Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:20 pm on 22nd October 2020.

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Photo of Munira Wilson Munira Wilson Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Health and Social Care) 4:20 pm, 22nd October 2020

The hon. Gentleman, as ever, makes a valid point. That is why I have been calling for additional support, whether signposting or helplines. We actually need a cross-Government strategy on mental health going forward.

On those who have been excluded from financial support, as the Chancellor remains intransigent on that point, I urge the Minister first to speak to her Treasury colleagues and ask them yet again to think again. Will she also step up mental health support for those who have been excluded? The mental health impacts will cost us a lot down the line.

The other very important group is the more than 9 million unpaid carers who are the forgotten heroes in our society. I hope the Minister agrees when I say that our health and care systems would be overwhelmed if it were not for the work of unpaid carers in our society. The Exchequer saves billions thanks to their work. Four out of five unpaid carers have taken on more caring responsibilities during lockdown, and almost two thirds have seen their mental health worsen during the pandemic. Many have lost their access to respite care, which has affected their ability to earn money. She will be aware that carer’s allowance is pitifully low at £67 a week.

One thing that would help respite care and day care centres to reopen—Homelink in my constituency is taking all sorts of safety measures and is desperate to reopen—is access to regular testing. I raised that in the Chamber with the Secretary of State for Health on 7 July. He told me that a plan was in place and he would write to me about it. He never wrote to me, but I did not chase him about it because I heard that testing had been made available to day centres—briefly; I have now heard that it is no longer available. My council has spoken to colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care, who say that they cannot offer tests to respite care day centres. Those officials say that they are following SAGE priorities, and that suggests to me that there never was a plan. I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify that point. This is an issue for the Department, and I urge her to address it urgently, because respite care is a lifeline to so many unpaid carers. I also ask the Minister to speak to her colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions about addressing the woeful level of carer’s allowance. How can anyone be expected to survive on the equivalent of £1.91 an hour?

The Chancellor previously said to the public,

“you will not face this alone”.

Can we say, hand on heart, that unpaid carers and those whom the Chancellor has excluded from financial support have not been left alone? They feel abandoned and their mental health is suffering, so I urge the Minister to address these injustices.