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Hansard 23 June: Column 593-618 ...
Hansard 23 June: Column 593-618

A private member's Bill that would enable local authorities to offer new support to carers was welcomed from all parts of the house when it was given an unopposed second reading in the lords.

Introduced in the commons by Tom Pendry, Labour MP for Stalybridge and Hyde, the Carers and Disabled Children Bill has won all-party support and government backing, and is certain to become law.

Moving second reading, Labour's Baroness Pitkeathley, former chief executive of the Carers National Association, said the Bill ensured that local authorities could now look at meeting the needs of carers as well as, but not instead of, those of the person who is cared for under community care legislation.

Key aspects of the measure include the introduction of a voucher scheme to enable carers take short-term breaks at a time convenient to them - an option to the present direct payments offered in some cases; an extension of councils' power to make direct payments to carers aged 16 and over; and an extension of the option of direct payments to the parents - or those with parental responsibility - of disabled children for services for the family and to disabled children aged 16 and 17.

Importantly, the Bill enables local authorities to charge carers for services provided to them. The government is to use Clause 8 of the Bill to attempt to bring consistency to local authority charging regimes, and end the situation, for example, where someone on income support is charged for services and left with little to live on.

Baroness Pitkeathley said: 'That is why the guidance to accompany the legislation when it becomes law will be of considerable importance. It will offer a new opportunity to set the record straight and make guidance on charging clear and consistent, which is what everybody wants'.

Conservative health spokesman Earl Howe said he was staggered by the statistics on the number of people in the UK who in one way or another care for a relative or someone close to them.

'The official figure is about 5.7 million people. But there is a strong likelihood that even this huge figure is an underestimate. Many people who look after someone they love are unkown to the statutory services and would not label themselves as 'carers', even though that is exactly what they are. It is commonly recognised that there are many children of school age looking after disabled parents whose caring role is not revealed to anyone outside the family', he said.

The equivalent economic value of the work done by acknowledged carers had been put at about£34bn, said Earl Howe.

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