Sharon spoke in support of the Social Care (Local Sufficiency) and Identification of Carers Bill, of which she was a co-sponsor, during its Second Reading debate in the House of Commons.
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): I am pleased to have to opportunity to speak in the debate and proud to be a co-sponsor of the excellent Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley). Quite simply, regardless of whether it proceeds today—it was sad to hear from the Minister that it will not—the Bill is about recognising the huge contribution that carers make to our society, the billions of pounds they save the Exchequer and, most importantly, the human cost that incurs: poverty, isolation, mental and physical exhaustion—the list is endless.
Provision for carers is patchy, but the most frustrating thing for me is the fact that, where there is support out there, in many cases carers are unable to access it. Perhaps they do not know about it, or perhaps they fear reaching out for help in case they are taken away from the person they are caring for. For far too many carers help comes only when they reach a crisis point, which can ultimately end in tragedy, as we know. That is what the Bill seeks to address and why it is so important.
In my constituency there is a fantastic organisation called Sunderland Carers, which provides the kind of support that all carers need, and I have met the group on a number of occasions to discuss what needs to be done to support the hidden army of carers. They completely support the Bill, and I am grateful to them, particular Kevin Devine, for providing me with two case studies that I will use to illustrate the impact that the Bill could have.
Roberta Blackman-Woods: I, too, do a lot of work with a carers’ support group in my constituency, Durham and Chester-le-Street Carers Support. Does my hon. Friend agree that such organisations would be greatly assisted by the measures set out in the Bill, because they would help them develop the range of support services that they and we want to see provided in their communities, and they really need additional help to give the support they want to give?
Mrs Hodgson: I totally agree. Those organisations are out there doing good work, but often they still need guidance, and legislation can often be at the root of that and can really help to ensure that they are funded, rather than having to scrabble around for money left, right and centre.
Diana Johnson: I would like to draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the carers’ centre in Hull, which is led by Greg Harman. Unfortunately, it recently lost its funding, so it will now become part of the NHS and carers’ services will be provided through the local social community organisation we have set up. The organisation did a huge amount to support carers in Hull, and I know that over many years they saved lives, because people were desperate when they got to the carers’ centre and the support they were given was incredible.
Mrs Hodgson: That is exactly the point. We know that provision is patchy across the country. Where it is good, it is very good; but where there are gaps, that can lead to tragedy, which none of us wants to see ever again.
The first of the two cases I want to highlight is that of a middle-aged male carer who gave up his full-time job to look after his wife, who has multiple sclerosis. He encountered many health professionals because of his wife’s illness, but his caring role was never acknowledged; it was always about her needs, and rightly so. Because of the lack of recognition from professionals, he struggled on his own for three years without any real support, never realising that he should have had it. By chance he saw an advert inviting people to take part in Sunderland Carers’ “Caring with Confidence” programme, which was a major turning point in his life. He was able to access practical support such as getting adaptations for his home to make the physical aspect of caring for his wife easier. Lifting and carrying someone can have serious implications for a carer’s own health. People have to be trained in how to lift people in a caring environment; it cannot be done automatically without potentially causing injuries. He could access short break services that gave him brief respite from his 24/7 caring role. This allowed him to take a holiday with his wife, with the extra support regarding the physical aspect of caring for her that made it a genuine holiday for both of them as a couple. He also gained a lot of support from meeting other carers, combating the isolation that he was feeling.
Finding Sunderland Carers changed that man’s life in almost as dramatic a way as becoming a carer had in the first place. However, we should be concerned about the fact that he could still be struggling out there on his own had he not seen the advert. All the professionals he saw could have signposted him towards that support but, for whatever reason, they did not. Whether it was because they did not know about the support available or did not think it was their job to tell him about it, I do not know. They could have helped him before he was forced to quit his job, which as well as cutting his social ties meant that the couple were in effect living on the breadline. That is why this Bill is so important.
A vital part of the Bill is about the identification of school-age and young adult carers. Caring can be tough at any stage of life, but for a child or a young person it not only impacts on their ability to enjoy the same kind of childhood as their peers but can define how the rest of their life will pan out. The figures are stark. Research by the BBC in 2010 suggested that there were as many as 700,000 young carers in the UK—about one in 12 of secondary school pupils. Further research says that there are almost 300,000 aged between 16 and 24, more than 61,000 of whom are 16 or 17, with one in five providing more than 20 hours a week of care. As I mentioned earlier, one of those 16-year-olds is my daughter’s best friend, so I have first-hand knowledge of the impact that this can have on a young person’s life. There are more than 220,000 young people aged between 18 and 24, and carers make up more than one in 20 people in that age group. That means that one in 20 of the 18 to 24-year-olds we come across is a young carer.
The situations that these young people are placed in and the demands that are made on them will vary greatly, but I want to give one example, again given to me by Sunderland Carers, to show the impact of caring on children’s lives and how much receiving the right support can help them. The example is that of two children who went to live with their grandparents at a young age because their mother was unable to care for them. The arrangement worked very well for a number of years. The children were thriving at school, had plenty of friends and took part in a number of other activities. But as time passed their grandparents grew older and their health and mobility suffered. They did not ask for help because they feared losing custody of their grandchildren. The children could not get out and about due to lack of transport, and this left the grandparents struggling to entertain them. As things progressed, the grandparents struggled to get the children to school, especially in poor winter weather conditions, because the grandfather relied on a mobility scooter, and occasionally he could not get them there at all. This affected their attendance, and even when they were at school they were often distracted because they were so worried about their grandparents’ health.
Thankfully, the school eventually recognised the children as being young carers and was able to get the family the support that they needed. A common assessment framework was put in place and a team was developed around the family. The children were then able to take part in activities that allowed them to get out and have a normal childhood and meet other young carers. Also, while they were out, the grandparents were able to get some much-needed rest, which meant they had more energy when the children were at home. The school transport problem was resolved, and now the children have a 100% attendance record. I have no doubt that they will still face challenges as they grow up, but now they have been identified as carers they should get the right support to help them to cope, and eventually to get qualifications and careers and to develop normal, fulfilling adult lives.
Roberta Blackman-Woods: In the case that my hon. Friend describes, it is good that the school managed to identify that there was a problem, but that does not always happen. What is so important about the Bill is that schools, colleges and universities will now have to proactively go out there to find the young carers and then think about how they are going to be supported. That is very much needed.
Mrs Hodgson: Exactly. Unfortunately, as my hon. Friend has said, many children are under the radar—some in even worse situations—and they will not be as lucky as those who have been identified. That is true of all school-age children, but it is arguably more true of young adults in further and higher education, who have less time with tutors or teachers who would be able to spot the obvious signs. That is what clauses 5 and 6 seek to address, which is why the Bill is so important and should be considered seriously. I hope the Minister will do that.
Teachers and educational institutions are not alone in their ability to identify young and young adult carers. I served on the Children, Schools and Families Committee in 2008 when we considered the issue of young carers, specifically children who are under the radar. I asked why GPs in particular were not more proactive in identifying such children, because it is a common-sense deduction that a parent with certain health conditions who is not receiving support from professionals or a spouse is probably relying on their children. The answer from Dr Jo Aldridge of Loughborough university was that GPs—and, for that matter, psychiatrists treating those with mental health issues—generally did not see such things as part of their job description. Clause 4 would take the long overdue step of making it part of their job description, which would be of particular benefit to young and young adult carers, as well as to all other unidentified carers. That is why the Bill is so important.
In conclusion, we want and need carers to provide care, because it saves the Government billions. Carers, by and large, want to continue to provide care, because they love the individual they are caring for, but the Government need to support them in doing so. Ignoring the needs of carers is simply not sustainable, because it leads inevitably to crisis; to a loss of expertise from the work force and of income tax for the Treasury; to, most importantly, children and young adults missing out on the opportunities available to them; and to poor educational outcomes, so it harms the life chances of those children who just want to look after their loved ones. That cannot be right, which is why the Bill is so important. I know that it will not progress today—the Minister has said as much—but I hope that he will pick up on the key measures that we have highlighted that are not in the draft Care and Support Bill and incorporate them into it, so that we can help carers of all ages with the best possible legislation.
Diana Johnson: I know that my hon. Friend is about to finish, but, given her experience in education, does she think that, considering the range of schools that are now available, such as free schools and academies, the Bill goes far enough? Should the duty be extended and placed on those new types of school as well?
Mrs Hodgson: Yes, and I hope the Minister will talk about this with his colleagues in other Departments. He said earlier that there is a lot of crossover with a couple of other Departments. He also gave a commitment to my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South to carry out a consultation and involve her in the next stages. I hope that he will look at all of the areas that need to be consulted and legislated on, and that require buy-in from other Departments, such as Education. I also hope that he will look at how academies and free schools, which are answerable totally to the Secretary of State, can be incorporated into the proposals, because they will not be answerable to their local authorities, which may lead on some of this work when it becomes a reality. I hope that this debate will not have been in vain and that some of the vital things that we have discussed will find their way into the Bill on care and support.