Work and Pensions Committee Press Notice

17 December 2008: For Immediate Release

Publication of Report - The Committee's First Special Report of Session 2008-09

Valuing and Supporting Carers: Government Response to the Committee's Fourth Report of Session 2007-08

Committee welcomes Government plans to replace 'outdated' system of benefits for carers, but calls for timetable

The Work and Pensions Select Committee today (19 December 2008) publishes the Government response to its report Valuing and Supporting Carers.

In its response to the Committee's report the Government accepts that the current system of benefits for carers needs a radical overhaul. "Rather than consider piecemeal changes to Carer's Allowance, the Government intends to look specifically at the support offered to carers through the benefits system as part of its development of the single benefit," the response says.

The Committee's report recommended the introduction of two distinctive 'tiers' of support for carers, offering: (i) income replacement support for carers unable to work, or working only part-time; and (ii) compensation for the additional costs of caring for all carers in intensive caring roles.

In its response the Government states that: "The Department accepts the Committee's general principle that a future system of support for carers should be able to differentiate between the support that a carer needs because they have no income, and the support that a carer needs because of other costs relating to the caring responsibilities."

However, whilst the Committee welcomes the Government's commitment to reforming the benefits for carers, it is concerned over the absence of an immediate plan and timetable for reform. The Government promised in its National Carers Strategy announced earlier this year that by 2018 no carer will fall into financial hardship due to their caring role. However, in the Committee's view carers can not wait that long. The Committee's report found that many carers face financial pressures due to the additional costs of caring and from either reducing working hours, moving into lower paid work, or giving up paid work. In times of increasing economic uncertainty moreover, these pressures become even greater.

Most informal carers are of working age, and sustaining their ability to remain in work, or to return to work after a period of caring, is essential both to the Government's target of reaching an 80% employment rate and to employers who can not afford to lose their valued skills.

Flexible employment is key for carers to remain and progress in work. More needs to be done to raise awareness of the right to request flexible working for carers. In its response to the Committee's report the Government committed to "take steps to raise awareness of the right to request flexible working." However, the Committee is disappointed it does not provide any further details on these plans.

The Committee also called on the Government to respond to the implications of the Coleman case rapidly. The Government's response to the Committee's report states that it is "studying the implications of the Coleman ruling further to assess what changes need to be made to the legislation as a result." The Committee calls on the Government to include carers in the forthcoming Single Equality Act, which would give carers the protection they currently lack in employment, the provision of goods, facilities and services and through public sector equality duties.

Chairman of the Committee, Terry Rooney MP, commented:

"The Committee welcomes the relatively positive response from the Government, but notes there are still unresolved issues. Those who provide unpaid care for relatives and friends save the public purse an estimated £87 billion each year. The care they provide is not only of enormous value to those they care for, but also to society in general. At a time when public money is being used to oil the banking system, it should also be used to support those who give their services free without complaint to society."