§ 10. Mr. Cousins
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what steps he will take to investigate the problems of full-time carers.
§ Mr. Newton
A report based on research commissioned by the Department into the effectiveness of invalid care allowance as an income-maintenance benefit is expected to be published in the next few months. Our concern to improve the support available to carers, is reflected in a range of Government policies, including the extension of invalid care allowance to married women and the introduction earlier this month of a carers premium in the income-related benefits.
§ Mr. Cousins
Does the Minister recognise that without the help of about 1 million full-time carers, the hospitals and social services systems in this country would have collapsed long ago and that, for the most part, all that work goes unrewarded and unrecognised? Does he also recognise that the invalid care allowance is a very limited contribution and the extension to married women was wrung out of the Government by the European Court? Will the Minister now make the extension of a care allowance system to all carers an absolute priority? As a basic minimum, will he offer all full-time carers national 915 insurance credits so that they are not disadvantaged for pensions and unemployment benefit when their period of full-time caring ceases?
§ Mr. Newton
The hon. Gentleman may seek to minimise what has been done, but when this Government took office, the number of people receiving invalid care allowance was less than 10,000. It is now well over 100,000 and that is making a substantial contribution. That, together with the other improvements that we have made, including the increased earnings disregard for those on invalid care allowance, which was introduced last April, and the carers premium, which is being introduced this month, show our real concern to help those about whom the hon. Gentleman is also rightly concerned.
§ Mr. Conway
Will my right hon. Friend remind the House about the change of provision for those requiring full-time care who are suffering from terminal diseases such as cancer? Will he also pay credit to organisations like the Macmillan nurses, which enable those suffferers to have dignity in their own homes at that stressful time and which very much welcome the changes the Department is making to ensure that help arrives in time and is worth while?
§ Mr. Newton
I should very much like to join in that tribute and I met a Macmillan nurse in my constituency on Saturday. The contribution made to the support of carers, which goes well beyond the social security system, is an important and encouraging feature of what is happening in our health and social services.
With regard to my hon. Friend's first point, I am delighted that we have been able to extend attendance allowance, without the old time limit, to the terminally ill. My hon. Friend might like to know that we expect 6,000 successful awards of invalid care allowance—in other words, a further increase in recipients of that benefit—to follow the extension of attendance allowance.
§ Dr. Godman
Will the Minister assure the House that he will do his level best to ensure that applications for that allowance are assessed as quickly as possible? At my surgeries I have found that informal carers have had to wait far too long for the assessment of their applications. Will the Minister look again at the too-harsh criteria by which such applications are assessed by his officials?
§ Mr. Newton
I am always looking for ways to improve that and other parts of the social security system. I shall bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman has said. With regard to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I can give him an unequivocal yes. There is no doubt that delays in processing ICA, partly because of the rapid expansion of the benefit, became longer than we wished and we will continue to do everything possible to reduce them.