Caring for the Carers

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:42 pm on 1st May 1986.

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Shadow Minister (Health) 6:42 pm, 1st May 1986

It is an irony that the Government praise as responsible and exemplary those Liberal and Tory councils which leave carers to crack up behind closed doors. The Government condemn Labour councils which try to improve services in order to ease the burden on carers. The Government brand them as irresponsible and profligate. What an irony that the Government are discouraging councils which are trying to improve and increase services. The statement in the Government's amendment to our motion, that they intend to continue to improve the level of support for statutory agencies, is not true. In fact, last year council social services spending increased by only 0·5 per cent. because of Government restrictions, although the Department of the Environment acknowledges that a 2·5 per cent. increase is needed just to maintain existing services for the growing number of elderly people.

Nor is it true, as the Government say in their amendment, that they are continuing to improve the level of support to voluntary agencies. As a result of local government spending restrictions, voluntary organisations have seen their council grants cut by over a quarter. Instead, the Government have spawned a chaotic range of schemes for voluntary organisations, many of which involve services being provided by short-term Manpower Services Commission trainees on as little as 1·70 an hour. Carers deserve better than a disjointed service by an ever-changing stream of conscripts from the dole queue.

Instead of mealy-mouthed platitudes, the Government should embark upon a national strategy for ensuring comprehensive provision of services at local level. The Minister said nothing about that in his speech. He referred only to seminars. The Government should be taking the initiative to recognise the growing needs of a growing army of carers.

As well as the financial measures which my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) outlined, the Government should encourage the development of local services which ensure that there is early identification of carers and an assessment of their capacity to care. The Government should also provide sufficient residential provision to ensure that nobody has to care when that is beyond her or his capacity. Not all carers want to be voluntary carers. Some of them are conscripted into caring because there is no alternative. Carers need information and advice about help. They need the continuing backup of key workers to help them to fight their way through the maze of different agencies with which they have to deal. Obviously, we would like to see care attendant schemes in all parts of the country. The Government must encourage and co-ordinate group practice and make sure that the resources are there to back it up.

Forty seven Conservative Back Benchers have already signalled their support for this motion by signing early-day motion 299, which stands in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley). That motion is identical to the motion that we are debating. The Government amendment totally contradicts early-day motion 299, and Conservatives who signed that motion must vote for this motion and against the Government. If they do not, they will be revealing themselves as dishonest and as hypocrites, and carers in their constituencies will be saddened to know that the support they thought they had from their Members of Parliament is worthless because they were not prepared to defend the interests of those carers whom they said they represented.