Caring for the Carers

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:43 pm on 1st May 1986.

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Photo of Sir David Price Sir David Price , Eastleigh 5:43 pm, 1st May 1986

No, I have given way once already, and I am trying obediently to be brief.

It is generally acknowledged that there are a number of hon. Members who have personal experience of caring. They will be with me when I say that the reality of caring for someone whom one loves is so private and intimate that even in a debate like this the House will not expect us to share our personal experiences. I certainly do not intend to do so. Suffice it to say that most carers have consciously chosen to look after their dependent relatives at home because they love them. They do not, therefore, want to hand the job over to anyone else.

Caring for someone who is heavily dependent is continuous, tiring, stressful, and restrictive. It can impose serious strains on other relationships within the family. Many of us have constituents with a severely disabled child and have seen how this can have repercussions on other children in the family who are not disabled. Outside help at key times on both a regular and a one-off basis can make the difference between total breakdown and a successful and loving partnership between the carer and the cared for.

That leads me on to consider—and this is what future discussion should be about—the different forms of support that are needed. In the interests of brevity I shall try to go straight to the heart of the matter. I invite the House to consider the various ideas put forward by the Association of Carers. Time prevents my going through them, but I would mention one point which comes in its submission to hon. Members: It does appear at the moment that the presence of a carer is often seen by statutory services to obviate the need for supportive services, whereas carers are almost invariably in need of help in the very onerous tasks which they have opted to undertake out of love. I think that this is true.

I should like to draw the attention of the House to the report of the Select Committee on Social Services and the 101 recommendations that we made. Let me emphasise that we made them on an agreed basis, across the party spectrum, which is the spirit that I wish to introduce, and maintain, in this debate. I hope that when replying to the debate my right hon. Friend will declare the Government's support for those measures.

Each of us who takes part in this debate will have his own suggestions for improvement. We have already heard a number from the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South. I should like to suggest a few briefly, in encapsulated form.

We need more back-up in the home. This means more home helps and more meals on wheels. I pay tribute to the progress which has been made, but we have only 50,000 home helps in England, and that is not enough. There is uneven provision between men and women. In support of that I quote from a recent report of the Equal Opportunities Commission: Evidence presented in our report shows that nearly 60 per cent. of male carers studied received home helps compared with only 34 per cent. of female carers, and 28 per cent. of men had the support of the meals on wheels service compared with 16 per cent. of the women. It seems services which provide direct help with the daily domestic routine are more likely to be provided if the carer is a man. So the work and health of women carers is affected to a greater degree. We would like to see progress made in this area, not only for its own sake, but because this is an inequality which I find unacceptable.

We need more medical support in the home. My right hon. Friend referred to the primary care report which has just come out. We have to build on that. We must support the general practitioner service, which is the linch pin. We ought to extend the role of the community nurse, the community physiotherapist and the occupational therapist. In my part of the world they are extremely helpful to the handicapped.

We need an extension of the care assistant or care attendant. I call in aid the development of the care attendance service in Hampshire. On the hospital side, we need to have relief on call, what in our report we refer to as the "revolving door". If a chance is taken in putting people back into the community and the carers run into difficulties, they can by this means get those people back into hospital. This may have to be done at awkward times—which is when it nearly always happens—and not during the conventional surgery hours.

There is a need for the carer to have time off from caring. Age Concern once described the life of a carer of someone with dementia as the 36-hour day. Earlier, I heard people talking about problems of overtime. If one is caring for someone who is severely disabled, there is no question of normal working hours or overtime; it is a total commitment. So the need for relief is often urgent.

What happens when the carer runs out of steam? We all get these tragedies in our surgeries—a mother and father, now old-age pensioners, who, having looked after a severely disabled child who is now aged 40 or 45, can no longer provide the necessary care because they have literally run out of steam.

I support all the pleas to my right hon. Friend to get the invalid care allowance right. I have raised the issue, as have many right hon. and hon. Members. There is no longer any justification for not extending it to married women. As I said in a letter to The Times a few months ago, I very much hope that my right hon. Friends will be able to do it gracefully before they are compelled to do it by the European Court.

I hope that I have said enough to demonstrate the importance of carers to our nation. We need them. We cannot get on without them. I hope, too, that I have demonstrated that carers need more back-up, and more support, especially professional support, if they are to fulfil their role as carers and still have some personal life of their own.

I beg the House not to treat carers as if they were an object of pity or compassion. They do their caring willingly, as part of their role in life, out of love.