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 Lord Freud Lord Freud The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 9:15 pm, 23rd January 2012

My Lords, I ought to pick up the initial remark by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, that this amendment was to protect another unappreciated group. I emphasise that, from my perspective, this is a most appreciated group. This is an amendment that I listened to with great interest.

It would require us to exempt all family and friends carers from the benefit cap where they have assumed care for a child in the circumstances set out in Amendment 60B. There are two main groups: those formally approved as a foster carer and those providing care on a more informal basis. As noble Lords will remember, in Grand Committee I discussed and recognised the valuable role that kinship carers fulfil. I have had some very useful and valuable meetings with organisations that represent kinship carers to try to get a handle on their priorities. As I said earlier, one of the main issues they are concerned about is that crucial initial period when a child joins a household. In many cases the carer needs to take time off to help the child settle into their new circumstances.

On the formal number in foster placements, figures from the Department for Education show that there are approximately 7,500 children in those placements. Although we do not have a precise number for how many of those might have their benefits capped, we believe that it will be very small. These carers are able to receive support for the children in their care through the benefits system since, unlike approved foster carers, they have access to child benefit and child tax credit on the same basis as parents. Any additional payments that they receive from the local authority are then disregarded as far as the cap is concerned. However, the parity of treatment with parents will continue with the introduction of universal credit. Kinship carers can expect equal treatment to parents from the benefits system, but that does not mean that I will not look very closely at the position of kinship carers in the benefits system as a whole to ensure that they are recognised and supported in the most appropriate way.

In the previous debate we discussed one of the options-that of a grace period in the transition. Clearly, as we develop those protections and transitional approaches, we will bear very much in mind how they affect kinship carers. Therefore, rather than have a specific exemption for a very small number in this way, we need to design something. It is not appropriate to put this into primary legislation. The trick will be to design the overall structure in a way that gives kinship carers the kind of protection that they need and deserve. However, as I say, my main interest here is in looking at how we can best fit kinship carers into the benefits system so that they slot in beside formal fostering arrangements and what we do for parents, including single parents.