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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. For those people—I shall not stereotype them—who find it less easy to access websites, there is also a telephone helpline. Anyone can ring that and get direct, face-to-face—or mouth-to-mouth—contact, so that they can discuss their needs. [Interruption.] I am not sure that I got the phrasing right there; never mind, Mr. Deputy Speaker—you know what I meant.
The helpline, as well as the website, is important. We need to break down people's isolation. Carers need advice. We know that the system is complicated and that people do not understand the benefits and allowances available to them. They may not know what is available in their areas. If they get on the website or use the helpline, they can find out more and access the support that they need to do their job better and reduce the sense of isolation mentioned by my hon. Friend.
A comprehensive strategy goes far wider than the remit of the Department of Health, so we are working across Government to improve the lives and conditions of carers. Like other constituency MPs, I regularly meet carers and take up their individual concerns in my own constituency. I have had the privilege of meeting lots of carers this week, as part of carers week. One subject that has continually come up is carers benefits. The Government accept that we have to look again at that issue. I remind the House, however, that we have already given a lot of support. Last year, for example, we provided nearly £1.5 billion in carer's allowance to support carers. That, along with the carer's premium and other income-related benefits, forms a vital part of the financial package of support for carers.
For carers who work or want to work, the Department for Work and Pensions has increased the amount that someone can earn while still receiving carer's allowance, from £50 a week in 2001 to £95 a week now—one of the highest earning limits of any benefit. Given the complexities of the benefit system for pensioners, we have also taken steps to simplify the claiming process for pensioners who are carers—they might, for example, qualify for the carer's premium in pension credits.
We need to do more. Even now, as I discuss pension credits, allowances and benefits, I know that people will worry about the complexity. Last December's welfare reform White Paper reaffirmed our commitment to look carefully at carers benefits. We do not want to make the benefits system even more complex; frankly, carers' lives are complicated enough already. That is why the Department wants to make any changes to benefits not only in the context of the social care system, but alongside its wider ambitions for welfare reform, so that the changes lead to a long-lasting and tailored system of support.
For many carers, there is more to life than simply fulfilling their caring responsibilities. If carers want to work, we want to help them do so. We want to step in, not step aside. Let us give—
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