Norman Lamb

Before making a response to the announcement yesterday from the LibDebs re : guaranteed breaks for carers,Carer Watch have been corresponding with Norman Lamb. The Shadow Minister has agreed to look over questions we have gathered from CW members and others from the online community. We will keep you informed of his response.

Update April 2nd 2010….answers received from Norman Lamb.

Questions from online carers

1. PCTs already diverted money they should have spent on respite to other things, so why should this be any different?

Reply 1. The Government’s scheme has certainly failed to get money to carers. We are proposing an entitlement. If you are assessed as working more than 50 hours a week, you will have an absolute entitlement to the funding for a week’s respite care. We would also require PCT’s to publish how they have spent the money provide for carers so that we get full transparency about how the money is being used.

2. Could such a grant not be spent in a way that suits the individual more – not everybody will tick the right boxes or want to use a local service – people might want to fund other forms of respite such as educational courses of their choice – eg Open University (people who already have a degree have to pay fees but this is expensive – OU is actually a lifeline for many carers.)

Reply 2. We want as much flexibility as possible for the individual carer as to how the money is spent. It would be available as a personal budget. Some carers may want a week off for a holiday, others will want regular short breaks to help them keep going. I can certainly see a good case for enabling a carer to fund education courses – but of course anyone working more than 50 hours a week as a carer would first need to be able to arrange cover in order for them to undertake a course. If, for example, they were able to arrange for another relative to provide cover without cost, then I see no reason why the funding could not be used for such things as course fees.

 3.Leading on from point 2 – would the Lib dems be prepared to fund free OU courses for carers regardless of ELQ regulations? This would enable many carers to take courses that give them something they need for themselves.

Reply 3. The funding of OU courses is not provided for in this proposal. I certainly see the attraction of such an idea and we would want to give it serious consideration. It is however important that whatever promises are made, we can demonstrate how it will be paid for. So it is something we can consider but it would be wrong to make easy promises now without knowing the likely total cost.

4. Wouldn’t a fair financial package for carers be a better solution – at least that way we could escape enforced poverty and finance our own needs with-out having to go cap in hand for every last little thing or go without!

Reply 4. We are certainly not claiming that this resolves all the problems for carers. We recognise that the massive commitment that carers make and the amount of public money saved as a result. We do feel, however, that our proposal directly helps 1 million carers and is a better way to spend the money that the Government is committing to the Personal Care at Home Bill which has been heavily criticized and appears to be inadequately costed. Local authorities believe that the Bill will cost double what the Government estimates – and the extra money can only come from cutting back other services. The real risk is that other vulnerable people lose out to fund this commitment. At a time when the finances are so tight, let’s instead give the money directly to hardest pressed carers to give them a vital break.

5. The assessment process will create a barrier for many people – we have to deal with far too many official bodies as it is, and many will seriously not want to bother with another issue in this way – it is often this sort of thing that makes carers’ lives more difficult. So could a better way of allocating this be found? – this would increase the take up rate.

Reply 5. There is no reason why the assessment needs to be complex and time consuming. There has to be some way of identifying the carers who work the longest hours and who most need help. We are certainly open to discussion about the ways in which the assessment is undertaken to ensure that it does not act as a barrier.

6. Looking at todays LibDem suggestion, along with proposals from the other main parties,why after all this time has Carers Allowance not been reformed to such a level that carers can have a decent income, whilst saving up for their own breaks?

Reply 6. The carer’s allowance does need to be improved. However, with public finances so tight, no-one will believe political parties who over-promise. We know we can deliver this straight away and we believe it will help. The Lib Dems are also committed to ensuring that no-one pays tax on income up to £10,000. As one of the contributors to your website has written, this radical policy will help many carers and will make it more attractive to look at part-time work without having to worry about having to pay tax on very low earnings

7.Some carers can do in excess of 50 hours care per week but it may not involve intense caring,include personal care, against someone who may only do 30/35 but at the heavy end. Surely they deserve as much help?

Reply 7. no system of assessment is perfect. And the truth is that we need to urgently reform the whole system of funding care of elderly people and other with care needs. The Lib Dems have argued for all parties to work together to build a consensus. A reformed system would provide more support for those with care needs and for their families. It needs to be a comprehensive solution. The Conservatives only offer the chance to pay for insurance against the costs of a care home. It is surely wrong that it would cost a couple on modest means living in a small semi the same as it would cost a millionaire. Their proposal will also do nothing to help all those being cared for at home – or their carers. We want the support that is provided under a reformed system to give maximum flexibility to the carer and the person cared for as to how the money is spent.

8.If a voucher is equivalant to a weeks respite charge, and a lone carer needs a break,the voucher will cover respite but not a holiday too. Not everyone has family support to leave their loved ones with.So a carer may in affect have a weeks break but it would need be spent at home??

Reply 8. We think that the proposal is the best way to help the largest number of carers who work the longest hours. It has been welcomed by the Princess Royal Trust for Carers. The bottom line is that it guarantees a break. If we were to pay for the cost of a holiday away somewhere, then the money would help far fewer people.

9. Leaving decisions to PCTs/LAs means families are once again governed by uncertainty. Surely it makes sense to ensure a year round independency by giving family carers a decent weekly benefit, to pay bills,to save for holidays, to ensure they can have a life?

Reply 9. I think I have already answered this point. We believe that this is a very important start in providing practical help and support to 1 million carers. Caring organisations have welcomed it. It is, in our view, the best way to spend the available money.

10. Does this mean that 24/7 carers will now have to work for 51 weeks a year, even if they are over eighty themselves ?

Reply 10. Yes. It means that you would have the resources to cover the cost of a care home for a week giving you a vital break.

11. Why not make care a social responsibility, so that all the family have the right to a life of their own ? Everyone with significant experience of 24/7 caring knows that it is a form of slavery. Of course, 24/7 carers partly collude in their own enslavement. The more caring a person you are, the more vulnerable you are to exploitation. Why exploit people’s caring nature ?

Reply 11. This question really reinforces the need for reform to the system to ensure that there is more support available for all those who are caring for loved ones at home. The Lib Dems are completely committed to working with others to find an agreed way forward that is fair and will be affordable in the long term. Finally, we see the commitment to provide a break for carers is just the first step. We cannot allow another decade to go by without real reform of a system in a state of crisis which is letting down so many people with care needs and their families. It is dreadful that the Government has taken so long to grasp this nettle – and then just before a general election. The Conservatives offer nothing more for those caring at home. They must commit to working with other parties and caring organisations to find a solution which will work.

Norman Lamb Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary

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