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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:00 pm on 23rd January 2012.

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Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government) 9:00 pm, 23rd January 2012

My Lords, Amendment 60A seeks to protect carers from the impact of the benefit cap in cases in which they are not living with the person for whom they care. On the last day on which we debated the Bill, the Minister told us of the value that the Government place on carers and their work. However, the Bill is drafted in such a way that this work will be valued only when the carer lives with the person for whom they care and thus excluded from the benefit cap by virtue of that person's eligibility for DLA or PIP. Carers who are not part of the DLA claimant's household, as we have heard, will be subject to the benefit cap. They are therefore likely to lose their carer's allowance, suggesting that the Government place no value on their care.

As we have heard, the latest impact assessment estimates that 5,000 carers will be affected by the cap-that is the number provided by my noble friend Lady Lister-and yet not only does such care save the taxpayer thousands of pounds but the carer will be almost unable to work-or at least full time-by virtue of their caring. So they may face the choice of ending their care role in order to live. This is not theoretical. One in six carers has made the difficult decision to give up work to care, leading to an average loss of £11,000 a year. Many such families struggle to make ends meet as they cope with both a drop in income and the increased costs of caring-for example, through buying extra support and equipment and travelling to hospital and doctors' appointments.

The impact of the cap will be to make this struggle significantly more difficult. Carers affected could lose £87 a week. Indeed, it may mean that some carers are faced with a tough choice between giving up caring-imposing significant costs on health and social care services-or taking a significant financial hit.

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions told the BBC on Friday that people were "not suffering" as a result of his welfare reforms. Perhaps he would like to reconsider whether carers are likely to suffer if the amendment is not passed.

The Secretary of State might also consider the case of some of our service personnel. War widows are excluded-quite rightly-from the benefit cap, but should a mother helping to look after her son, injured in Kabul or Iraq, and claiming carer's allowance for this, still be subject to the cap? Is that fair? I look forward to the Minister's response.

Amendment 61, which relates to temporary accommodation, was to a degree dealt with in the first amendment we discussed today. It was a component of that broader amendment. We certainly support the amendment. I took it from what the Minister said in response to that general debate that something was afoot to address this issue but, without having had the chance to read Hansard yet, it was not totally clear what. Perhaps he will take the opportunity of saying it again, expanding, promising to write or whichever of those options he feels appropriate. It sounded as though there was a recognition of the need to address the issue that has been raised by the amendment. I certainly support the fact that there should be a move to address this and I look forward to receiving further information.

We very much support Amendment 60 and a period of grace. We would have been happy to support 52 weeks, but if 26 weeks is what the noble Lord, Lord Best, is pressing for, we would certainly support that should he wish to press the matter.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, that there are two things here. There are issues around transition. I see that the Lib Dem Benches are placing great faith in what might flow from transition and the offers that might come. However, I think that is different from an ongoing period of grace. The purpose of this, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, and my noble friend Lady Drake have enunciated, is to help people who fall out of work and to allow them a period of adjustment or a period of grace before the cap hits. There might be a transitional component to that, but this needs to be something of a permanent feature of the arrangements to make sense.

I suppose that six months corresponds with the contributory JSA period. My noble friend Lady Drake may be more up to date than I am on the data. It used to be 50 per cent back in work in three months and 75 per cent in six months. The data may have moved on. Certainly, given the unemployment figures that are around, I think even the longer period suggested by my noble friend must be somewhat difficult. The arguments in favour of a period of grace seem to be overwhelming. For someone to have to cope with all the traumas of losing their job and at the same time have to face changes in accommodation and moving to a new area, which could be a direct consequence of the cap, would be unforgivable. I hope that the Minister can say something positive on that as well.