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Carer's allowance is an income replacement benefit, as is the state pension. We think of the state pension as being somehow different from a benefit, but technically that is what it is. Both are income replacement benefits, and that is where the difficulty arises with overlapping benefit. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman gives the Government credit for trying to mitigate some of the cliff-edge effects of reaching state pension age. Before the Government were elected, carers fell off a benefit "cliff" when they reached state retirement age and carer's benefit stopped immediately. The Government ensured that a carer's premium was incorporated in pension credit, which means that the individual's total income is not reduced.
However, that does not address the fundamental problem. How does one explain to parents who have looked after their disabled child from the hour the child was born, and received carer's allowance through most of that child's life, that when they reach 60 their caring responsibilities are no longer recognised? The Government have wrestled with the problem and I hope that, as part of the roll-out of our welfare programme, we can consider how to improve on the current situation. I hope that we can find a way round the overlapping rule. Perhaps it means designating carer's allowance as something other than an income replacement benefit. However, we must all recognise that that comes with a significant cost, and there is no point in politicians who do not currently have to make those decisions calling for that to happen without examining the costs of delivering it. It does not come cheap, but I hope that the Government will continue to keep it under consideration.
We recognise that caring responsibilities will touch us all at some point in our lives, either as carers or as those receiving care. Yesterday at the reception, two carers, Janice Clark and Valerie Rossiter, gave their personal testimony. Both made powerful statements about their lives and how they had been affected by caring responsibilities. Valerie's experiences were particularly moving. She explained her situation so graphically that it is difficult for me to interpret it for the House today. She has been married for 42 years, yet now her husband does not know who she is. He is in the advanced stages of Parkinson's disease. She said, "This is the man I loved, and now he doesn't know who I am." That is the emotional toll that caring takes on an individual. She was philosophical about some of the battles that she had to fight. She said that although her husband is suffering, although she sometimes has to swim through the bureaucratic treacle, and although she will continue to look after him for the rest of his life, what keeps her going is wanting her experiences to be an example to ensure that other carers do not need to confront some of the difficulties that she has had to face.
I want to pay tribute to the Government's response over the years to the problems that affect carers. However, we all recognise that the battle has not yet been won. We still need to continue building on the solid foundation that we have created. We still need to recognise that carers are the glue that keeps many families together, and by so doing keeps communities together. I hope that in his response the Minister will continue to pledge his support on the issues that affect the lives of 5 million or 6 million carers. In some ways, the numbers do not matter: we just know that a lot of people out there are taking responsibility, and that one day we too may have to accept that responsibility in our own families.
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