Amendment made: No. 8, leave out from 'assessment' in line 1 to end of line 4 and insert
of the ability of carers to provide care; and for connected purposes.'.—[Mr. Wicks.]
§ Bill reported, with amendments; as amended, considered.
§ Order for Third Reading read.1.23 pm
§ Mr. Wicks
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Much has already been said, and I should simply like to state that if the issues of community care and the needs of carers are important today, they will become far more important in years to come. That is partly because of simple demography and the aging of our population which, among many other things, will lead to more people suffering from dementia, Alzheimer's disease and other conditions for which carers will be required. It is also important to note that we live in a time when the population is aging but family sizes are becoming smaller—there is a declining fertility rate. It is a demographic trick in our society that the number needing care is increasing precisely when the number of younger citizens is declining. The care ratio is moving in the wrong direction.
Other issues challenge us. Many of the natural carers of the past were assumed to be women. Now, rightly, women as well as men are active in the labour market. Unless proper support is given, not least through employment policies, we cannot assume that there will be people able and willing to take on the care that we need in future.
The debates have shown that carers vary tremendously. Many are older people caring for very old people—people in their 60s caring for those in their 80s and 90s. There are also younger parents caring for children with disabilities. In Committee, much attention was focused on the many children who are themselves carers. I welcome the fact that the Committee agreed to provide for children in the Bill so that they are fully included alongside other carers.
I also welcome the fact that the Under-Secretary announced in Committee that next week the chief inspector of social work will issue a special letter to social services authorities about the needs of young carers. I regard that as an important social policy development.
476 When I think of carers, I think of, among others, the Croydon wife looking after her husband who has multiple sclerosis, which he contracted just one year after their marriage 22 years ago. I think of the woman I met in Northern Ireland who looked after no fewer than three people in her family. I think of the 16-year-old girl whom I met at a sixth form conference who has been caring for her mother, who has serious liver failure.
I think of the elderly woman in New Addington, Croydon, who became a carer in 1945, at the birth of our modern welfare state. She is, herself, a courageous, energetic, gutsy, one-woman welfare state, who has been modestly and humbly caring for different members of her family for 50 years. I think of the carer I met in Edinburgh who said that, because of her mother's condition, she had had to sleep on the floor of her mother's bedroom for two and a half years. The week before I met her, she had provided care for 165 hours in one week alone.
I think, too, of the modesty of carers. They are people with enormous burdens of care who ask for so little and should be asking for rather more. I hope that if the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament, it will at least be a modest but significant step away from what is often community neglect and towards true community care.
It has been said that, if we had to value carers, they would be worth £30 billion a year. I regret that the calculation has to be made, but when parts of our society know the price of everything and the value of nothing, perhaps we, too, need to give a price to care. It has already been said that, if only one in 10 carers gave up the task, the cost to the state would be £2 billion a year. Such people form Britain's major army of carers—a larger army than the entire national health service and all the social services departments. It makes sense for social and moral reasons to provide services and support, and to find what resources are necessary to support the carers, but it also makes economic sense.
Some 11 years ago, when I was the director of the Family Policy Studies Centre, we quickly learned that, as well as considering the needs of children in families, we had to recognise the extended family and the role of the carer within it. In 1984, my colleague at the Family Policy Studies Centre, Melanie Henwood, and I wrote a report called, "The Forgotten Army", which was how we referred to such carers then.
I believe that in the years since—not least thanks to the Carers National Association, whose work I applaud again—carers have come in from the cold in many respects. They are now an applauded army. Politicians, pundits and priests have applauded the carer, patted him or her on the back and said, "You are doing a wonderful job." But that is no longer good enough. As hon. Members on both sides of the House have said in a great show of unanimity on the issue, we must recognise carers and provide them with services and support, including respite care.
We must strike the correct balance between rights and responsibilities. We can never talk about rights or duties alone; it is the balance that counts. Politicians sometimes attack irresponsibility within society and in the family. In so doing, if we are not to be guilty of hypocrisy, we must recognise and support responsibility. I have said it before and I will say it again: the carers whom I have met in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are among the most responsible citizens in this country.
477 Sensible social policy sometimes plays to strengths and those people provide the strength. They are the people who put the "care" into community care in Great Britain. They are truly heroes and heroines; they are responsible people who have conducted, through the Carers National Association, a responsible campaign. I feel confident that an equally responsible Parliament, speaking with one voice, will soon turn the Carers (Recognition and Services) Bill into an Act.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
I beg the indulgence of the House so that I may speak briefly on the Bill. I congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Wicks) and all those associated with him on his undoubted achievement in introducing the Bill.
If the national value of the work by carers is £30 billion per year, the value in Ealing is certainly several million pounds a year. I have been associated with carers in Ealing for a long time. I greatly value the work of the local committee and its chairman, Richard Smith, as well as that of the trusted and hardy carers who meet regularly and who perform notable duties for those whom they cherish.
I particularly emphasise respite care. The hon. Gentleman mentioned that issue, but I still do not believe that it has been developed enough. Elderly carers in particular are often taken to the limits of their strength and beyond in performing caring duties. I hope that the Bill will lead to the provision of respite care of a more immediate nature. That would be a superb achievement and one that is much desired.
As the hon. Gentleman said, the aging of the population will necessitate an increase in the number of carers. I do not wish to hoist difficult or trying work on to anyone's shoulders, but it is important that people who are unwell or who suffer from an illness, such as senile dementia, should remain in their own homes if that is humanly possible. Carers make it possible for them to do that and, as a result, I am sure that the number of carers will increase in the future.
I welcome the fact that children are included in the terms of the Bill. In 25 years in teaching, I often came across children who, at a very young age, had responsibility for caring for very sick or dying relatives. I remember particularly the case of a small girl, Anne, who lived not far from here. At the age of 11, she nursed her mother for three years and, when her mother died of cancer, she assumed responsibility for caring for her father and about eight children. She somehow managed to perform that task as well as attending school regularly and 478 working hard. That is a severe burden to place on any child, and I know of children as young as five, six or seven who are performing a caring role. I hope that their extreme youth will not exclude them from the terms of the Bill. I hope and believe that it will apply to children of all ages, including the very young.
I was once a carer myself. Many years ago, when I was a teenager, my mother was taken ill. My father was already dead, and I became her carer, right through to the time when she became terminally ill. So I know what being a carer means, and I know what the Bill will mean, which is why I especially commend it to the House.
§ Mr. Hinchliffe
I do not want to detain the House or to go over what I said earlier. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Wicks) for the—unusual—way in which he has steered this measure through, procedurally speaking. He has shown such great talent that it may be recognised when the current vacancy in the Labour Whips Office comes to be filled.
On behalf of carers and of the Opposition, we warmly commend this measure. I congratulate my hon. Friend and all concerned on bringing it thus far.
§ Mr. Bowis
I echo that tribute, and I wish the Bill well. The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) summed up the debate well when she said that no man is an island:No man stands alone. Each man's joy is joy to me, each man's grief is my own".Read "carer" for "man"; read "all of us" for "me". We all need to understand the realities of caring: its joys, the fact that it is willingly given, certainly, but also the griefs, pain and struggle—not to mention the occasional frustration and anger that can be felt by carers. If, as a result of the Bill, loving care will be given and supported, not demanded and taken for granted, the House will have done well by carers and by those for whom they care. We shall all owe a debt of gratitude, too, to the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West who has brought the Bill before us today. We wish it well.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.