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Meeting carers' needs

Published: 6 Oct 2015 15:36

Scottish Parliament must have power to define who is a carer - FM.

The needs of carers will be placed at the heart of the devolved carers' allowance, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has pledged, as she called for the UK Government to change the Scotland Bill to allow the Scottish Parliament to define who is eligible.

The First Minister said Holyrood could only make the new carers' allowance genuinely fair and effective with the full devolution of power over the eligibility criteria. At present, the Scotland Bill would see restrictions on education; employment and age remain with Westminster.

Speaking at the fourth annual Carers' Parliament at Murrayfield, Ms Sturgeon confirmed that the Scottish Government would seek to remove the eligibility clauses to allow the new carers' allowance to work more effectively for carers and the people they care for.

Ms Sturgeon also said the Carers' Bill, currently making its way through the Scottish Parliament, would significantly strengthen the support for carers in Scotland as she confirmed it would be amended to enshrine emergency planning – for when carers are unexpectedly unavailable – in the care plan process.

The First Minister also confirmed the new legislation would ensure that carers would be protected from being charged for the support they receive - including when replacement or respite care is needed.

The First Minister said:

"I want to talk about how we intend to use new social security responsibilities which will be transferred from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament. As many of you will know, these responsibilities include the Carers' Allowance, which helps individuals who look after someone with significant caring needs.

"We're determined to ensure that the Allowance – like our new social security system as a whole - meets people's needs, addresses their priorities and respects their rights.

"I am on record as saying and I continue to believe that it is wrong that Carers' Allowance is one of the lowest benefits, if not the lowest benefit that we pay in this country. It should be at least at the level of Jobseekers' Allowance.

"We need assurances from the UK Government that the financial settlement for transferring responsibilities does not have a detrimental impact on the Scottish Government.

"There are also some significant additional powers that we need. At present, the UK Government's proposals define who should be considered as a carer. The Scottish Parliament, as things stand at the moment, can only make minor changes to the definition of a carer.

"I think that is completely contrary to what was proposed by the Smith Commission. I think the ability to define who is a carer should rest with the Scottish Parliament, not with Westminster.

"That's not a narrow or technical constitutional point. The definition of a carer has real consequences for who can benefit from Carers' Allowance. One good example of this, is the current UK definition that includes the requirement that a carer cannot be in full-time education. What that means is potentially that a carer, if they want not to lose their entitlement to carers' allowance, can't go in to education to develop new skills to help them get into a job and fulfil their potential.

"It's a good example of why the Scottish Parliament needs the ability to determine who receives the allowance. It's the only way in which we can fully achieve a fairer and more effective system."

Discussing the Carers Bill, the First Minister continued:

"The Scottish Government is determined to move towards preventative action. The Carers Bill helps us do that. We know that caring responsibilities can cause or exacerbate mental stress and physical illness. By enabling people to ask for a support plan as soon as they become a carer, the Bill will help them to get support before that happens. We can reduce the need to deal with crisis situations such as serious illness.

"We have been listening very carefully to the views people have expressed on the Bill. As a result, we will continue to improve it.

"The issue of emergency planning is a good example. Many of you have said to us that you want the Bill to make it clear that emergency planning – thinking about what happens when a carer is unavailable - should be part of the carer planning process. We have considered those views and we agree – and so I can confirm today that we will propose amendments to the bill to ensure that emergency planning is discussed as part of that process.

"I can also confirm today that we will use regulations to ensure that carers cannot be charged for the support they receive. That includes in cases when replacement care is needed. After all, we know that carers understandably sometimes need a break from caring. It's important that they know they won't be charged as a result of that, when someone else has to step in and do the caring for you."

Notes to editors

Further information on the Carers' Bill can be found here – http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Health/Support-Social-Care/Unpaid-Carers/CarersBill

The First Minister's speech to the Carers' Parliament will be put online here - http://news.scotland.gov.uk/content/default.aspx?NewsAreaId=139