Childcare: Grandparents

– in the House of Lords at 2:56 pm on 13 June 2006.

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Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour 2:56, 13 June 2006

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What financial support is available for grandparents who are caring full time for their grandchildren.

Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, where grandparents have the primary responsibility for bringing up their grandchildren, they are entitled to financial support—namely, child benefit and child tax credit—on the same terms as a parent would be, with no effect on pension credit assessments. Child benefit and child tax credit guarantee support for the first child of over £3,000 a year for grandparents with a low income, and nearly £1,500 for those with an income up to £50,000 a year.

Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I chair the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse and see grandparents who are caring for their grandchildren because their own children are either in prison, drug dependent or dead. Does the Minister agree that such grandparents are heroic and need a better deal? They save the state a great deal of money. Would he be prepared to meet such a group to discuss its concerns?

Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, on the latter point, of course I would be happy to meet groups of grandparents, although I would not want to over-state the ability of a humble Treasury Whip in the Lords to influence the affairs of state. Perhaps it might be better to encourage colleagues from the DfES to meet them, but I shall certainly take that forward. Of course I agree that in many situations the role of grandparents is heroic; they pick up caring responsibilities for children whose parents have let them down. We know that something like 6,000 out of 60,000 looked-after children are currently placed with family and friends carers; many of them are grandparents, although the Government do not collect information on how many are. In many cases, such arrangements prevent children becoming looked-after children in the first instance.

Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Education, Shadow Minister (Children), Health, Shadow Minister (Women), Trade & Industry

My Lords, during the passage of the Children and Adoption Bill, I referred to grandparents as babysitters, chauffeurs, moneylenders and guidance counsellors. They are a precious resource. Given that the Chancellor is once again flirting with prudence, after a full-blown affair with abundance, does the Minister agree that grandparents may not be just a precious resource but also a cost-effective one?

Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Government Whip, Government Whip

Yes, my Lords, of course grandparents are a very precious resource. I explained in my Answer the circumstances in which they can be supported by the state when they are able to access child benefit and child tax credits in place of the parents of the children, and that is right. I understand that part of yesterday's debate on the Childcare Bill concerned whether some informal relationships between family members should be commercialised. We think that that would be a step in the wrong direction, but we should all recognise the strong role that grandparents play in the lives of many young children.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench

My Lords, given the acknowledged importance on all sides of the House of grandparents in sustaining family life, and as all citizens—men and women—will shortly be required to work longer to earn their pensions, are the Government considering extending the right to flexible working to working grandparents?

Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, we discussed flexible working in the Work and Families Bill. Our deliberations there and the evidence suggest that, whatever the strict legal entitlements, the fact that the process to request flexible working has started means that employees and employers are engaged in discussion to bring that to effect. It would be entirely appropriate for it to be pursued in the context suggested by the noble Baroness. We know that it is beneficial for families and businesses.

Photo of The Bishop of Coventry The Bishop of Coventry Bishop

My Lords, I spent half-term week with my seven grandchildren, so the House will not take it amiss when I say that I am hugely grateful that it is not my full-time job. Given that many parents respect the kinship arrangements within their own families, are the Government exploring ways in which grandparents might be able to update their parenting skills given that there is often a generation gap?

Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, examples were cited in yesterday's debate on the Childcare Bill of some of the arrangements already in place, particularly in the children's centres which are being used as forums for discussions and where this updating, as the right reverend Prelate put it, could be encompassed. That would be entirely sensible.

Photo of Baroness Hollis of Heigham Baroness Hollis of Heigham Labour

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that grandparents are not just the best but may be the only way of ensuring that vulnerable children from damaged and fractured families do not go into the care system? Does he also agree that, in addition to the generous support offered by tax credits, which are valuable to grandparents, there is another benefit that could be used to help grandparents but is not—that is, the guardian's allowance? It is currently ensuring that 3,000 children are kept out of the care system by being looked after by family members. Will my noble friend pursue that further?

Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I am aware that my noble friend raised this issue previously as a result of our discussions when the uprating order was going through the House. This matter, particularly some of the restrictive rules that currently apply, was going to be the subject of further consideration and that further consideration is still proceeding. However, we should look at the number of families with children who are benefiting from this—2,000 families with around 3,000 children—and the total cost, which is of the order of £2 million a year. In comparison, child benefit costs are approaching £10 billion a year. Perhaps rather than look to extend the boundaries of this quite narrow allowance, we should consider deploying resources in the more traditional child benefit or child tax credit process.

Photo of Baroness Greengross Baroness Greengross Crossbench

My Lords, will the Minister agree to look at the whole range of payments to which grandparents and extended kin are entitled or which they can obtain on a discretionary basis and review what those discretionary bases are? Often parents are in extreme circumstances and are unable to care through abuse, drugs, severe illness or whatever, and this can lead to an intolerable situation. Grandparents and extended kin often only get help on a discretionary basis. The children can be dumped on them with the threat that if they do not take the children they will be taken into care immediately. That is totally unfair. There needs to be a review. I declare an interest as chair of the All-Party Group on Grandparents and Extended Kin.

Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I pay tribute to the work of the noble Baroness in this area. The Government are always happy to keep these matters under review. We need to look at the specifics to see how they fit into our programmes and how those programmes might be developed.