Carer’s Allowance — [Hannah Bardell in the Chair]

British and Overseas Judges: Hong Kong – in Westminster Hall at 11:20 am on 30th March 2022.

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[Hannah Bardell in the Chair]

Photo of Karl Turner Karl Turner Labour, Kingston upon Hull East 2:30 pm, 30th March 2022

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered carer’s allowance.

It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Bardell. I thank all the Members who have taken the time to attend this incredibly important and timely debate.

It is no exaggeration to describe unpaid carers as the backbone of the social care system and of communities up and down the country. In caring for relatives and loved ones, their dedication ensures thousands of people living with disability or illness are able to live with dignity and respect. They are vital and their work is crucially important to society, but too often they are not treated with the decency and respect they deserve or given credit for their work, not just in caring for people but in benefiting wider society.

There are an estimated 11.5 million unpaid carers across the UK, with over 900,000 of them putting in the minimum 35 hours to receive the carer’s allowance of just £67.60 per week. It is a crying shame that their efforts are so poorly recognised. Meagre as it might be, the benefit is crucial in allowing carers to perform their vital service, which would simply not be possible otherwise. However, working outside those caring responsibilities not only brings home much-needed wages, but we know there are many benefits from keeping in touch with the workplace, including carers’ identities and self-esteem, and social engagement outside their full-time caring role.

Were carers not providing the care that they provide, and the state were forced to step in instead, the cost to the Treasury would be extremely high. The charity Carers UK estimates the economic value of unpaid care provided over the two years of the pandemic at more than £380 billion—that is more than the entire NHS budget over the same period. Given the vital importance of unpaid carers and the allowance that helps them do what they do, I was utterly appalled when my constituent, Mr Steve Spamer, wrote to me recently to explain the changes the Government will impose on him just a few weeks from now.

Steve is registered blind, and has been for many years. Not only does his wife provide round-the-clock care, but to make ends meet she works two jobs, up to the maximum hours permitted by the allowance’s earning threshold. She does six hours cleaning in the local pub and eight hours in the local shop, on top of providing full-time care. Working 14 hours at the national minimum wage rate comes to £124.74 per week, just under the current earnings threshold of £128.

Next month, the minimum wage will rise by just under 7% to £9.50 an hour. While this is not enough to address the cost of living crisis, an issue that I will come back to shortly, it is of course welcome. As a passionate believer in the minimum wage, I am glad to see it rise. The carer’s allowance will go up too, by approximately 3% to £69.70 per week. Again, that is a far cry from where it should be, in my view. Members across the House, especially Ministers in London, should have frank conversations with themselves about whether they could survive on that sum. None the less, we welcome the increase.

The earnings threshold will rise by the same rate. The issue for Mr Spamer and his family, who will certainly not be alone, is that the rise in the minimum wage and in the earnings threshold simply do not match up, forcing them, and many others, into an impossible dilemma. The Minister might respond that Mrs Spamer could reduce her hours so that she does not exceed the earnings threshold. That is all well and good, but this is the real world, not a spreadsheet. She cannot work just one hour less; she would have to give up one of those jobs entirely. Even if that were the smaller job—at the pub, for example, at six hours a week—that is a loss of £57, nearly £200 a month. That is comparatively a fortune to the family, and the difference between having something to eat, putting grub in their tummies, and not turning on the central heating.

The only other option is to give up the carer’s allowance, because if the earnings threshold is exceeded by just £1, 100% of the benefit is removed. That is the harshest withdrawal rate in the entire welfare system. That is the choice, though it can hardly be called that, that the Spamers and thousands of other families now face, cut back by £200 or £280 a month. They are stuck between a rock and a hard place, in the face of a devastating cost of living crisis, soaring inflation, sky-rocketing energy bills, and a Chancellor more interested in publicity stunts than putting money in the pockets of working people.

It is worth bearing in mind that the £20 universal credit uplift shamefully did not apply to those on legacy benefits, including carer’s allowance. People in this position have received even less support than others. The Minister knows all of this. I was grateful to have had the opportunity earlier today to speak to her briefly about what I wished to raise, so I know this will come as no surprise.

I also wrote to her six weeks ago, to raise the Spamers’ case. I had hoped that the discrepancy between the national minimum wage and the carer’s allowance earnings threshold rises was a simple, honest oversight, rather than a catastrophic, seemingly deliberate omission, affecting unpaid carers. Sadly, the reply I received confirmed that the Department for Work and Pensions was proceeding exactly as intended, and would only consider further changes to the earnings limit

“where they are warranted and affordable”.

The Minister needs to have a long, hard think about how those words sound to families up and down the country, frankly doing the work of heroes, caring for people who are incredibly ill, some who might be near death, and saving the country an absolute fortune. In recent years, consensus has been reached in this House and the country on the need, though not the method, for root and branch reform of the social care system. A conversation on how the carer’s allowance fits in to that picture is long overdue.

Mr Spamer and his family, and all the thousands of people like them, should not be subject to a drawn-out review and consultation. They are staring down the barrel of the gun in just a few weeks’ time. The bare minimum I ask of the Minister today, without fudges and caveats, is to fix this punishing anomaly. Match up the rates and do not punish those who have done absolutely nothing but good for their family and society.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development Team Member)

Before we move to the next speaker, I ask hon. Members to be mindful of how much interest there is in this important debate. If they can keep their contributions to around six minutes, I will not impose a formal time limit.

Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Labour, Worsley and Eccles South 2:40 pm, 30th March 2022

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate with you in the Chair, Ms Bardell. I congratulate my hon. Friend Karl Turner on securing this important debate. The cost of living crisis is affecting everyone, but the toll on unpaid carers is particularly heavy, as we have just heard.

Carer’s allowance is the lowest benefit of its kind at just £67.60 a week. Many carers are in arrears, but cutting back on what is spent is not an option when the person being cared for relies on an electric ventilator, an electric wheelchair, pressure pads, hoists or a stairlift, or that person must be kept warm due to a medical condition. Other costs facing carers are also likely to be higher and difficult to reduce, such as transport costs to attend medical appointments or food bills due to dietary or nutritional requirements. Inflation is rising as much as 10% for low-income households because a greater proportion of their income is spent on those energy costs. However, the 3% uplift in carer’s allowance next month does not begin to match those spiralling costs of food and energy.

In a survey, Carers UK has reported that two thirds of carers are currently unable to meet their monthly costs and that is before all the spiralling increases. Furthermore, a quarter of the carers surveyed are already having to use foodbanks. That means the number of unpaid carers relying on foodbanks may be substantial, because as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East just said, there are 11 million unpaid carers.

Katy Styles is an unpaid carer who cares for her husband and mother. She is a campaigner for the Motor Neurone Disease Association. She gave evidence this week to the House of Lords Adult Social Care Committee and said:

“It would be remiss of me not to mention carers’ finances, because that makes you invisible and impacts on absolutely everything. I went from being a full-time teacher to being a part-time teacher to accommodate my caring role”.

She then went from being a part-time teacher to

“having to give up my job because it was not flexible enough. You have to be there in core hours. You have to be there during term time. If your husband has an issue or needs a medical appointment that is out of that time, you cannot support them.

I am on £67.60 a week now, having had £150 a day. It is a very different thing. I am lucky, because I actually get carer’s allowance. There are so many carers who are not supported with carer’s allowance. That has to change. It needs reform.”

There is a recognition of that need for extra support for unpaid carers in other parts of the UK. Unpaid carers in Scotland receive the carer’s allowance supplement, while in Wales it was recently announced by the Labour Government that unpaid carers would be given a £500 payment to recognise their commitment to caring during the pandemic. By contrast, unpaid carers in England are being left to get by with only a £2 a week increase in carer’s allowance. That miserly increase would be swallowed up, from this Friday, by paying £2.50 for a single lateral flow test just to keep the person they care for safe. On top of that come the soaring bills I have already mentioned.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East has talked about the mismatch between the increase in the national living wage and the carer’s allowance earnings threshold, leaving carers, as he said, with impossible choices and loss of income. We cannot continue to leave carers without proper support. That includes carer’s breaks. Funding for respite care has dried up and is no longer earmarked for breaks as it was up to 2010. Carers UK has estimated that 72% of carers have not had a break from caring during the pandemic. Three quarters of carers say they are exhausted and worn out from that caring during the pandemic. The Government’s plan in the social care White Paper for five days of unpaid leave—unpaid leave—to care is woefully insufficient. Once again in her evidence to the Lords Committee on Monday, Katy Styles said:

“I do not know any carer that has had a break. I have not had a break or one day off in eight years. Indeed, I had surgery 10 days ago for a major eye operation. I was in the theatre at 6.30 and back home caring at 9.30, because there is no support.”

Katy also highlighted how carers who are not identified as such do not get signposted or helped to access even the support that is available. She has been a full-time carer for 10 years, but has only received carer’s allowance for eight. She said:

“If you don’t identify then you’re not signposted to any support...I didn’t know that, I’ve missed out on benefits, Carer’s Allowance, for some years, I’ve missed out on carer’s assessments for years.”

In 2012, I brought in a private Member’s Bill on the identification of carers. That would have created a new duty on the NHS to identify carers and promote their health and wellbeing. The then Care Minister in the coalition Government did not support my Bill. When the carers action plan came along, it was not so ambitious; it proposed merely a system of quality markers so that GPs could demonstrate that they were good at identifying carers. Carers organisations know that proper identification of carers by the NHS would mean that we could support carers much more effectively. Carers such as Katy Styles would have been identified as carers more quickly, and signposted to benefits and support earlier, had my Bill been supported by the Government.

The carers action plan expired at the end of 2020. The Health and Social Care Committee, of which I am a member, has recommended a number of times that the Government publish a national carers strategy. An ambitious national strategy for carers backed up by funding is essential to tackle those problems of identification and support that I have talked about. I hope that the Minister will listen and understand the seriousness of the challenges facing unpaid carers, which have been outlined in this debate and will be more so by my colleagues. I hope that she will use the input and lived experience of carers, which were sent in when the Government consulted carers in 2016 to develop a national carers strategy—something they promised but never delivered.

I will finish with the words of one unpaid carer responding to a Carers UK survey this month, which highlights the situation that so many unpaid carers are in:

“It seems everything has increased in cost apart from the money we have to live on. It means that I don’t always have 3 meals a day now. We don’t always have the heating on. Why should someone who has a terminal illness not afford to have a warm home?”

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 2:46 pm, 30th March 2022

The reason I am participating in the debate is that I brought together an unpaid carers group that has been meeting over the past few months to talk about the current situation. The fact is, it is heart-rending to talk about the struggle that most of them are having. The pressure they are under is immense, and the pressure that they have been under as a result of covid has exacerbated the way in which their lives have been transformed by the altruistic act of caring for someone else.

The carers in the group are, basically, families looking after a child with a disability or a special need, or families looking after an elderly relative. What is also remarkable is the number of the children who look after others in their families. What came across in the group is that that act of caring has implications for the whole family: individuals have given up their careers to undertake caring, and siblings who have given up the opportunity of going to university to help the family out with care overall.

It is interesting that none of them asks for anything in return. They do not even ask for thanks. They just want to get by. They just want to be able to survive. To be frank, from the discussions I have been having with them, I do not think that some will survive this coming period. We call it the cost of living crisis glibly, but it is a crisis for this particular group of people in our society in a way that it is possibly not for others.

To run through some things that they would emphasise—points others have made—for example, the issue of higher energy costs is not just about heating; it is the energy that is needed to maintain basic equipment to enable the person people are caring for to survive, as my hon. Friend Barbara Keeley said. Apart from the health-support devices and the special equipment, other issues raised were the transport costs to get to appointments—again, that can become very costly—and nutritional costs, in particular as inflation hits hard a number of nutritional inputs required for the person they are caring for.

It then comes down to what those carers receive. My hon. Friend Karl Turner raised the issue of the contradiction between the earnings allowance and carer’s allowance. It is ludicrous—we all know that it is ludicrous—and it just needs resolving quickly. I do not understand what logic there is for arguing for anything other than reform on that issue. It comes down to the basic level of carer’s allowance, as far as I am concerned. We are inflicting a level of poverty on these people, who do so much work to assist our society overall.

Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Scotland)

I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. We have Carers Week, when we celebrate and thank carers, coming up in June. Does he agree that there is no better time to look seriously at raising the carer’s allowance and making sure that we not only recognise carers with words but treat them decently?

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

I fully agree. There is a sense of urgency about this issue now, because what came out of the discussions that I have had with the carers group that I brought together is the stress that carers are under, and the mental health implications not only for themselves as individuals but for their whole family. We know that there are examples in the past of how such stress has caused a mental health problem that has led to suicide.

There is a need for urgent action now. We have gone beyond intellectual debates about this issue; we just need some action rapidly, given the fact that carers face these massive increases in prices, particularly around energy. And then effectively they face a cut—a 3.1% increase, as against inflation now, which ranges between 7% and 10%. That level of inflation comes in like a whirlwind for these particular families and we need urgent action now. Perhaps that action has not been considered effectively in the past, but it certainly needs to be considered now.

Photo of David Linden David Linden Scottish National Party, Glasgow East

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for giving way. Does he also believe that it is incumbent on the state to view this matter through the prism of preventive spending? If we pile so much pressure on these carers, who are caring for some of the most vulnerable people, and then the carers themselves end up in mental health predicaments or poor health, the costs of that will be borne by the state anyway. So it is a false economy not to support them.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

That is exactly the final point that I was going to make, because most of the people who I have talked to are at a tipping point, where they and their whole family can no longer survive on the level of income they have, given the pressure they are under.

What comes across time and again is that carers have to struggle: first of all for recognition; then for assessment of the person they are caring for; then for support services; and then for just a respite every now and again. For some of them, that struggle is becoming insurmountable. Then what happens? The person they are caring for is taken into care and the costs escalate beyond anything that we have seen so far. So there is a desperate need to resolve this matter.

I will just throw in one other point as well. The benefit that carers get is not an access benefit to other benefits. With regard to energy costs in particular, a small step would be access to winter fuel allowance and—to be frank—a doubling of that winter fuel allowance.

Photo of Wendy Chamberlain Wendy Chamberlain Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Wales), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 2:53 pm, 30th March 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Bardell.

We need our unpaid carers. Carers UK estimates that there were up to 13.6 million unpaid carers during the pandemic, providing care worth £530 million per day. However, carers have been left to fall into poverty by this Government. Carer’s allowance currently equates to £1.93 per hour, assuming a carer only does 35 hours of care, which they need to do in order to receive the allowance. Even with the 3.1% uplift, that figure will increase to only £1.99, which is still less than £2 per hour.

Carers have borne the brunt of the pandemic. In research by Carers UK, 81% of carers said they had to provide more care during the pandemic; 35% were providing more care because services were closed or not available during the pandemic; and 80% of them were caring for someone whose condition worsened during the pandemic.

This Government forgot unpaid carers during the pandemic, which is evidenced by the fact they initially did not include carers in the priority categories for vaccination. I will just point out that, having previously been an unpaid carer himself, my right hon. Friend Ed Davey did a lot of work to ensure that that was rectified.

Unless someone has cared for somebody else, it is hard to know the day-to-day pressure of performing a caring role. It does not matter how much they love the person they are caring for; caring takes its toll. We know that the pandemic has taken its toll on everyone and we know the impact on mental health of lockdowns, uncertainty and constant worrying. For those in caring positions, it can be a million times worse. Caring can also be a very lonely role. All disabled people and all conditions are different. For some, caring means caring for a loved one who does not have the mental capacity, who cannot communicate and who potentially gets confused.

When preparing for the debate, I spoke to my researcher—I am grateful to her for allowing me to share this—who recalled the experience that she and her mother had when caring for her father, who developed early and severe dementia a decade ago. She told me how his constant confusion and distress at not being able to make sense of his thoughts or communicate them worried the whole family. Much like a toddler, he would lash out, shout words that made no sense, and sometimes cause harm to the people and things around him. She said that they saw themselves as lucky—not only because he passed away quickly and was put out of his distressing circumstances, but because it happened long before the pandemic. She said that the confusion of the new rules would have simply been overwhelming for him, and that the isolation of lockdown without any respite would have left lasting damage to both her and her mother. This will not be the experience for all carers, but it will be the experience for many. They need not only our thanks but our support, and it must be tangible.

Lifting restrictions means that more disabled people are being required to continue shielding, because underlying health conditions have not gone away. It means that some people are simply not leaving their homes. It means they avoid seeing others or going to support services in the community. It means avoiding going into care homes for respite, and it means that people rely more heavily on the friends and family who care for them.

My party opposed the Government’s decision to scrap free lateral flow tests from this Friday, and although the Government have announced that some categories will be able to access testing, they do not include unpaid carers, who have been forgotten again. It is true that carers often share homes with the people for whom they care, so there is a risk of infection even if it is known that the carer has covid, but this is not always the case. Many carers provide full-time unpaid care to those outside their home, as reflected by the fact that people can apply for carer’s allowance even if they provide care to a friend outside their home, so I ask the Government to consider ensuring that unpaid carers have access to lateral flow tests.

I think that Members on the opposition side of the Chamber agree that £69.70 is not enough to live on. It is a real-terms cut to the carer’s allowance, and those on carer’s allowance are already living on a knife edge. In Scotland, the carer’s allowance supplement—£237.90 every six months—provides some additional help, but there ought to be an uplift for all unpaid carers everywhere. As Karl Turner referred to in his opening remarks, it was disgraceful that when the uplift to universal credit was introduced, it was not extended to those on legacy benefits. The Government should have uplifted the remaining benefits at that time. If £69.70 is not enough for people to live on, one would think that the Government would support people who are trying to earn and do something to increase their incomes, but no. Carers are unable to earn more than £128 per week before having their allowance cut, which means that £197.70 per week is all they can hope to earn.

A constituent of mine wrote to me only yesterday. She talked about how she has had to leave her employment because she cannot get any help to support her disabled adult daughter. She would work full time if she could, and she would choose not to seek anything from the state, but it is just not possible. As it is, what little support she receives is not enough. In her own words:

“I cannot stress enough how life and death the question is. We are stuck and there is nothing we can do to change it.”

Hon. Members have referred to the fact that unpaid carers have increased costs, often because the people for whom they care have higher costs. To make ends meet, this means going without in other ways, which was happening even before we faced the cost of living crisis that we now see.

Carers should be able to transition into work or education if they want, but at the moment there is a ban on carers receiving full-time education. This means that young carers who are learning and caring for their family are being left without financial support. With more flexible learning methods now being commonly used, there is no reason why an older person could not be doing full-time training from home while still providing care. The ban does nothing but stop carers reaching their potential in life, and it keeps them reliant on the small levels of benefits provided by the Government, who say they want to make work pay. Working not only puts vital money in the pockets of carers, but gives a source of identity and support outside that caring role.

In conclusion, being a carer is hard. Accessing the support needed to fulfil that role should not make it even harder. Providing a carer’s allowance that actually cares is essential.

Photo of Rebecca Long-Bailey Rebecca Long-Bailey Labour, Salford and Eccles 2:59 pm, 30th March 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Bardell. I thank my hon. Friend Karl Turner for securing this very important debate, and for his passionate speech—one that I very much agree with. At the last census in 2011, 24,188 people over the age of 16 were carers in Salford. Nationally, Carers UK estimates that there are now 11.5 million people across the UK who give unpaid support to someone who is elderly, seriously ill or disabled. It estimates that, by doing so, unpaid carers are saving the Government a whopping £193 billion a year.

Last year it was noted that there were only 900,000 full-time unpaid carers nationally who received support of any kind, in the form of carer’s allowance. At only £67.25 per week, it is the lowest benefit of its kind. There are so many more who are excluded from receiving carer’s allowance, including: carers in full-time education or studying for 21 hours or more a week; carers earning more than £128 per week, which is less than 15 hours a week on the national living wage; and carers who spend less than 35 hours per week on their caring responsibilities.

It is clear that even before the cost of living crisis, thousands of carers were facing extreme financial hardship. Indeed, a recent survey by Carers UK found that more than a third of those on carer’s allowance are struggling to make ends meet; many had been struggling for months, often relying on food banks to feed themselves and the people they care for. Now, as energy bills increase by up to 50%, inflation rises and the cost of day-to-day essentials skyrockets, there is a real worry that without urgent support from Government many carers and their families will simply be unable to cope. Those in receipt of the menial carer’s allowance have been awarded a 3.1% increase. However, as we know, inflation is set to reach at least 7.5%, so they face a real-terms benefit cut.

New research from Carers UK reveals that the financial pressures on unpaid carers have become untenable. Just under half—45%—of unpaid carers said that they are currently unable to manage their monthly expenses and that any further increase in energy bills will negatively affect their own physical and mental health, or that of the person they care for. Many also said that they were taking difficult steps to manage their monthly expenses; 58% had cut back on heating while 14% had already fallen into arrears with their energy bills. In the months ahead, more than two in five thought that they would not be able to heat their home to a safe level, while a third were worried that they would have to use a food bank.

It is clear that urgent Government action is required. I join Carers UK in calling on the Minister, first, to increase carer’s allowance and other benefits so that they rise in line with current inflation predictions. Secondly, the Government should immediately extend the warm home discount scheme to ensure that it includes carers on the lowest incomes. Thirdly, the Government should increase the paltry earnings limit for those claiming carer’s allowance, so that it is at least equal to 16 hours of work at the national living wage, and provide a carer’s supplement to all carers with an entitlement in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, as carers in Scotland have been receiving since 2018.

Unpaid carers are the backbone of our families; they are our mums, dads, brothers, sisters, partners and friends. They support us in our time of need. It is time we gave them the recognition and thanks that they deserve by supporting them too.

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Labour, Bolton South East 3:03 pm, 30th March 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Bardell. I thank my hon. Friend Karl Turner for securing this important debate. I begin by declaring an interest. I will be speaking from a place of personal experience, as someone who is a carer. Indeed, there are 13.6 million unpaid carers in the United Kingdom supporting family members and friends. Many of their stories go untold, as do their struggles. I know that some hon. Members have spoken about the struggles of the people they have come across, and how they have tried to cope with this.

I will talk a little bit about my situation. Effectively, over the past 10 years I have been a carer. First I was a carer to my mother, who passed away in 2017—during the course of the general election—and more recently I have been a carer to my brother, who has a number of chronic conditions. Trying to balance life—to balance working, family and caring—is very difficult. However, I am lucky enough to have a decent income. I am lucky because my work is flexible and I can rearrange appointments. If I had a nine-to-five job, I would not be able to look after my family members, and I would have to leave my job, as did the teacher, a constituent of my hon. Friend Barbara Keeley, and that is not fair. We are the fourth or fifth richest country in the world. We should not have to be in this position and people should not have to do that.

Even though I am financially stable and have flexibility, even I get tired, as do others. For example, about eight weeks ago my brother telephoned me in the middle of the night, at 3 o’clock in the morning, to say that he had a massive pain in his arm. I called an ambulance and he was taken straight to Salford hospital. He had an MRI, was found to have a clot in his arm, and was operated on immediately. That same night I was with him, but the next morning was a Monday and I had to come down to Parliament. When we stay with family members for nights on end, in the morning we can hardly keep our eyes open and we take loads of paracetamol to try to get rid of the headache that we get from not having slept at night.

I know that social services provide some carers and people do get carers coming in, but that is not enough. Their hours are limited. They are there for half an hour or 45 minutes to give someone tea or lunch, but what about the four or five-hour gap before the next carer visit? More importantly, the night-time visits have now effectively been stopped by local authorities. I remember caring for my elderly mother. Because of her physical, emotional and psychological situation, I could be up three times a night with her. As I have said, I was able to cope, but others cannot.

As my right hon. Friend John McDonnell has said, everyone knows about social care and the lack of financial provision for carers. We have discussed it in Parliament hundreds of times. It has been debated again and again, but no Government have grasped the issue and done anything with it. We need drastic changes in the whole care system. There are 13.6 million carers, some of whom, as other Members have said, have had to leave their jobs or stop their education, because that is the grim reality of caring for a sick member of the family.

For me it is a privilege and an honour to be able to look after my family. I feel pleased that I can be with them, but I feel sorry for all those whose families are not around them—people who are left on their own, often languishing for hours and hours without anyone to look after them. It is those people that we need to be concerned about, as well as the carers who end up looking after them.

This has already been mentioned, but the carer’s allowance is going up by only 3.5%, and inflation is already more than 7%. We know that heating bills are going up. A lot of elderly and ill people often need extra heating, and if they are with their families, that often means the bill will be paid by their families.

Transport costs can be much higher because someone might need to be accompanied or they might need taxis to go to medical appointments. According to Carers UK, 24% of carers in receipt of carer’s allowance are using food banks to make ends meet. It also states that:

“The additional costs of caring can be compounded by carers having to reduce their working hours”,

as I said, or “leave employment” altogether.

What is the Minister and her Government doing to give support to carers at this very difficult time? What are they going to do in real terms to increase the benefits and allowances that carers get? Will they consider extending the warm home discount scheme to unpaid carers, to recognise the particularly high energy costs that carers often face to keep the person they are looking after safe and warm? Believe me, most ill people need extra heating.

We need a comprehensive plan for social care to support our ageing population and to relieve the pressures on the NHS. Many unwell people spend extra time in hospital because there is no social care support package available for them, delaying them there. The average person has a 50:50 chance of caring by the age of 50 —long before they reach retirement age. Most will not be able to do that, and they cannot use private carers. The Government know that, the medical profession know it, social services know it, local authorities know it, and we all know it. There is a big problem and a sad situation. Something needs to be done now.

Photo of Beth Winter Beth Winter Labour, Cynon Valley 3:10 pm, 30th March 2022

It is an honour to serve under your chairship, Ms Bardell. Other Labour Members have outlined passionately the key issue that care, as a whole, has been insufficiently provided for by this and preceding Governments. Care work, whether paid or unpaid and whether for younger people, older people or disabled people, is undervalued. Having listened to other contributions, every one of us either currently cares for someone or knows someone who has a caring responsibility. Coming to terms with somebody’s illness is difficult in any case, but to have to fight for recognition of the invaluable role that that person fulfils, and to beg for money not to have to suffer poverty, is shameful and must be addressed. After the last election, the Prime Minister stated:

“we will fix the crisis in social care once and for all”.

More than two years later, we have seen no change or improvement in support for caring.

Today in this country, accessing care is too expensive; those who work in care are underpaid, undervalued and overworked. Owners of some care businesses have been accused of being asset strippers. Those who have to conduct visits have too great expectations. The time and effort of those who care for family members is too often forgotten by this Government. As others have said, carer’s allowance at its current rate is completely unacceptable. The pathetic uplift of just over £2 is absolutely shameful. Inflation could hit 10% this year. How can people be expected to survive on that paltry amount? It is beyond me and it should be beyond this Government.

The earnings threshold is very low and blunt, as others have said. It is lower than other income replacement benefits and needs to be reviewed urgently. We need a response from the Government. For more than a decade the Work and Pensions Committee has repeated called for an increased earnings limit and the introduction of a taper. The uprating of carer’s allowance needs to be synchronised with the real living wage. Carers UK stated in response to the spring statement:

“Many carers are already dipping into savings using credit cards, and cutting back on essentials to keep the person they care for warm and to protect their health.”

People currently cannot afford to eat or heat their homes; how are they expected to survive with a real-terms cut in their benefits?

I want to focus the rest of my remarks on my country of Wales. I am proud of our support for carers and am pleased to have the opportunity to pay tribute to a dear family friend who was the MP for Aberavon until 2005, Dr Hywel Francis, who sadly passed away recently. He was responsible for introducing the Carers (Equal Opportunities) Act 2004, which aimed to ensure that carers were adequately valued and supported. The dismal financial situation in which so many currently find themselves means that that aim will not be fulfilled. It has been impossible to implement all the excellent things in that Act, which is coming up to its 20th anniversary.

I am pleased that the Welsh Government are following Dr Francis’s caring and compassionate example. I want to refer to some positive examples of support for carers, which the UK Government must look to. Last week, Julie Morgan, the Deputy Minister for Social Services in the Welsh Labour Government, highlighted how 60% of carers in Wales had reduced their hours at work to manage their caring responsibilities and 6% had given up work altogether. In recognition of that difficulty, she confirmed that 57,000 registered unpaid carers would be awarded a one-off £500 payment in a commitment worth £29 million.

There have been positive responses from agencies in Wales. Kate Young, the chair of Wales Carers Alliance and director of the All Wales Forum of Parents and Carers, welcomed the news that many unpaid carers across Wales would now be supported by that payment. Claire Morgan, director of Carers Wales, said:

“This £500 payment is an important first step in actively recognising carers’ daily contribution to our society”.

Even though Welsh Labour in government has taken more action than its counterpart in Westminster, we know there is more to do. The Welsh Government, as well as carer support organisations, recognise the need to reform the carer’s allowance across the UK. They are keeping up the pressure on the UK Government to put that right for carers, as it is the UK Government’s responsibility.

Last month, Julie Morgan said she regretted the fact that Wales did not control the carer’s allowance. The Welsh Affairs Committee, of which I am a member, published a report less than two weeks ago, saying that there should be an assessment of the potential merits of devolving the administration of social security benefits to Wales, as has happened in Scotland. Scotland has used those powers to establish the carer’s allowance supplement.

I want to remind the House that Welsh Labour in government has also introduced a £1,000 bonus for 53,000 care workers in Wales, starting in April, which will be consolidated to ensure that the living wage is paid to social care workers. That is costing the Welsh Government £43 million. I have just come back from a Citizens UK gathering in Parliament Square with Welsh colleagues that was pushing for health and social care workers in England also to be paid the living wage. I look forward to seeing that change happen.

Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Labour, Worsley and Eccles South

It is worth mentioning that Salford City Council, which is represented by two of us present, is also paying the national living wage, as are a number of authorities around Greater Manchester. That is important in the debate because carers also depend on quality. Quantity of care is woeful but quality is important too, and quality improves with better pay.

Photo of Beth Winter Beth Winter Labour, Cynon Valley

I fully agree, and that is excellent news.

To conclude, this issue is all part of building towards a national care service in Wales, which Welsh Labour’s programme for Government is committed to. In announcing the uplift to care workers’ pay, the Minister in Cardiff referred to the commitment

“to set up an expert group to support a shared ambition to create a National Care Service, free at the point of need”.

That was a commitment that I made when I stood for Parliament in 2019 under our manifesto, and I am pleased that Welsh Labour in government are delivering on that. There is another way forward: a way that recognises and rewards care work for the contribution that people make to society. Labour Members recognise that, including my hon. Friend Karl Turner. I hope the Government are listening, because millions throughout the country are tired of waiting.

Photo of Mick Whitley Mick Whitley Labour, Birkenhead 3:18 pm, 30th March 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Bardell. I am immensely grateful to my hon. Friend Karl Turner for securing this important debate. Across the country, millions of people make enormous sacrifices to care for the people they love. Looking after somebody in need of full-time care too often means giving up on work, friendships and so many of the ordinary opportunities that the rest of us take for granted.

Our country could not have survived the pandemic without the determination and resilience of unpaid carers. While doctors and nurses battled to save lives and as the virus engulfed care homes, which this Government unforgivably failed to make safe, millions of ordinary people stepped up to assume additional caring responsibilities and to paper over the cracks that have been inflicted on health and social care by successive Tory Governments.

In 2020, the campaign group Carers UK estimated that unpaid carers collectively save the nation £530 million in caring costs every single day of the pandemic. We owe them all a debt of gratitude. Nobody should be forced to resort to credit card debt or payday loans to cover the cost of care, but that is the terrible reality facing so many unpaid carers today. Unpaid carers have found themselves cruelly exposed to the catastrophic impact of soaring food and energy costs, with heating their homes and powering essential medical equipment becoming a daily struggle.

Last year, more than a third of carers reported having to cut back on luxuries, with more than one in 10 taking out additional debt just to make ends meet. Even before the energy cost rise again this week, many unpaid carers found themselves in the position of nothing left to cut. I was recently contacted by a constituent in a state of utter desperation. Having dedicated her entire professional life to caring for strangers in the NHS, she was forced to leave work to care full time for her husband. Now she tells me that, after paying bills, she is left with just under £40 to get by, and does not know how she will keep up with mortgage repayments.

Last week’s spring statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer was an opportunity to take meaningful steps to help unpaid carers survive the most dramatic cost of living crisis in recent memory; but instead of increasing the carer’s allowance and other benefits in line with inflation and heeding Labour’s call for ambitious action to cut energy bills, he put his own political ambition before the needs of millions of people and brandished his Thatcherite credentials to win over disaffected Tory Back Benchers, with a commitment to shaving a penny off income tax in two years’ time. How does the Minister think that will help unpaid carers in my constituency who are barely getting by here and now?

We have heard plenty of warm words from Ministers at the Dispatch Box about the invaluable contribution that carers make. We have seen countless photo opportunities of Ministers meeting carers in their constituencies, or standing on the doorstep to applaud them during the darkest days of the pandemic, but that will not put food on the table or coins in the meter. It will not provide the slightest reassurance to unpaid carers in my constituency, who are genuinely petrified about whether they will survive the punishing months ahead.

The virtue signalling must stop; what we need is action. That means dramatically increasing the pitiful rate of carer’s allowance, so that millions of households are not drowned by soaring prices; dramatic action to cut energy bills for the worst off and most in need; and, following the example of the pioneering Labour Government in Wales, introducing a one-off payment for unpaid carers to help see them through this Tory cost of living crisis.

Photo of David Linden David Linden Scottish National Party, Glasgow East 3:23 pm, 30th March 2022

It is always a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Bardell. I realise that, being in the Chair, you are constrained in what you can say. You probably want to take part in the debate, and I am sure you would want to put on record your thanks to the carers of West Lothian for the work they do to support your constituents, but I will not seek to bend the rules further.

I congratulate Karl Turner on bringing the debate. I am acutely aware that the situation with P&O Ferries is also taking up a huge amount of his time. It is testament to the care he has for all his constituents that he is able to spin all those plates. With the indulgence of the Chair, I would also like to recognise Ian Dick, who is down from Glasgow and in the Public Gallery. I know that hon. Members will want to welcome him to Westminster.

Far too often, carers are invisible to those in positions of responsibility and authority. They are overwhelmingly women; 72% of them are women, and often unpaid. They are normal working people, put in the position of taking care of a loved one. The huge pressures that they face in taking on that responsibility for the care of a sick or elderly family member can be monumental. Today is a good reminder of that.

Carers in Glasgow’s east end find themselves performing a precarious balancing act, having to balance work, school and family alongside the intensive act of caring. Not only does caring often dominate people’s lives, as they have to work around meal times, medication and doctor’s appointments, but caring also leaves very little personal time for the carer. As several hon. Members have referenced, the survey by Carers UK found that 72% of carers have not had any breaks from caring and 74% are exhausted and worn out. I think we would all agree that the situation has only been exacerbated by the pandemic and the associated lockdowns.

The role of a carer is so often underappreciated and I want to take a moment to recognise the hard work and dedication of carers right across these islands. I thank Glasgow North East Carers, led by Jean McInaw, and East End Community Carers, which I ran for in the 2018 London Marathon.

Last week, I met representatives of Carers UK to discuss the pressures that carers are feeling in the cost of living crisis. As a group, carers are particularly vulnerable to rising costs, due to the additional costs that come with caring. It is right that a number of hon. Members have put on the record that the shameful decision by the Government not to extend the £20 uplift to legacy benefits very much impacted on carers as well. Let us not forget that 2.5 million disabled people were literally left out in the cold by a Government who clearly do not care enough about them. For carers, food bills may be higher because of nutritional requirements, transport costs may be higher because of mobility issues, and all these additional expenses will only increase in the cost of living crisis.

I must say that it somewhat sticks in my craw to hear Members of this House talk about a cost of living crisis, because what we are actually talking about is 12 years of Tory austerity that just happen to be exacerbated by recent economic turbulence. Let us not kid ourselves: the cost of living crisis is not a result of what is happening in Ukraine or global energy prices. The pressures that our constituents and the most vulnerable in our society face are a direct consequence of decisions taken by Conservative Ministers in Whitehall, none of whom were elected in Scotland.

Those in receipt of carer’s allowance or the carer element of universal credit will still struggle financially in the cost of living crisis. That is deeply concerning. Carers UK has already reported that a quarter of those claiming those benefits have to use food banks to make ends meet. The UK Government like to talk about a big society, but they do not want to talk about a broken society. The very fact that people who are out there working and caring—saving the state money—are having to be fed by food banks is an absolute abomination.

The increase in costs is not helped by the fact that many carers have been forced to reduce their hours or leave employment entirely in order to care for loved ones. As a result, many carers face a precarious financial situation. Some 1.2 million carers are living in poverty. The rising cost of living will undoubtedly increase the strain on those families who already face financial pressures.

As a number of hon. Members have mentioned, the Scottish Government recognise the invaluable work of carers and their families. The carer’s allowance supplement, which increased carer’s allowance by 13%, was the first payment to be paid by Social Security Scotland. Is that increase enough? No, it is not, but it is a step in the right direction for my constituents in Easterhouse, Barrowfield and Tollcross.

Over the past two years, the Scottish Government have invested a further £40 million to provide two extra payments to support carers through the impacts of the pandemic. Together with the additional coronavirus carer’s allowance supplement, eligible carers received an extra £690.30 last year compared with carers south of the border. In recognition of rising cost of living pressures, the Scottish Government have now decided to further increase the eight Scottish benefits by 6%—a change from the previous plan to uprate by 3.1%. I challenge the Minister to explain why, if the Scottish Government, with a fixed budget and without borrowing powers, can uprate benefits by 6%, the UK Government think it is in any way appropriate to have a real-terms cut of just 3.1%.

I want to say a word about young carers, who are supported so well by Glasgow North East Carers in the Easthall area of my constituency. The SNP’s young carer grant started in October 2019 and supports more than 3,680 young carers in Scotland. We cannot have this debate in a vacuum and lose sight of the fact that young carers are playing a crucial role, saving money for the state, yet many do not even realise that they are in fact carers.

Many people never imagined that they would be put in the position of becoming a carer for a loved one. It is difficult, and often upsetting, to think that one day a loved one would need such intensive care and support. However, that is why we should all increase support for carers, because it truly could happen to anyone whom we represent, and indeed to any one of us in this Chamber—a point that was highlighted by Yasmin Qureshi.

Becoming a carer can be difficult, expensive and a scary labour of love. It can dominate families for years on end, putting untold stress and anxiety on people who were, in many cases, absolutely unprepared to become full-time carers. It is therefore vital that there is proper support for carers and their families, from adequate carer’s allowance to funded short breaks to counselling. Carers across these islands should be appreciated and valued for their hard work and dedication.

I think it was Mick Whitley who made the point that warm words are all well and good, but they are not enough. I am sick and fed up of standing up in these debates and paying tribute to people. My constituents who are carers right across the east end of Glasgow do not just need warm words; they need proper uprating. That is something that we are providing in Scotland, but this debate is not an opportunity for whataboutery and for me to come here and talk about how wonderful things are north of the border—they could be better—but I have to say to the Minister that warm words will not cut it. We need proper support for carers and that is the message that we all look to hear from her today.

Photo of Vicky Foxcroft Vicky Foxcroft Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 3:30 pm, 30th March 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Bardell.

I congratulate my hon. Friend Karl Turner on securing this extremely important debate. Sadly, carers—especially unpaid carers—seem to have been long forgotten by this Government, so I genuinely commend him for raising their plight, particularly around carer’s allowance. I hope that Ministers will respond positively to the many important points that my hon. Friend made, in particular about his constituents the Spamers and the positive impact of the increase in the national minimum wage. Unfortunately, there has been a negative impact on carer’s allowance, which we had all hoped was an oversight. Sadly, that does not seem to be the case, but this situation can be rectified if Ministers decide to do so.

As many hon. Members have said today, carers make a vital contribution to society. They do fantastic work, but we really do not thank them enough. According to Carers UK, 6.5 million people are carers—a figure that rose to 13.6 million during covid. Those people supported a loved one who is older, disabled or seriously ill. That is one in eight adults who are unpaid carers for family and friends. Every day 6,000 people become carers, and many do not know how or where to get help, which can be frightening and lonely.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend John McDonnell for setting up a carers group and for listening to unpaid carers, who are the experts on the subject; that is so important. As he rightly said, carers do not ask for anything, apart from to be able to get by. As my hon. Friend Rebecca Long Bailey highlighted, unpaid carers are the backbone of our society.

I thank my hon. Friend Yasmin Qureshi for sharing her personal experience of how tough it is for carers, even if their financial situation is okay, and for saying how much tougher it is when their financial situation is not okay.

We all know heartbreaking stories from our constituencies. In my constituency of Lewisham, Deptford, I have an ongoing case of a single mother who is a full-time carer for her six-year-old disabled son, who uses a wheelchair. She supports him while suffering from depression herself. She is on universal credit and has been sanctioned for missing an appointment because she was caring for her disabled child. Instead of offering compassion and support, this hostile Government decided that it was more appropriate to reduce her benefits. Having heard stories such as this time and again, we must all ask ourselves: are we doing enough to support carers? I am sorry to say that I do not think we are, especially this Government.

All Labour Members who spoke today said that carer’s allowance simply is not enough. The Government’s primary support is a measly £67.60 a week through the carer’s allowance, and that is only if someone provides care for at least 35 hours a week. Carers organisations have long argued that the amount of carer’s allowance payable to carers is insufficient to meet its stated purpose of providing a replacement income for those who give up work to look after another person.

That does not even begin to unpack the injustice of not properly supporting unpaid carers—people who save the state an incredibly huge amount of money, but receive nothing back. As Wendy Chamberlain and others pointed out, charging them for lateral flow tests to keep their loved ones safe is outrageous. Will the Minister look into scrapping that?

As my hon. Friend Beth Winter said, carers should not have to fight for recognition and then beg for money. She highlighted some excellent work that is taking place in Wales but, as she said, there is always more that we can and should be doing.

All Members cited the excellent work of Carers UK. Carers UK and 78 other charities, including Z2K, Carers Trust, Age UK and many disabled people’s organisations, wrote an open letter to the Chancellor ahead of the spring statement last week. The letter references recent research by Carers UK that paints a bleak picture of the coming months as the cost of living crisis deepens. Among other things, the research found that 42% of respondents feared that they will not be able to heat their home to a safe level, and 32% were worried that they will have to use a food bank.

As my hon. Friend Barbara Keeley put it so eloquently, carers are paying many extra costs, including for electrical ventilators, transport and extra heating. As my hon. Friend Mick Whitley said, the Government had the chance to address that in the spring statement, but they did nothing.

Last week, during questions to the Department for Work and Pensions, I raised the issue, pleading with DWP Ministers to lobby the Chancellor for proper support for disabled people. Disabled people, including those who are carers and who have carers, have to make impossible choices between heating their homes and affording to power life-saving medical equipment in order to survive. This is a worrying time for many hundreds of thousands of carers up and down the country.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East for bringing this forgotten-about group back before Ministers. I commend paid and unpaid carers for their selfless work, helping people up and down this country. The Government must act and support carers with a more generous support package—a measly £67.60 a week for carers will not cut it. If the Minister will not listen to me, she should listen to the many paid and unpaid carers, disabled people, disabled people’s organisations, charities and other civil society organisations pleading with this Government to act with compassion and to support carers properly.

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith Assistant Whip, The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions 3:38 pm, 30th March 2022

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair today, Ms Bardell.

I thank Karl Turner for securing this important debate and for forgoing the chance to speak in the main Chamber, as he had competing interests. On behalf of his constituents, he has given us an important opportunity to discuss carer’s allowance and the vital role that unpaid carers play. I will leave him some minutes to speak again at the end of the debate.

We have heard a number of thoughtful contributions, including the deep personal experience of Yasmin Qureshi; I thank her for sharing that. I thank Beth Winter for mentioning our former colleague, Hywel Francis, and I am grateful to the two Front Benchers, the hon. Members for Glasgow East (David Linden) and for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft), for their contributions.

Let me begin by taking up the point made by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford about a carer who was apparently sanctioned for non-attendance while caring. That sounds like a misunderstanding of some kind. A sanction should not be applied where there is good cause for non-attendance and the Department is notified, so I am happy to take up that case after the debate, unless the hon. Lady can clarify the position now.

Photo of Vicky Foxcroft Vicky Foxcroft Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I appreciate the Minister taking up that case afterwards and thank her for doing so, but this happens all the time. I am sure that many other Members present will know of such cases, so I do not think it is an isolated incident.

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith Assistant Whip, The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

I will turn to the other detailed points raised in the debate shortly, but like other hon. Members who have spoken, I also want to pay tribute to the millions of unpaid carers in this country. The Government certainly recognise and value the vital contributions made by carers every single day in providing care and continuity of support to family and friends, including pensioners and those with disabilities. More than six out of 10 of us may become a carer at some point during our lives and as many as 13 million people may be doing some unpaid care. That has never been more important than during the covid-19 pandemic, when unpaid carers played a vital role in supporting the most vulnerable in our society. I will come to some of the points made in respect of that in a moment.

Like other hon. Members, I see so much of the work that carers do through my own constituency post bag, such as the experiences that a Mr W recently shared with me, as well as through disabled people’s networks. Carers are fortunate enough to have some wonderful advocates, including their MPs and organisations such as Carers UK, which has been mentioned a number of times today. When I met Carers UK earlier this month, I was able to talk about some of the help that the Government provide to unpaid carers.

We recognise that people, including carers, are facing pressures with the cost of living, including higher fuel bills. That is why we are providing support with the cost of living worth £22 billion across this financial year and next. We have also promised to legislate so that employees will be entitled to five days of unpaid care leave per year, and, as hon. Members will know, we are reforming health and adult social care. I am working closely with the Minister for Care and Mental Health, my hon. Friend Gillian Keegan, on that.

Photo of David Linden David Linden Scottish National Party, Glasgow East

The Minister mentioned the five-day paid care leave, which I presume will come in the form of an employment Bill. Will she give a cast-iron guarantee that there will be an employment Bill in the Gracious Speech that we expect in May, or are we going to have to wait yet more years for an employment Bill? People cannot wait any longer.

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith Assistant Whip, The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

The hon. Gentleman tempts me down paths that I am afraid I am unable to go down in this debate, but I look forward very much to working with him and others to make that goal a reality.

We are spending record amounts to support unpaid carers. Real-terms expenditure on carer’s allowance is forecast to be £3.1 billion in 2021-22 and to increase by two fifths by 2026-27, when the Government are expected to spend just under £4.4 billion a year on it.

Patterns of care have changed significantly over the last few decades. People are providing vital unpaid care for relatives and friends in a whole range of circumstances. Nearly 1 million people are now receiving carer’s allowance and the weekly rate will increase to £69.70 in April. Since 2010, it will have increased from £53.90 to £69.70 a week, providing an additional £800 a year in cash for carers through the carer’s allowance. There are additional amounts for carers in universal credit and other benefits.

Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Labour, Worsley and Eccles South

I am astonished that the Minister can read out those notes with a straight face, given what everybody has said. Most Members here have made the point that a £2 increase is an insult given what we know about what is happening with the cost of living—even just with lateral flow tests. How can she read those figures out and not be ashamed of them?

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith Assistant Whip, The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

I am sorry if the hon. Lady thought that that was a useful use of the minutes we have left, when I have plenty more to say. She stops me to insult me rather than letting me talk about carers; that is not particularly helpful.

Like other hon. Members, I want to talk about the rate of carer’s allowance. I will start with whether it is high enough. The Government continue to provide financial support to unpaid carers through carer’s allowance, the carer element in universal credit, and other benefits. We have chosen to focus extra support on carers who need it the most. About 360,000 carer households on universal credit can receive nearly £2,000 year through the carer element, and that amount will increase from April 2022. Universal credit is of course a key benefit—indeed, it is the key benefit—for carers on low incomes, on whom we most need to target the support. Indeed, carers in receipt of universal credit do not face the cliff edge identified by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East in opening the debate.

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith Assistant Whip, The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

I am afraid I need to make progress.

Rebecca Long Bailey argued that we need to increase the rate of carer’s allowance even further to reflect the current rate of inflation, rather than last September’s rate of CPI. Of course, the Secretary of State undertakes an annual review of benefits and pensions; and CPI in the year to September, as published by the Office for National Statistics, is the latest figure that the Secretary of State can use to allow sufficient time for the needed legislative and operational changes before new rates can be introduced at the start of the new financial year.

Let me turn to the carer’s allowance earnings limit. Right hon. and hon. Members have mentioned the limit throughout the debate and argued that it ought to be increased. Carer’s allowance has an earnings limit, which permits carers to undertake some part-time work if they are able to do so. This recognises the benefits of staying in touch with the workplace, including greater financial independence and social interaction. In many cases, carers are keen to work, so we want to encourage them to combine some paid work with their caring duties, if they wish to do so and wherever possible. That is why we regularly increase the earnings limit.

The limit for those in receipt of carer’s allowance will increase to £132 net earnings a week from this year, which means that the earnings limit will have increased by about a third since 2010. Many of those who are receiving carer’s allowance and doing some work will also be receiving universal credit. In those cases, the 55% taper rate and any applicable work allowance will help to ensure that people are better off in work, which means more generous treatment in universal credit of earnings above the carer’s allowance earnings limit.

Right hon. and hon. Members have mentioned the increases in fuel bills, which I absolutely recognise. The Government acknowledge that people are facing pressures with the cost of living, including rising fuel and heating costs, and Members will know about the measures announced in the spring statement last week, which build on the existing support that the Government provide and will be worth over £22 billion.

A number of schemes are in place to help with heating costs, depending on carers’ circumstances. They include the winter fuel payment, the cold weather payment and the warm home discount. I recognise the argument made by the hon. Members for Salford and Eccles and for Bolton South East about extending the warm home discount to carers. I think they will know that colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy recently consulted on the scheme and announced that automatic rebates will be extended from those getting the guarantee credit in pension credit to include other low-income households whose homes are fuel inefficient.

Barbara Keeley and others made the point that it is important that carers apply for all the support that might be available to them. Many working-age carers receive means-tested benefits as well as carer’s allowance, and I have already mentioned universal credit. Pensioner carers may be able to receive pension credit, which includes an additional amount for carers. Very importantly, receiving a means-tested benefit can act as a passport to other support, so if carers are not already receiving a means-tested benefit, I encourage them to look at gov.uk or to seek other advice, to see whether they might be entitled to that.

Photo of Karl Turner Karl Turner Labour, Kingston upon Hull East

Will the Minister clarify the percentage increase that was asked about by my right hon. Friend John McDonnell?

Photo of Karl Turner Karl Turner Labour, Kingston upon Hull East

I think there was a mention of 3.1%, but I am not sure if I heard the Minister properly.

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith Assistant Whip, The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

The hon. Gentleman will recognise that as the September CPI figure. Yes, I can confirm that the figure is 3.1%.

I want to add a point about the personal independence payment. For some households where caring is taking place, it will be highly relevant. It is extremely relevant to the point that several Members have made about the extra costs that disabled people face. That is recognised, and it is exactly what the personal independence payment is for. Again, I encourage carers to ensure that they or their household look at that.

The hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull East and for Worsley and Eccles South raised points about the end of life. I want to make sure that hon. Members are aware that the Government are improving the so-called special rules for terminal illness and end of life. Two statutory instruments have already been laid and primary legislation will follow to ensure that, across five benefits, that when they are in those very challenging circumstances people can get the support they need earlier.

Some hon. Members mentioned disabled or unwell children. I want to make sure that colleagues are aware of the special educational needs and disabilities review that was published yesterday. Low-income families with seriously ill or disabled people will be further supported through £27.3 million of funding next year, which could help pay for equipment, goods or services that those families might not otherwise be able to afford.

Let me move on to the position for Scotland and Wales. Hon. Members have asked why the Administrations differ in their approach. The UK Government’s focus is to support those carers most in need through universal credit. In Scotland, as mentioned by the hon. Members for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) and for Glasgow East, additional amounts are paid to carers by the Scottish Government through their carer’s allowance supplement, using their powers under devolution and their own resources. That is done regardless of the carer’s means. We think it is a better approach to focus extra support on carers on the lowest incomes, and I have already mentioned how that is done through universal credit.

I acknowledge the desire of the hon. Member for Cynon Valley to expand devolved powers in Wales, as well. I do not have time to engage fully with that point today, but I understand the arguments she makes and I look forward to responding to the Welsh Affairs Committee’s report.

The hon. Member for North East Fife mentioned how unpaid carers had been supported during the pandemic and spoke about the policy on lateral flow tests. I want to ensure that she is aware that my Department worked with the NHS and Public Health England to share data so that unpaid carers had priority access to vaccines. It was very important for different parts of Government to work together to do such things for the benefit of those who needed the vaccinations the most at that time. I will ensure that Ministers in the Department of Health and Social Care are aware of the points raised by the hon. Lady about lateral flow tests.

I will draw my remarks to a conclusion to leave enough time for the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East to close his debate. We all agree that society relies on unpaid carers in many ways. They are appreciated and deeply important in their households. We recognise the challenges they face and we are helping carers with the rises in the cost of living, reforming social care and helping carers to stay in work. We are spending record amounts on the carer’s allowance and providing unpaid carers with the help and support that they need and deserve. I am grateful for the range of points that have been made today, all of which will be very helpful in examining how we need to go forward. I hope that the contributions made today will help carers to know that we in this Chamber are thinking of them. Thank you for your chairmanship, Ms Bardell.

Photo of Karl Turner Karl Turner Labour, Kingston upon Hull East 3:53 pm, 30th March 2022

I thank you personally, Ms Bardell, for allowing me to leave the Chamber to speak on the P&O statement by the Secretary of State in the main Chamber. I thank all Members for attending and for their incredibly instructive contributions to the debate. We all have constituents who are—if I can put it like this—truly at the sharp end of this anomaly.

I thank the shadow Minister, my colleague and hon. Friend Vicky Foxcroft, who has been incredibly helpful in helping me to prepare for the debate. Some of this stuff, frankly, is quite complex. I have benefited from her incredible knowledge in this area.

I know the Minister a bit, and I think that she cares. I do not intend to be personal. However, the people who rely on this support are at the sharp end. They truly do not know whether they can afford to live; some of them are worried about using their electricity supply, which they need to operate the apparatus that is keeping their loved ones in the family home. Frankly, I am not convinced that the Government care quite enough. This is not a lifestyle choice. As we have heard, it could happen to any one of us—we could end up being a carer. People do not choose to do it. They do it because they need to, and they provide the most valuable service to society.

I know that the Minister has the power. She can leave here now, go to her Department and make changes that will affect these carers so that they do not have to rely on Treasury civil servants and Ministers and their spreadsheets that say no. Actions can be taken, and I very much hope she will do that.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered carer’s allowance.

Siting suspended.