The article explained that, even when practical help is provided to such a family, that help puts pressures on the family. I doubt whether there is any way of avoiding such pressures on informal carers, but without doubt all those concerned—the professionals, the voluntary agencies and the informal carers—who support such families need to work together to minimise the pressures upon carers.

The key significance of informal carers has, as the hon. Gentleman said, recently been referred to in our debates on the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Bill, introduced by the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke). I do not wish to add anything to what I said about that Bill on the Floor of the House and in Committee. I am glad that the Bill is making progress.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West made much of the invalid care allowance and married women. The Government have made their position perfectly clear. The cost of extending invalid care allowance to married women is estimated to be £100 million a year extra, net of savings on other benefits. Even if the resources were available, this should be seen in the context of priorities for social security spending as a whole. The present invalid care allowance arrangements were introduced by the Labour Government of 1976. I do not think that shone through the speech of the hon. Gentleman. This discriminatory legislation, which the hon. Gentleman derided, was introduced by the Labour Government. I am not sure whether he was a member of that Labour Government, but he was certainly a supporter of that Government. The judgment of the European Court as to whether the arrangements that were so introduced contravene the Community's directive on equal treatment is not expected until June. However, I repeat the assurance that it will be carefully considered by the Government and made the subject of a report to the House, as stated in the amendment.

Opposition Members are always keen to add to their list of promises to spend more and more. Indeed, I noticed that the hon. Member for Oldham, West was at it again today. I want to contrast their promises with the performance and record of this Government. For example, we have increased spending on benefits for the long-term sick and disabled by more than 50 per cent. in real terms. In cash terms, we have more than doubled the mobility allowance and taken it out of tax. We have ended some of the discrimination against women, which we inherited from the Labour Government, by abolishing the household duties test and introducing a new severe disablement allowance. We have also ended the invalidity trap—a move that helps 55,000 sick and disabled people.

Of course, there is no hon. Member who would not give high priority to support for the disabled and those who care for them, but we serve them ill if, as the hon. Member for Oldham, West has done, we make promises that it is beyond this country's capacity to fulfil.