asked Her Majesty's Government:
Whether they intend to retain questions about carers and caring in the 2011 census.
My Lords, the Office for National Statistics is still considering the inclusion of a question on carers in the 2011 census. The ONS recognises the importance of the topic and the value of the data. The question's inclusion is dependent on space available on the questionnaire and the user requirement for competing questions. The final decision on the content of the 2011 census will ultimately be for Parliament to make.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for what I think was a hopeful Answer. Does he agree that the data provided by the 2001 census have been invaluable in gaining better recognition for carers? Does he also agree that at a time when the Government are trying to plan 10 years ahead for carers, with the review of the national strategy and so on, it is particularly important to have continuity and fullness of data, especially when we think about hard-to-reach groups, such as young carers and those from black and minority-ethnic communities?
My Lords, I agree with my noble friend; I merely bring to the attention of the House the fact that the question on carers is competing for inclusion against questions on second residence, citizenship, year of entry, qualifications, industry, income and language. They are all important questions, too, but my noble friend is right that the Government are developing their policy on carers and that the best possible information is required to that end.
My Lords, that is an important factor. It is because of the ageing population and the increased numbers of carers that the question was included on the 2001 census. However, there are many competing demands for the important document that the census represents; decisions are still to be taken on the final nature of the question sheet, which is put before Parliament.
My Lords, in response to a Parliamentary Question in another place last week, the National Statistician said that one of the principal determinants of which and how many questions would be asked in the census was cost. Can the Minister assure the House that questions on carers will not be excluded from the next census on the basis of cost constraints?
My Lords, the census is subject to an evaluation of cost-benefit analysis, like any other aspect of government. In fact, if a fourth page had to be introduced into the census, the rise in costs would be significant. There are many competing demands for the places on the three pages already identified. We cannot pretend that this issue does not have a cost dimension—it has. Nevertheless, as I said, the final decision on priorities rests with Parliament.
My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the very welcome improvement in the pension rights for carers that the Labour Government have introduced in the current Pensions Bill was based on information from the 2001 census data? I doubt whether, without it, we could have been so sure of our facts and the costs, and the improvement might not have happened. Will my noble friend take the opinion of the House and do his best to ensure that this question has the priority that it rightly deserves?
My Lords, I recognise my noble friend's representation on this matter. Of course, accurate statistics always aid policy. She will recognise that before the 2001 census the Government had already begun to develop their National Carers Strategy, giving priority to this area. She is right that accurate information assisted the development of the policy.
My Lords, I suppose that I should declare an interest as a carer myself. Will the noble Lord encourage those responsible for taking this decision to look at which of the other competing questions could be answered more easily by other methods of opinion survey? Much of the information that we have gathered about the role and number of carers could not have been discovered in any other way. Taking that into account, surely we should look at putting that question on the census form as a priority.
My Lords, the noble Lord makes a most valuable contribution. That is a very important point. He will appreciate that we are increasingly concerned that we identify the number of carers and the necessary support for them in the very valuable work that they do. The other potential questions for the census—indeed, all questions—are examined with regard to whether the information could be gathered in any other way. I give one element of encouragement to the House, and a constructive response. The three departments for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are in favour of a question on carers being on the census.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there are a number of unknown carers such as grandparents? Does he further agree that children's services at a local level and collaboration between those services could be put at jeopardy by not knowing who those carers for children are?
My Lords, my noble friend speaks with great authority on this point and reinforces the importance of our having the maximum amount of information on carers. I merely emphasise again that such representations can be made on other priorities, too, which is why the Government are still evaluating the position as a whole. When they have done so, they will produce a White Paper and eventually an order, which will be put before both Houses of Parliament.
My Lords, without wishing to labour this question more than necessary, perhaps I may follow up a point alluded to by the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley. The Minister will know that, in the 2001 census, 175,000 young carers in the UK were identified, but it turns out that only 30,000 of those are currently known to carers support services. Will he bear in mind the usefulness of including a suitably worded question in the census to identify these young carers with a view to supporting them as appropriate?
My Lords, I accept the point that the noble Earl has made. The whole House is aware that we needed to develop a much greater understanding of the role and needs of carers than we had a decade ago. That is why the Government have made strenuous efforts in that regard. We are looking at whether other strategies and organisations can provide the requisite information for us, but I accept the point made on all sides this afternoon that the census could play a very important role in this respect.