Hywel in Parliament - Debates

Carers (Equal Opportunities) Bill

6th February 2004

Dr. Hywel Francis (Aberavon) (Lab): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am proud and privileged to present to the House my Carers (Equal Opportunities) Bill. In doing so, I believe, as everyone does in the House, that the personal is the political. At the outset, I should record my appreciation of the great cross-party support that I have received, as represented by my excellent Bill team, and the enormous support outside the House, in particular from Carers UK and Carers Wales, which have been a constant source of encouragement and professional guidance, representing as they do the voice of 6 million carers in this country.

Over the past two months, I have benefited from discussions with the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), the carers Minister, and his officials. I know he has some issues and concerns, and I look forward to his response today. I have also benefited from encouraging support from Jane Hutt, the Welsh Assembly Minister for Health and Social Services, and her officials.

On 25 June 2001, in giving my maiden speech, I spoke of a journey of hope, from social exclusion to social justice, for people with disabilities and their carers. I made a pledge in that speech to work on their behalf. I begin on that personal note because my wife and I were carers for over 16 years of our son, Sam, who had Down's syndrome and who died nearly seven years ago. In common with millions of carers, the experience profoundly changed our lives.

The day after the private Members' Bill ballot was 5 December—national carers' rights day. On that day, I met a group of young parents of children with disabilities, through the Neath Port Talbot carers enablers project. I saw in their faces and heard in their voices the same mixture of anxiety and hope that Mair and I experienced nearly 24 years ago. Those parents are beginning a journey of hope. We need to give them the resources of hope to sustain them on their journey.

That moment with those young carers confirmed for me what we had felt for a very long time, and I am sure that many in the House today share this feeling: carers need a life beyond their caring responsibilities. That is what the Bill seeks to achieve.

Carers UK defines carers as those in society who look after family, partners or friends in need of help because they are ill, frail or have a disability. The care they provide is unpaid. That is the definition for the purposes of the Bill. There are 6 million carers in the UK, amounting to 12 per cent. of the population. Heavy-end carers—those providing more than 50 hours of care per week—have increased in number to 1.25 million. My own local authority area, Neath Port Talbot, has 22,000 carers. They account for the highest proportion of carers in any local authority area in the UK. Similarly, Neath Port Talbot has proportionately the greatest number of heavy-end carers in the country. In part, that is a legacy of the heavy industries in my locality.

I believe that a society is defined by the way it cares for its carers. I believe, too, that the labour of love provided by carers defines that society. Today, we are acknowledging that carers should have equality of opportunity to have a decent life in our society. We are building on the firm foundations provided by many national and local carers' organisations as well as recent legislation supported by many parties and successive Conservative and Labour Governments.

My Bill is not an exercise in a top-down central Government approach. It has grown from previous enabling legislation and the hopes and aspirations of carers, carers' organisations and statutory bodies, particularly in health and education. This growing tide from below—from outside Parliament—was summed up for me in an e-mail I received this week. I shall quote a substantial part of it:

"I very much support this Bill.

I am a carer of my son who was diagnosed with a mental illness and has been in hospital care for over 5 years. From the start of that period I have had great difficulty in getting information from the statutory services or any consideration of my needs as a carer in support of my son. In helping my father-in-law to care for his wife who suffers from dementia, it is my experience that the needs of the carer within social services are only considered as they directly affect the care of the user of the service . . . The cost of this legislation, if any, will be more than offset by the benefits to the people accessing services. I am also a member of the Board of Directors of a Primary Care Trust and I know that within my own Primary Care Trust there is support for the needs of carers and the PCT would support the aims of this Bill and Clause 5 in particular. Our Board also includes a member of the local district council who also supports the needs of carers. I hope you are successful in getting past the Second Reading and beyond."

In my constituency of Aberavon—as elsewhere—we are blessed with a wide range of excellent carers' organisations, a supportive council for voluntary service, and. in Neath Port Talbot county borough council, a progressive local authority. That can be replicated in many parts of the country with organisations and sectors supporting the Bill.

The rest of this debate can be found on the House of Commons Hansard website.

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