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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:15 pm on 23rd January 2012.

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Photo of Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Opposition Whip (Lords) 9:15 pm, 23rd January 2012

My Lords, rather like the amendment which we discussed earlier on carers, this amendment will, as has been spelt out, protect another unappreciated group: grandparents and other family members or friends who take on the care of children. As the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, has just told the House, we know that the Minister is sympathetic to this group, which includes many children who have experienced significant traumas before their move to a new caring family.

The Who Cares? Trust estimates that a quarter of these children have lived with abuse, neglect and violence, and a quarter will have been deserted by their parents, often after drug and alcohol abuse. About 60 per cent go to grandparents after family breakdown, one in 10 after a parent's illness-often mental illness-and one in 10 after the death of a parent. Applying the benefit cap to these families may leave them facing the difficult choices, of which we have already heard, about whether they can simply afford to carry on taking care of the child or children.

As we know, the impact assessment tells us that a family will lose about £93 a week. That is a substantial chunk of income. That may not be very much to Sir, or Mr, Fred Goodwin, but it is a fortune to some of these families. Should any of them decide that they can simply no longer afford to continue looking after the child, that will, as we have heard, create significant costs for the state. With regard to kinship carer allowance, there are estimates that if just 5 per cent of those currently in the care of family or friends were in formal foster care, that alone would add £500 million a year to the cost that the Minister would have to justify to his friends in the Treasury.

The Minister has spoken many warm words about the role played by kinship carers. He has also told us that the benefit cap is primarily intended not as a deficit reduction measure but to change behaviour. Indeed, his right honourable friend the Secretary of State told the BBC that the cap was aimed at making lives better by reducing dependency. We are not talking about dependent claimants here. We are talking about dependent children, who, after some great trauma or difficulty with their own parents, desperately need the kindness, care and homes offered by these grandparents, siblings, aunts or friends. We should be very careful that the Government's laudable desire to reduce dependency for one group does not have dire effects on the well-being of another.

Given that the cap is not about deficit reduction, so we are not sending the Minister off to arm-wrestle with Her Majesty's Treasury, we hope that he will try to turn those warm words into concrete protection. It has been suggested earlier this evening that maybe there is a little bit of movement to come. I look forward to hearing from him.