Queen’s Speech - Debate (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:11 pm on 17 May 2022.

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Photo of Baroness Jolly Baroness Jolly Liberal Democrat 6:11, 17 May 2022

My Lords, my heart sank somewhat when I saw that the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, was ahead of my on the list, because I knew full well what she would talk about. My speech is all about carers as well, but we are coming at it from a completely different tack.

I looked at the Queen’s Speech and tried to work out what was missing. The subject of carers was completely missing—just not there. So, let us look at some hard facts. We know that many carers look after friends and family, juggling work and caring. One in eight adults considers themselves a carer; that is around 6.5 million people. Every day another 6,000 people take on a caring responsibility, which amounts to an increase of about 2 million people each year. Figures from the ONS suggest that just under 250,000 people under 19 are carers, and about 23,000 are under nine years old.

The Government say that schools have a key role in supporting young carers. I am happy with that, but who leads on determining this support, DfE or the NHS? I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify what this might look like. Over a million people care for more than one person. Carers save the economy £132 billion a year, which is just under £20,000 per carer. Five million people in the UK are juggling caring responsibilities with work; that is one in seven of the workforce. However, the significant demands of caring mean that 600 people give up work every day to care for an older or disabled relative. Carer’s allowance is the main carers benefit and is £67.60 for a minimum of 35 hours—the lowest benefit of its kind. This surely should be reviewed.

People providing high levels of care are twice as likely themselves to be permanently sick or disabled. Some 72% of carers responding to Carers UK’s State of Caring 2018 survey said that they had suffered mental ill-health as a result of caring; 61% said that they had suffered physical ill-health. Eight in 10 people who cared for loved ones said that they felt lonely or socially isolated. Can the Minister tell the House where carers can look for support and advice in these sorts of situations?

At present, people with a learning disability and/or autism can be admitted to an NHS in-patient unit under the Act, even if they do not have a mental health condition. Learning disabilities and autism are not mental health conditions, and the removal of this definition from the Act should go some way to reducing the number of people who are unnecessarily detained in in-patient units. Many noble Lords will remember the scandal exposed by an undercover BBC “Panorama” journalist at Winterbourne View Hospital. What happened there was criminal—and I do not mean that as a figure of speech; it was criminal. Six former members of Winterbourne View staff were jailed for the terrible crimes they committed against their patients, but the serious case review showed that there was a wider failure across the whole system.

There are still more than 2,000 people with a learning disability or autism trapped in in-patient settings, and the average time spent there is over five and a half years. People with either a learning disability or autism or both should be able to live with the support they need, where they want it, and be closer to family and friends. However, if the Government are truly committed to “transforming care” they must go further by getting the care right and ensuring that everyone with a learning disability or autism has their support needs met and can live where and how they want to.