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Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 12:53 pm on 11th June 2009.

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Photo of Stephen O'Brien Stephen O'Brien Shadow Minister (Health) 12:53 pm, 11th June 2009

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who chairs, admirably and with great credit from both sides of the House, the all-party group on dementia, which has a major read-across to all the concerns of carers. He is right. It is no good to lay out so many expectations across the board, particularly for people in hard-working and sensitive areas such as caring, only for them to be dashed when the rhetoric does not convert into action. One of the greatest challenges that we face as politicians is to hold the Government to account on the expectations that they have raised.

I want briefly to touch on the subject of young carers. It was, to say the least, slightly concerning that although the Health Committee discussed young carers in its report, the Government's written response completely omitted to mention them. The Minister must have realised the Government's embarrassment about that, because he briefly alluded to young carers in his opening remarks. I hope that that embarrassment will now be covered by the Government making a specific acknowledgement that they need to address the issue of young carers in a written document whereby they can be held to account. They may therefore need to issue an addendum to their response.

The 2001 census found that there were approximately 175,000 young carers in the UK, although that figure is believed to be higher by those who work in the field and see things for themselves. The average age of young carers is an absolutely shocking 12 years old. One in three regularly misses school, and one in four has no external support whatever. That has led to tragedies such as that of Deanne Asamoah. When will the Government take action? Following the Minister's acknowledgement that the needs of young carers must be addressed, given their absence from the Government's response, we need to move from words to a good set of actions that can be implemented and will support young carers.

It is right for the House to be debating issues facing carers. They are, as those involved in carers week have put it, a "secret service", so it is right that this House should do all it can to bring them out of the shadows, and that the Government should do all they can to support them. Conservative Members thank carers for the sacrifices that they make in order to improve the lives of others and their loved ones, and recognise that helping carers is one of the best ways to help those they are caring for. Most importantly, we join with third party organisations in calling on the Government to publish the Green Paper on care and support without any further delay. Only in the debate about reform can carers begin to hope for a system that does not let them down. If, as seems increasingly likely, the Government cannot get beyond the stasis of a divided and leaderless party, for the sake of carers and all those in our society who need help, the Minister should urge the Prime Minister to call a general election.

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