Welfare Reform Bill — Report (5th Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:45 pm on 23rd January 2012.

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Photo of Baroness Hollins Baroness Hollins Crossbench 8:45 pm, 23rd January 2012

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 60A, which is perhaps slightly oddly grouped with the amendments proposed by my noble friend Lord Best. The amendment would prevent carer's benefit claimants being subject to the proposed household benefit cap by exempting households including a carer's allowance claimant and carers in receipt of the carer premium in universal credit.

There can be no doubt about the contribution made by carers in unpaid care-indeed, there was considerable discussion about this at a previous stage of the Bill and last week. Their contribution has been valued at some £119 billion by Carers UK and is of immeasurable value to the people they care for. Peers from all sides of the House have recognised this contribution with personal accounts of experiences of caring and moving stories from families struggling in what are often very difficult circumstances.

Carers' contribution and the challenges they face set them apart as particularly deserving of support from the benefits system and as clear candidates for exemption from a cap which the Government have said is designed to penalise individuals who are failing to play a full part in society.

The Government have already outlined exemptions to the proposed household benefit cap for disabled people in receipt of disability living allowance. However, this will not protect certain groups of carers. Not only does it seem fundamentally unfair for carers to be affected by the cap, but it is at odds with the Government's commitment to protect families affected by disability from the cap.

So which carers will be affected? The DLA exemption protects households including a DLA claimant, but what is considered to be a household for the purposes of universal credit includes children under 18 and partners and not adult children or other adult relatives. This will deliver some real inconsistencies. Families caring for disabled children under 18 will therefore be exempt from the cap, but those caring for adult disabled children will be subject to it because the DLA claimant, as an adult, will no longer be considered to live in the same benefits household even if they live together. Those caring for a disabled partner will be exempt, but people caring for other working-age relatives-siblings, cousins, neighbours or friends-will be subject to the cap. In addition, all carers supporting an elderly parent or other older relatives in receipt of attendance allowance-the equivalent benefit to DLA for older people-will also be subject to the cap.

It is disappointing that carers do not figure in the impact assessment for the cap, so we cannot know how many of the 560,000 carers in receipt of carers' benefits might be affected. We can, however, know what the financial impact might be. Carers UK modelled what the impact would be on a single mother with three children, caring full-time for her elderly mother who has dementia and lives with them. She would currently receive carers' allowance at £55 a week, child benefit and child tax credit totalling £204, housing allowance and council tax benefit totalling £362 and income support at £42. Technically, she does not live in the same household as a DLA claimant so she will be subject to the cap. Her income of £663 a week will be capped at £500, resulting in a loss of £163 a week, or £652 a month. I should say that these figures are based on estimates for somebody living in a four-bedroom house in London in council tax band C. Needless to say, this will be devastating. For many families it could lead to a breakdown in family care with huge personal costs to those families and great financial costs to local authorities who will have to step in to provide support. Given these risks and inconsistencies, to ensure that carers are not left potentially hundreds of pounds a month worse-off it is crucial that carers' benefits act to exempt carers from the cap. Can the Minister explain the inconsistencies in the groups of carers who would and would not be affected?