Carers: Health and Well-being - Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:44 pm on 12th June 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Pitkeathley Baroness Pitkeathley Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 2:44 pm, 12th June 2018

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the results of the 2011 Census that showed that those caring for 50 hours per week or more are twice as likely to be in poor health as non-carers, what steps they are taking to improve the mental and physical health and well-being of carers.

Photo of Baroness Pitkeathley Baroness Pitkeathley Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I draw attention to my interests in the register.

Photo of Lord O'Shaughnessy Lord O'Shaughnessy The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

My Lords, the Government recognise and value the work that carers do and are committed to supporting carers so that they can provide care without compromising their own health and well-being. That is why, on 5 June, my department published a carers action plan, setting out a cross-government programme of support for carers. Furthermore, there will be a clear focus on carers in the forthcoming social care Green Paper.

Photo of Baroness Pitkeathley Baroness Pitkeathley Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

I thank the Minister for that reply and for the action plan. The process was a bit protracted, as he will remember, but I am glad that the department managed to get it out in time for Carers Week. However, by its own admission it is a short-term plan only to bridge the issue of carers in the run-up to the social care Green Paper. In new research published for Carers Week, 70% of carers said that their own mental health had been adversely affected, while 60% said that their physical health had worsened, and two out of five said that they doubted their ability to go on caring unless they had more support. Given that that care is valued at £130-odd billion a year, that is a time bomb that must be addressed in the Green Paper. Can the Minister reassure the House that the needs of carers will be central to any plans for social care reform? Will he also understand that, as well as the moral imperative for supporting carers, to which I know he is personally committed, there is a very sound economic case for doing so?

Photo of Lord O'Shaughnessy Lord O'Shaughnessy The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

I thank the noble Baroness for her question and for her tenacity in pursuing me on this topic. I am glad that we were able to publish the action plan. It is appropriate during Carers Week to pay tribute to the amazing work that carers do. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet carers who were struggling, often against their own health needs, to care for those they love.

The action plan that we published is a two-year plan. It has some immediate actions but is not purely short-term and contains some actions for the medium term. I highlight one of those, which is important, particularly given these concerns about carers’ health and well-being: a commitment to creating equality standards for carer-friendly GPs. Carers mentioned to me yesterday how important it is for GPs to validate the fact that they are carers and signpost them in the direction of care. I can confirm that carers and support for carers will have prominence in the Green Paper.

Photo of Lord Mackay of Clashfern Lord Mackay of Clashfern Conservative

My Lords, one of the most exciting experiences I ever had in my life was to go to a children’s hospice providing respite care for the parents of children facing an early death as a result of the onset of permanent illness. What sort of provision do we make for that?

Photo of Lord O'Shaughnessy Lord O'Shaughnessy The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

The importance of respite care is agreed by everybody. I point my noble friend to the better care fund, which provides around £130 million a year to support respite care and carers’ breaks, building on the commitment made in the Care Act 2014.

Photo of Baroness Tyler of Enfield Baroness Tyler of Enfield Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the action plan contains a number of generalised statements about the need for health and social care professionals to have improved understanding and awareness of the needs of carers. What specific plans do the Government have to ensure that social worker training—both initial training and later professional development—contains practical guidance on how to identify carer fatigue and distress and ensure that carers receive the support to which they are entitled?

Photo of Lord O'Shaughnessy Lord O'Shaughnessy The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

The noble Baroness makes a very important point. Indeed, in the carers action plan there is a specific commitment from the department to work with local authorities to improve social work guidance in terms of spotting carers, many of whom are not even aware that they are formally designated as carers, and signposting them to the right support. There will also be an awareness-raising campaign among social workers so that they understand their duties.

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

Will the Government’s action plan have a specific focus on children and adolescents who are carers, often of a single parent who may have physical and/or mental health problems? The child often carries the whole responsibility, and is sometimes also responsible for their siblings. When they have an adverse experience, such as coming home and finding their parent deteriorated or dead, they need an enormous amount of support. Therefore, the education system also needs to be involved in any strategy looking at children.

Photo of Lord O'Shaughnessy Lord O'Shaughnessy The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

The noble Baroness is quite right; it is hard to imagine what the burden must be on those young carers who are looking after parents and siblings. Young carers are explicitly mentioned in the action plan; again, I point to two commitments in that. First, there is a young carers identification project, which is working with Carers UK to make sure that we can find young carers. Secondly, the DfE has committed in its children in need review to make sure that young carers are getting the educational support they need in school and out of school to make sure that their educational outcomes do not suffer.

Photo of Lord Touhig Lord Touhig Labour

My Lords, almost 50,000 babies, children and young people need palliative care, yet children’s hospices receive less statutory funding than adult hospices, and the lack of collaboration between support services is a major challenge. Carers and those they care for would benefit if we had a children’s palliative care strategy that was family-centred and had a holistic focus on health, education and social care. Does the Minister agree with that?

Photo of Lord O'Shaughnessy Lord O'Shaughnessy The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

Children’s hospices do an extraordinary job. They get less statutory funding as a percentage of their total; there are good reasons for that, both historically and to do with the type of care they provide. The Government are providing £11 million of support in 2018-19 through the children’s hospices grant to support them, in addition to funding from local clinical commissioning groups. But I will take his proposal for a palliative care strategy back to my right honourable friend the Minister for Care. I know that she is very interested in this issue.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

My Lords, the advice for local authorities on short breaks for carers of disabled children says on page 7 that short breaks should not just be there for those at crisis point. Given that many short break centres are now being closed across the country, removing help even at a crisis point, what are the Government doing to ensure that short breaks for children and their carers—for our most vulnerable and disabled children—will be guaranteed for the future?

Photo of Lord O'Shaughnessy Lord O'Shaughnessy The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

In addition to the £130 million in the better care fund, there is a commitment in the carers action plan to develop examples of best practice that can be spread around local authorities to make sure they all reach the highest standards. At the moment, unfortunately, only some of them are doing so.