The Government recognise that the UK's 6 million carers play an indispensable role in looking after family, friends and members of the community who need support. We have set out our commitment to simplify the benefit system in order to improve work incentives and to encourage responsibility and fairness. We will consider carefully the needs of carers as we develop our thinking on welfare reform.
I thank the Minister for that answer. As you will be aware, Mr Speaker, carers are the unsung heroes in our communities, many of whom work seven days a week, 24 hours a day in return for a miserly allowance of £53.90. Fairness has been mentioned, but as a result of the VAT increase in the Chancellor's Budget, that allowance is now worth even less. What will the Minister and her Department do to correct that unfairness?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question concerning an issue about which I know he cares and puts a lot of thought into. The carers whom I have met since taking up my position feel strongly that it is not only the financial benefits and supports that are important, as they also want the ability to get into work. At the moment, one in five carers are forced to quit work rather than to carry on as they would like. We will thus focus on making sure that these people get access to flexible working, personalised budgets and direct payments and, in the long term, we will have a commission for long-term care. That is how we can ensure that the support for carers is in place. There were measures in the Budget that will help to make sure that financial support is there for carers, particularly in the area of housing.
There are 21,000 carers in Medway. They do an invaluable job which is often unrecognised, but the benefits system remains incredibly complex, and many are unaware of their entitlements. What plans has the Minister to simplify the system to make it more accessible to them?
My hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. Carers find it incredibly difficult to navigate the benefits system. We will do all that we can to remove any disincentives preventing people from going out to work. The one thing that we will not do is implement the policy of clawing back 1.5% of carer's allowance, as the last Government did. That is the last announcement that carers would want to hear at this time.