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Caring for the Carers

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:31 pm on 1st May 1986.

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Photo of Mrs Anna McCurley Mrs Anna McCurley , Renfrew West and Inverclyde 6:31 pm, 1st May 1986

There seems to have been a little fuss from the Opposition about the fact that some Conservative Members supported an early-day motion which approximates to their motion this evening. I believe that there was no harm in supporting the idea, but a little realism has been injected by the Government in the amendment.

I should like to speak about the elderly in Scotland. What we have been talking about tonight came home visibly to me when I recently visited Killallan house, in Houston, in my constituency, where a 97–year-old was celebrating her birthday and her 77–year-old son and daughter were visiting her. They were the fortunate ones. Most people in that position are still at home without help.

The problem of elderly carers with even more elderly parents or dependants is becoming more acute. Those in the greatest need are now those who are either unable or unwilling to articulate their problem because they do not want to be a burden on society. Many of them come from a generation which believes that love and duty are not bound up with money. Sometimes I believe that the Opposition do not understand that, no matter how little people are paid, they are still willing to do the work.

There is the problem of the elderly looking after the aged. However, for many younger carers there is the problem of loss of income combined with the high cost of the much needed services such as additional laundry, additional heating and lighting, aids for incontinence and special diets.

There are roughly 125,000 carers in Scotland. They are mostly women who undoubtedly have had a poorer deal than men. Their job will never get better or easier. Age, decline and ultimate loss are the end products of their hard work. It is estimated that the savings to the Scottish budget through the hard and unpaid work of carers is about £660 million per annum.

However, the Government have demonstrated their concern in Scotland. They have provided additional resources for keeping people within their own homes, with carers in mind. The emphasis is undoubtedly on care in the community and the SHAPE priorities and SHARE allocation of the Health Service shows that clearly. Additional funds have been provided and recently the Minister responsible for health in Scotland gave an additional £250,000 to help the elderly in their homes.

We are very responsive in Scotland to voluntary bodies such as Age Concern when they suggest projects. One project did a survey of dementia sufferers and their carers in Glasgow. We responded very swiftly and provided additional finance.

The benefits which are available must be taken up. It is important for those who are entitled to benefits to ensure that they get what they deserve. Admittedly, at present the benefit system is a tangled forest and there are many outstanding inequities, but we are steering a path through it. Age, sex and marital status can exclude one from benefits and we are well aware that married women are excluded from the invalid care allowance. That must ultimately change. Also, divorced women are not eligible if they are receiving maintenance. That seems unduly harsh.

I hope that the Government are willing to continue to move towards a more equitable position, not through the force of the courts but by humane evolution of the system. Of course, the cost implications are huge and we cannot do it overnight. However, it is important that we aim to get things right now. In the next decade the number of over-75s will increase by 33 per cent. That is a worrying figure for a society whose resources are created by fewer and fewer people. Seventeen per cent. of the Scottish population is now of pensionable age. The number will increase slightly between now and 2011, but the number of over-75s will have increased by 19 per cent. and the over-85s by 80 per cent.

It is interesting that 35 per cent. of all Scottish households have an old-age pensioner, but 31 per cent. of our pensioners live on their own. Therefore, additional resources need to be put into the system. Of the female carers in Scotland, 42 per cent. are more than 60 years old and 70 per cent. are more than 50 years old. The average age of a carer in Scotland is 61. That is a time in life when one needs a little help for oneself and should not be in a position where one has to use mental and physical energy to such a great extent. Those people do it willingly, voluntarily and out of love.

I add my congratulations to those which have already been given to the voluntary services for their help. The National Council for Carers and their Elderly Dependants is grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley) for all the help that she gives it. Without that body the services would be under a severe constraint. My contact with the council has been quite frequent recently and I have found it a magnificent body.

Many other agencies are helping to keep carers happy and to prepare the elderly for old age. I must mention the Women's Royal Voluntary Service because it is the true embodiment of a voluntary organisation. It husbands its resources very well and it is involved in direct care with very little administration. Many of the voluntary organisations would do well to take the WRVS as their example. I also congratulate Age Concern, Crossroads and the other remarkable voluntary bodies.

The Government are showing greater willingness to participate in research and in funding this very important area. I hope that we can continue to help before it is too late.