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I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I know that there are hon. Members in all parts of the House who are hoping to catch your eye. I come to the debate to represent several of my constituents who are carers or who work for caring organisations.
In responding to my earlier intervention, the Minister referred to the need for MPs to play a part in ensuring that the NHS spends the £150 million that has been allocated over the next two years wisely and well in order properly to meet the needs of carers. I can assure him that in my area not only am I well in touch with carers, but carers make sure that I am in touch with their concerns. We have a very effective carers' centre run by the Princess Royal Trust for Carers, which has now been there for more than 20 years. It was opened in the 1980s, as probably one of the first of its kind to be established, and it is highly regarded by all the carers who have been through its doors over all those years.
My reason for speaking is to convey to the Minister and Members in the House several comments that were made to me by carers at an event that I attended yesterday as part of carers week. I invited them to put their comments in writing. They particularly feature carers' concerns about the inadequacy of the benefits regime that relates to the carer's allowance and so on. There is a strong sense that this issue is well overdue for attention. It has been the subject of plenty of reports from Government, yet they are still not addressing it. Ken Fish, a carer in my constituency, asked:
"Why should Carer's Allowance be stopped when the carer receives old age pension at 60 for women and 65 for men, when carers are entitled to Carer's Allowance for caring for more than 35 hours per week and when the same carers have paid National Insurance Contributions or have had credits paid for them when they are continuing to care as both they and their cared for get older, frailer and less mobile?"
That is at the heart of many of the representations that I am sure will be received by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Margaret Burrows said:
"Older people that are carers need more help and support to continue in their caring role. No age restrictions for receiving Carer's Allowance. I feel unappreciated by society for being a carer, in particular for those carers caring for someone with mental health problems."
Another carer I met at the coffee morning, Pat Rogerson, said that she received a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions saying that she was entitled to the carer's allowance, but when she read on a little further she found that the next paragraph said that she could not get the carer's allowance because she was getting a pension. She asks why a letter like that is sent, and why she is not being paid the carer's allowance. June Baine, Rhona Banford, Jill Winder and Christine Holmes also want that question answered.
Although the Minister was helpful in explaining the complexities of the current system, he did not go on to say either of two things: that the Government honestly do not believe that this is a financial priority and feel that it cannot be afforded at this time—that would be the straightforward thing for him to say—or that there is a timetable by which the level of the carer's allowance will be raised and its eligibility extended, so that pensioners, who often shoulder some of the greatest burdens of carers, will get proper recognition in the payments that they receive.
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