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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, COP27 Outcomes, Standing Order Rule Change (Proxy Voting), Urgent Question, Motion without Notice, Decision Time, Carers Rights Day 2022, Correction


Carers Rights Day 2022

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-06783, in the name of Paul O’Kane, on carers rights day 2022. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises that Carers Rights Day 2022 takes place on 24 November 2022; understands that Carers Rights Day is about raising the awareness of the rights that carers have, but also of what carers still lack in rights and representation; notes the view that amplifying the voice of carers has become even more vital; believes that they have been demonstrably impacted by particular pressures, from the COVID-19 pandemic to the rise in the cost of living; notes the view that, as the cost of living crisis continues, carers must be listened to and their concerns taken seriously and acted upon by the Scottish and UK governments; notes that the State of Caring in Scotland 2022 survey, conducted by Carers Scotland, found that 40% of carers on carers allowance are cutting back on food and heat to make ends meet; celebrates what it sees as the immense contribution that carers make, firstly to their own families and loved ones, who they take care of and support, but also to their wider communities, and believes that their efforts, in turn, prevent added pressures being put onto health and social care services.


Paul O’Kane (West Scotland) (Lab)

I am delighted to have the opportunity to open this members’ business debate to mark carers rights day 2022. I thank colleagues on all sides of the chamber for joining me to contribute to the debate, and I thank all those who supported the motion, which has allowed it to take place.

Carers rights day is an important marker on the calendar that provides an opportunity to spread awareness of the fundamental rights that apply to all carers. Some of those rights include the right to request flexible working options from an employer, the right to be identified and recognised as a carer, the right to request certain immunisations, such as a flu jab, and the right to be consulted on things such as hospital discharge. Fundamentally, however, it is about acknowledging the rights that carers have to be supported and respected. It is about the dignity and value that people have in our society, and acknowledging that people are human beings who are giving all that they can to care for a loved one.

As we begin the debate, it is important to recognise that we cannot simply reduce carers rights to one day, or one debate in the chamber, per year. The lived experience of carers should, and must, be mainstreamed in all our policy discussions and proposals, across everything that we do.

Before I came to the chamber this evening, I was tweeted by Lynn Williams, a carer whom I know well. She said that enough is enough—carers have to be at the table where decisions are made, and they have to be involved in “carer proofing” our legislation and our budgets. As we often hear in debates on human rights, our aim should be to do “nothing about us without us”, and that is as true for carers as it is for other groups.

This year, carers rights day was marked on 24 November, and the theme focused on the cost of caring. That can be the cost on an unpaid carer’s wellbeing or the financial costs that are associated with looking after someone, or it can refer to how caring for someone can cost carers in the quality of their relationships and the activities that they often have to sacrifice. Of course, the cost of caring is particularly pertinent this year, given that we find ourselves in the midst of an unparalleled cost of living crisis. In Scotland, there are an estimated 800,000 adults who provide care for someone who is seriously ill, someone who lives with a disability or someone who needs additional support in later years. Carers Scotland has estimated that it would cost £10.9 billion every year to replace the cumulative labour of unpaid carers.

We meet tonight not only in the context of the current cost of living emergency, but in the context of Covid. Unpaid carers were crucial in the response to the pandemic, and they shouldered enormous burdens to keep their loved ones safe. For many carers, Covid has not gone away, and they continue to feel real fear and anxiety as they try to care for their loved ones. They are crying out for continued support in the form of antivirals and other types of support.

As our society began its recovery from Covid, we all dreamed of creating a new and better future. The rhetoric was to build back better: there was a vision of a fundamentally better society that seemed tangible, and politicians of all stripes promised a new deal for carers. However, if we are honest, we can say that the action has not yet matched the rhetoric, and we are still very much on a journey towards changing things for the better.

In the past year, I have, along with colleagues, had round-table sessions with unpaid carers, and I have listened to them as they have shared with me the everyday challenges that they are facing right now. Tragically, in Scotland, unpaid carers are facing a choice between turning on their heating or feeding themselves. That is not just a glib phrase—it is the reality that is faced by tens of thousands of unpaid carers.

New research from Carers Scotland, which was released in its “State of Caring 2022—A picture of unpaid caring in Scotland” report, has revealed that 40 per cent of carers on carers allowance have cut back on food and heat in order to make ends meet. I implore colleagues on all sides of the chamber to read the report if they have not yet done so, as it makes for important and sobering reading.

It is important to remember that the burden of the cost of living crisis is not shared evenly. Unpaid carers have been disproportionately impacted by the crisis, as people with caring responsibilities typically have higher energy costs. Carers may need to operate essential life-sustaining equipment such as hoists, oxygen and wheelchairs, which all require the use of a great deal of energy.

In addition, unpaid carers must commonly keep their houses warmer than average to ensure that the person for whom they care is comfortable and well. We have seen some stark stories recently, in the press and elsewhere, about individual circumstances. Members will be familiar with the case of Carolynne Hunter, which was reported at the weekend. She is facing energy bills in excess of £17,000 per year to care for her 12-year-old daughter, Freya. As members may have seen, the actor Kate Winslet has contributed money to help Carolynne pay those exorbitant fuel bills. However, we have to be honest in recognising that, although that is a generous gesture, carers should not have to rely on philanthropy or charity in order to be able to pay their bills. There must be meaningful support from Government for carers who are faced with such extortionate bills because they have to run vital life-sustaining equipment.

We know that there are ways to do that. In England, a warm home prescription is currently being piloted, in which people’s bills are paid for by the national health service. That is a preventative measure that can keep people out of hospital and prevent people with disabilities and complex health problems from becoming seriously ill. I hope that the Scottish Government is exploring the various potential policy options in that space, and I am sure that the Minister for Mental Wellbeing and Social Care will want to say something on that in his contribution. It is important that we try to think outside the box and work together to find the ways in which we can support people in this very precarious time.

I pay tribute to the incredible work of unpaid carers across my region of West Scotland, many of whom I have had the privilege to meet and support since I was first elected to Parliament. I put on record my support and thanks for the work of not only carers representative organisations such as Carers Scotland and Carers UK, which commissioned the “State of Caring 2022” report, but the local carer centres in our own areas, which I am sure that we all know well, and which do a huge amount of work to protect and support the rights of carers. I thank carer centres in East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, Renfrewshire, North Ayrshire and Inverclyde, because they are a vital lifeline for unpaid carers, providing advice and guidance, advocacy services and emotional support.

Let us all, in this place, rededicate ourselves to listening to carers and respecting their rights, and—crucially—let us act together to make the changes that they so need.


Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

I congratulate the member on securing the debate and pay tribute to all who care for another, be it family, friend or neighbour, whether or not they are eligible for carers allowance, because caring comes in many forms. It may be simply calling on a neighbour to help with the messages and check that they are okay, or it may involve living in a household, providing 24-hour support for seven days—and nights—a week, and everything in between.

Carers come in all ages, from the school pupil who cares for a disabled mum to the octogenarian who cares for his equally elderly wife who has dementia. Those are not random examples, but constituency cases that have, along with many others, crossed my desk during my many years in the Parliament.

It is reckoned that the number of carers in Scotland, as Paul O’Kane said, stands at more than 800,000, but the real figure is probably much higher as many do not identify themselves as carers—they are simply looking after a loved one, keeping them in their own home where they want to be.

According to the Carers Trust website, carers save the Scottish purse some £10.3 billion each year in meeting needs that would otherwise have to be met by social and health services. During the Covid pandemic, carers had an even heavier burden to bear, while worrying that they might bring the virus into the home. When we clapped for carers, it was for all carers.

There is some financial support available through the carers allowance if certain criteria are fulfilled—if, for example, the person who is caring does so for more than 35 hours per week and the person for whom they care is in receipt of certain benefits such as the personal independence payment. There is also in Scotland—and only in Scotland—the carers allowance supplement, with two payments of £245.70 for the year 2022-23. Even then, it is a struggle for carers, and inflation on all fronts, including in food, fuel, mortgages and rent, has meant that, according to Carers Scotland—as Paul O’Kane mentioned—some 40 per cent of carers have cut back on their food and heating and on other necessities of life.

Indeed, there are dreadful issues of high energy bills, when the person who is supported requires specialist medical equipment—let alone heating—often with electricity running day and night. I have raised that issue in the chamber and am following it up with NHS Lothian and NHS Borders to establish whether any financial support is available.

Finally, there is the issue of respite for carers. A break can make all the difference to a carer maintaining their own health and wellbeing. A recent case of mine concerns a loving daughter who cared for her father. He suffers from dementia and requires almost constant supervision so as not to endanger himself. He lives close by her and, with her help, is keeping much of his independence. No respite service was available to her just a few days ago. She was therefore concerned for others in a similar position.

I have established that, in the Borders, in five council care homes, there are only 28 beds, of which 14 are currently unavailable, nine are intermediate, and five are in planning. Members can work out the small number of respite beds that are available for people to put their loved one in. Given the demographics of the Borders, it is as plain as a pikestaff that that is a drop with the ocean. However, if carers do not have periods of relief, they may reach breaking point—then, at least two people will require care and support.

I would like there to be progress in that area perhaps most of all. Put bluntly, that would save the public purse, as well as be the right thing to do. I ask the minister—if he cannot today, then at some point—to address the position of respite for carers not just in Midlothian and the Borders but across Scotland.


Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

I congratulate my Labour colleague Paul O’Kane for securing this important debate on carers’ rights and for the thoughtful comments in his speech.

Carers are the backbone of our community, providing social care to family and friends. Carers rights day is an opportunity to highlight the challenges and inequalities that are faced by carers, and to ask the Government to take action.

Carers stepped up to the plate during the pandemic. Many shouldered the responsibility of looking after family and loved ones to keep them safe. Often, they took on roles that they were unprepared for, such as carrying out personal care and administering medicine. It is estimated that the care that was provided by unpaid carers over the course of the pandemic saved all the Governments in the UK more than £193 billion per year. Because they were caring for vulnerable people, many carers shielded, in order to minimise the transmission of Covid-19. For many of those who are cared for, the threat of Covid remains real, and some of them are still shielding.

However, as we go into what will be a hard winter, access to antiviral medication is patchy at best. Prophylactics such as Evusheld are non-existent in the NHS, despite being approved for use in more than 30 countries around the world, including America. The Scottish Government has suggested clinical trials. I have a suggestion: trial it on the population that is, in effect, shielding, and on the carers of those people.

Many carers feel abandoned by the Scottish Government. The rest of the country has moved on, but carers are left in the same position as they were in two years ago, with no access to the medicine that could help their lives return to some normality. Care packages have not been fully restored, and access to respite has still not returned to pre-pandemic levels.

On top of that, the cost of living crisis has left carers and those cared for facing unprecedented pressure on their finances. Ending non-residential care charges is vital in order to ensure that people can continue to be cared for comfortably at home. That was in the Labour and Scottish National Party manifestos. When will the Government do it?

Carers UK found that a quarter of carers are cutting back on essentials such as food and heating, and that 63 per cent are extremely worried about managing their monthly costs.

As the bills mount up and energy and water prices are set to rise even higher, some carers are left facing impossible decisions. Carolynne Hunter, who has been mentioned, has been facing the decision whether to place her daughter into full-time care just to make sure that her care can continue. Nobody should ever be forced into making such a decision. Like Paul O’Kane, I welcome the generosity of Kate Winslet, who is giving financial help to Carolynne and Freya, but she should not have to do that. That is the Government’s responsibility.

Unlike in a hospital or a care home, the cost of running life-saving equipment at home is not fully resourced by the Scottish Government. When I asked the First Minister and the Scottish Government how much it would cost to cover such bills, the answer was simply, “We don’t know.” That is not good enough.

Without proper respite care, with the continuation of non-residential care charges and with the lack of access to prophylactics and antivirals, we make life more difficult for carers and those who are cared for. There is simply insufficient support for carers. I do not want to return to the chamber every year on carers rights day to find that not much has changed or improved. Carers are grateful for our warm words, but that is not what they really need. They need action from the Government, and they need it now.


Jeremy Balfour (Lothian) (Con)

I thank all the charities and others who furnished me with briefings for tonight’s important debate, and I thank Paul O’Kane for securing it.

Carers can often feel as though they are an invisible and forgotten group in society, but we convey a powerful message from the Parliament by standing together to promote the rights and causes of our caring community.

I should perhaps declare an interest, in that I have a paid carer in the morning, and my wife and children help me, too.

In the brief time that I have this evening, I will focus on unpaid carers—some of the most selfless people in the world. Day in, day out, they support the most vulnerable in our society, with little to no compensation for their service. Without them, there would be a huge deficit in care that could not be replaced, which would result in many people lacking the aid that they require to function in their day-to-day lives. Unpaid carers deserve our respect, and they need our support.

For many unpaid carers, life has become more difficult now than it was just a couple of years ago. The pandemic threw into sharp relief the extent to which unpaid carers rely on the support of Government programmes. During 2020, all day centres and respite facilities were closed to tackle the spread of Covid-19, especially among the vulnerable. As a targeted and time-limited measure, that was a good policy, and one that we all supported. However, we still see the effects of the closures today.

Let me give a recent example. A constituent who is a carer for her son, who has severe autism, told me that, before the pandemic, he went to day centres five days a week, and there was a significant level of respite care in the evenings and at weekends. Now, since 2020, her son gets only two days a week at the centre and has no support in the evenings and at weekends—no respite care at all. That is unacceptable. I accept that that is not the Scottish Government’s issue; it is the City of Edinburgh Council’s issue. However, my constituent is having to make up for that shortfall without any help from the local authority. The couple are not young, so what will happen to the boy in a few years when his parents are not able to care for him any more?

As a Parliament, we should be doing everything that we can to lobby the Scottish Government and local authorities across Scotland to reopen those vital services and to provide aid to those who feel as though they have been abandoned for the past two years. I know that the minister and his team do this regularly, but I ask him to meet the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities again to have an honest discussion about reopening such centres.

Finally, I turn to an issue that many members have spoken about, which is not unpaid carers but is the level of compensation for paid carers. We have come through the pandemic and we are feeling the effects of war in Europe and the global cost of living crisis. Everyone is feeling the squeeze, but for people who care, the effects are multiplied. Caring is not an easy job and it is not a low-skilled job. Caring is a vocation, which demands time, patience, compassion and no small degree of emotional and mental strength. We must ensure, collectively, that people who take up that calling are properly compensated. I call on all local authorities and the Scottish Government to be as generous as possible during pay negotiations.


Carol Mochan (South Scotland) (Lab)

I thank my colleague Paul O’Kane for bringing this important debate to the Parliament. I know that, for months, he has been working tirelessly with carers and carers groups to find out exactly what we need to do to improve their lives and those of their loved ones, and I know that, with them, he will continue to fight to get the measures that they need to support them put in place.

It is important to be clear that we are talking about carers who do not receive employment payments. We are talking about people who step in to look after and support a family member, a loved one or even a close friend. Those carers are not employed. Often, they do not see themselves as having that role or job, or as providing an essential service. However, all members in this Parliament know that that is the case.

Carers Scotland tells us that, every day, almost 1,000 people in Scotland become carers. Most carers would call themselves a loving partner, a parent, a child or a good friend, and would not immediately identify with the caring role. That means that they miss out on practical support, which is important. Research found that 97 per cent of carers took a year or more to identify themselves as carers, and 46 per cent—nearly half—cared for a decade without identifying themselves as carers. Of course, that means that carers are missing out on essential financial and practical support. We must all do what we can to ensure that carers understand that they are entitled to such support.

In my life before I came to the Parliament, I was lucky enough to have a job that allowed me to support and work with many unpaid carers. That was a number of years ago, at a time when that care provided by unpaid carers really was invisible. In my early days of working, I do not recall anyone looking at supporting carers or providing services to a house in which mum, dad or gran was providing care and support. Perhaps there was the occasional day service or weekend respite care. I recall families and extended families who provided high levels of care, as well as social and emotional support, to their loved ones—they did so, as carers do now, without question and absolutely willingly.

I am heartened to hear that such carers are fighting back at a system that has forgotten them. That is quite right; as a society, we need to support and value the role that they undertake. The UK and Scottish Governments must be prepared to offer practical, emotional and financial support to carers in Scotland and throughout the UK.

As members have said, we know that approximately 800,000 unpaid carers in Scotland provide care and support to family or friends who are affected by disability, illness or frailty that is associated with age. Care is deeply gendered: in Scotland, as many as 70 per cent of unpaid carers are women.

The current cost of living crisis is being felt more acutely by carers throughout Scotland. In October, Carers Scotland published “State of Caring 2022”, after running a survey of more than 2,000 carers to ask about the impact on their lives of caring and the cost of living. Carers Scotland found that carers were more likely to be in poverty than non-carers and twice as likely to be in poor health.

It is completely unacceptable to have that knowledge but do nothing. In this Parliament, we have a responsibility to ensure that there is change. We must stand up for unpaid carers.

Carers Scotland tells us:

“Carers need financial help and practical health and care support right now to ensure they can make it through this Winter.”

That is an urgent priority. Such support includes increasing benefits by the inflation rate, providing cost of living support to carers and providing an energy payment to people with severe disabilities, to help households to manage the extra costs of living.

I support those demands from carers organisations and I hope that the cabinet secretary can give us some idea of how we can try to meet demands for essential support for carers and their loved ones.


Marie McNair (Clydebank and Milngavie) (SNP)

I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate and to mark carers rights day. I congratulate Paul O’Kane for securing the debate and I have also signed the motion.

I put on record my support for the many carers in my constituency and thank them for what they do. During my time as part of the nursing team at the St Margaret of Scotland Hospice, I saw at first hand how caring and compassionate unpaid carers are, and, as I have said here before, I saw their unwavering and unconditional love and support. I also take the opportunity to praise the staff and volunteers of Carers of West Dunbartonshire and Carers Link East Dunbartonshire for providing outstanding support to carers in my constituency. I also thank Carers Scotland and Myeloma UK for their helpful briefings and for their on-going efforts to highlight the pressures faced by unpaid carers.

A quarter of all carers are struggling to make ends meet and more than a third have had no break from caring in the past year. We know that there are approximately 800,000 unpaid adult carers in Scotland and that it would cost an estimated £10 billion every year to replace the care that they provide.

Carers are among those hardest hit by the cost of living crisis, with many not eligible for support payments. For far too long, unpaid carers have been given a raw deal by the social security system. For example, since carers allowance was introduced in 1976, successive United Kingdom Governments have refused to align the amount paid with other earning replacement benefits. Both Labour and Tory Governments gave no priority to carers and UK policy seems to continue to be the same. There should surely be parity at UK level with other earning replacement benefits. Matching our policy in Scotland would bring more to the budget to fund the radical overhaul of carers allowance and shape our new carers assistance benefit.

This Parliament has made welcome changes to the financial support provided to carers, including introducing the supplement to the young carers grant, but we know that more needs to be done. Just some of the issues that must be addressed include: the earnings limits; the bar to students making claims; help for those caring for more than one person; and support for those with underlying entitlement.

Carers deserve better and the Scottish Parliament must do all that it can to ease their burden, create better policy and improve levels of support. That ambition should be matched by Westminster, but it is not, no matter who is in Government. Look at the payments going out to carers this week: the Scottish carers supplement is £245.70; the Westminster Christmas bonus for carers is £10.

Pam Duncan-Glancy (Glasgow) (Lab)

If I remember correctly, the member was on the Social Security and Social Justice Committee when the minister came and assured the committee and carers organisations that the doubling of the carers allowance supplement would continue until the reform of carers allowance was complete. That has not happened. Given all that she has said, does the member agree that that should happen?

Marie McNair

Before the Labour Party asks us to do more, it should catch up with us. Its record in Westminster shows that it has ignored carers for years.

To return to my speech, there is a real contrast in approaches to levels of support. The Tories introduced the Christmas payment in 1972, Labour kept it and it is still set at £10 today. It is estimated that, if it had kept pace with inflation, the Christmas bonus would be worth in excess of £100 today. Surely, given the impact of the cost of living crisis on carers, all parties must believe that they deserve more than a measly £10. Do we not all believe that it should be adjusted, recalculated and paid at a rate that values carers for what they do? Actions are better than words.

In the short time that I have had, I have focused on the social security system. Although that is important, especially now, carers need much more than that. This Parliament should unite to provide a compassionate system of support that does carers justice and recognises the massive contribution that they make.

The next speaker is Gillian Mackay, who is joining us remotely.


Gillian Mackay (Central Scotland) (Green)

I thank Paul O’Kane for bringing this important members’ business debate to the chamber. I also thank carers up and down the country for all the work that they do in looking after their loved ones.

At some point in our lives, any one of us might have to provide care. We have heard at the cross-party group on carers that getting people to see themselves as carers in the first place is difficult in itself. I take the opportunity to shamelessly plug the good work of the CPG—we have a meeting tomorrow lunchtime for anyone who is interested.

Many members who are in the chamber know that I did not see myself as my grandpa’s carer. Like many other people, I believed that I was just doing what was done. We cannot get people to use the support that exists if we do not identify the people who need support in the first place.

Representation and parity are important parts of Paul O’Kane’s motion. It is key that carers be seen as key partners in the support of the person for whom they care rather than the last stop in the chain. Carers’ input is vital and can often provide an insight that gives a view of the whole person and their needs. We need to support carers to be involved in decision making and anticipatory care planning. Support is key to that. We hear that many carers are focused on getting from one end of the day to the other rather than on how to engage and further their to-do list.

I share other members’ concerns on the stark findings in the “State of Caring 2022” report. As noted in the motion, the report, produced by Carers Scotland,

“found that 40% of carers on carers allowance are cutting back on food and heat to make ends meet”.

The human aspect of that is stark and concerning. We are in a uniquely difficult situation with inflation now spiralling out of control. The direct results of the Conservative UK Government’s economic policies are hitting the most vulnerable the hardest and, through more austerity, stifling the devolved Parliament’s ability to mitigate that disaster.

The findings provide a stark reminder that we cannot be complacent about the progress that we have made. There is always more to do and the progress that we have made can so easily be rolled back.

It is important to note the distinction between paid and unpaid carers as we have these discussions. Although both provide vital care services, the circumstances in which paid and unpaid carers operate are starkly different. According to the “State of Caring 2022”, there are:

“approximately 800,000 people in Scotland who provide unpaid care”

and support to family and friends affected by disability, ill health or frailty associated with older age.

Carers save the economy in Scotland some £10.9 billion each year. The contribution of people who provide unpaid care in Scotland is massive. I welcome the support that the Scottish Government offers to unpaid carers through the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 and the support that is available online, such as the carers charter and advice on carers benefits and local carers centres, about which we have heard from many different people.

The report also points out that nearly two thirds of carers say that financial worries are having an impact on their physical and mental health. For those on lower incomes, the impact was even greater: 73 per cent of carers on carers allowance and 84 per cent of carers with a household income of £1,000 a month or less said that the cost of living was having a negative impact on their health.

We need to provide the highest possible support for carers’ financial, physical and mental wellbeing. When people have to choose between heating and eating, we are not giving them the best chance of success.

I reiterate my deepest thanks for doing what they do to the people across the country who provide care. The Scottish Greens and I recognise the hard work that that takes—we would be lost without them.


Pam Duncan-Glancy (Glasgow) (Lab)

It is a privilege to speak this evening, and I congratulate my friend and colleague Paul O’Kane on securing this debate to mark carers rights day.

This year’s campaign focuses, as other members have said, on caring costs and looks beyond the additional financial pressures that carers face by also considering the costs to their emotional and physical wellbeing. The campaign highlights the point that every day around 1,000 people become unpaid carers, as Carol Mochan has mentioned, and in doing so every one of them makes sacrifices in their lives. They pay the price of a state unable as yet to meet the needs of people whom it has a duty to protect as they step up and care for their loved ones.

In recent years, the additional costs of being a disabled person have become more widely recognised, but it is also important to understand that such costs often go hand in hand with the additional costs of those who care for disabled people. Yet, in the various cost of living packages that both the UK and Scottish Governments have announced so far, not one targeted measure has been adopted to give direct support to carers.

Charging wheelchairs, keeping the heating on and operating medical equipment all mean increased use of energy at a time when the price of energy has skyrocketed. It is worth pointing out that, for many disabled people and their carers, the pandemic is still a real threat, as my colleague Jackie Baillie has pointed out. What little support they had, including help with the provision of personal protective equipment, has now gone, leaving carers to pick up further additional costs.

That is partly why we are asking the Scottish Government to maintain the uplift to carers allowance supplement that was introduced at the height of the pandemic and which I referenced a moment ago. Not only did the Government not do so; it misled the committee, and carers themselves, by promising that it would. Now, we have the cost of living crisis, too.

Does the member believe that the Westminster Government should align carers allowance at least with any replacement benefits and uprate the Christmas bonus to £100?

Pam Duncan-Glancy

I simply do not have enough time to go into all the things that I think the Westminster Government is doing wrongly and should start doing very quickly, including on carers allowance and supporting people through the current crisis.

It is no wonder that so many carers are living in poverty. The “State of Caring 2022” report shows that, even of those who work alongside their caring role—no small task in itself—one in five is struggling to make ends meet. The Scottish Government must move quickly to develop the new Scottish carers assistance, which is due to replace the current carers allowance, a benefit that is administered by the Department for Work and Pensions and which has become increasingly unfit for purpose. In doing so, it must work with carers to make changes to the eligibility rules, removing the full-time study rule and increasing the number of hours that carers are allowed to work, so that people are not forced to reduce their hours just to ensure that they do not lose out on essential income.

The dither and delay that have happened instead of the Government’s taking action have meant that carers, like the disabled people whom they care for, continue to be forced to play by the DWP’s unfair rule book. Make no mistake, though: simply allowing carers to work more will not solve the problem. In fact, having to balance work-life and caring responsibilities can be an impossible task, especially in the absence of flexibility and understanding by employers. It can mean carers—who are often women—giving up the limited time that they have to themselves or giving up work altogether.

As I said in my opening remarks, caring has a cost that goes beyond money, most of which comes down to the fact that carers have to go it alone. Their time is entirely consumed by their caring responsibilities, and it takes an emotional toll. However, it is far more than that. If they take time out, there is no one else to look after the person they care for. That is where the other costs of caring come in: the loss of relationships, the inability to enjoy five minutes alone for a cup of tea and the lack of time to attend medical appointments.

Ensuring that growing numbers of employers are carer confident would mean having more supportive and inclusive workplaces that take into consideration the additional demands on carers. It would also be beneficial to employers by reducing recruitment costs and preventing unnecessary staff turnover.

When my colleagues and I come to the chamber to raise the voices of carers in our communities, what we hear more and more often from the Government is that we, and carers themselves, should wait for the national care service, which will solve all their problems. However, carers cannot wait; they need solutions now. That is why days such as carers rights day are so important.

I close by saying thank you to every single carer, up and down the country, who makes sacrifices every day—most of which go unrecognised—to fill the roles of two Governments that are not doing enough. I say to them that we see them, we appreciate them and we thank them.


The Minister for Mental Wellbeing and Social Care (Kevin Stewart)

As Ms Duncan-Glancy has just done, I thank all carers across the country for the invaluable work that they do in support of their friends and families. I thank Paul O’Kane, too, for initiating this important debate. Like him, I think that we should be thinking about carers every day, not just on carers rights day. The onus is on all of us to ensure that we put carers at the heart of all that we do.

The debate has been invaluable in allowing the Parliament to acknowledge the crucial work that carers do and to highlight the particular pressures that they face. I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss some of the actions that we are taking to support them.

Before I do so, though, I would like to pick up on a point that Carol Mochan made. I agree with her that it is absolutely vital that people identify as unpaid carers to enable them to access the support that they are entitled to. That is why earlier this year the Government ran a marketing campaign to highlight that point, get folk to recognise that they are in a caring role and tell them how to access support. It is incumbent on us all as parliamentarians to do that on a daily basis.

Scotland’s unpaid carers make a crucial contribution to our communities, but I know that the pandemic has added significant additional pressures. I therefore welcome the “State of Caring 2022” report, the findings of which shine a valuable light on carers’ experience, which at this moment in time is, I am sad to say, particularly hard for many, if not all.

As Minister for Mental Wellbeing and Social Care, I know how crucial it is to have regular meetings with carers and the organisations that support them. I am committed to listening to unpaid carers and to amplifying their voices, because that is the only way of truly understanding the challenges that they face and responding accordingly.

In November, I attended the carers parliament main event and the carers parliamentary reception on carers rights day, which focused on the cost of caring.

Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

The minister talked about amplifying the voices of carers. Next week, I will chair a meeting of the cross-party group on health inequalities, at which Richard Meade from Carers Scotland will give a presentation on how such inequalities affect people. Does the minister agree that cross-party groups are a useful way of elevating people’s voices so that we can identify problems and solutions?

Kevin Stewart

Cross-party groups are one way of amplifying voices, but beyond that, all of us should, as the Government is doing, listen more and more to the voices of those with lived experience right across the board as policy is being formulated.

On the point that I was making about the cost of caring, it has never been so important for carers to be aware of their rights and to know how to get the help and support that they need, as has been mentioned. I was particularly struck by the experience of Carolynne Hunter, who was mentioned by Paul O’Kane and who cares full time for her daughter, Freya. At the events that I attended, Carolynne talked very powerfully about the huge financial challenges that she faces due to rises in energy and wider living costs. More important, though, she talked about the costs to her own health and wellbeing of balancing her caring responsibilities for her daughter with other work and wider family commitments. Carolynne spoke movingly about her experience, and I know that many other people face similar difficult situations.

From listening to carers’ stories, I know that, as Christine Grahame evidenced in her speech, regular breaks are crucial to helping them maintain their health and wellbeing. For too long, many carers have been unable to take breaks, because of a lack of support, and that situation has been exacerbated by the pandemic. In that respect, it is important to highlight the changes that the National Care Service (Scotland) Bill seeks to make to the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 to deliver a right to personalised breaks for support for any carer who is not able to access sufficient breaks. The bill intends to ensure that the ability to take sufficient breaks from providing care is an “identified personal outcome” in carers’ personalised plans under the 2016 act.

That said, the NCS bill is about the future, and we know that there are challenges now. This year, we have invested an additional £20.4 million in local statutory carer support, bringing our total investment under the 2016 act to £88.4 million per year. In addition, we have expanded easy-access short breaks with an extra £5 million on top of the annual £3 million voluntary sector short breaks fund.

I heard what Mr Balfour had to say about day care. We wrote to local authorities last week on that matter, and I have to say that it is frustrating that many of those services have not reopened. The member can be assured that we will continue discussions with COSLA and individual local authorities about getting that right for people, because it is absolutely essential that we do so.

As for the cost of living, we are very much aware that folks are facing higher bills, and we have allocated almost £3 billion this financial year to help households face the increased cost of living, including £1 billion for services and financial support not available elsewhere in the UK.

Social Security Scotland is continuing to work with carers and stakeholders on developing a replacement for carers allowance—Scottish carers assistance—that works better for the people of Scotland, including additional support for people with multiple caring roles. I should highlight that, since the launch of the carers allowance supplement in 2018, more than 744,000 carers allowance supplement payments totalling around £210 million have been made to more than 133,000 carers. As Marie McNair said, carers will receive a further £245.70 on 9 December 2022. By the end of this year, Scottish carers who have been continuously in receipt of the carers allowance supplement will have received more than £2,700 above carers allowance since the supplement’s introduction. We are doing more on that, but we know that there is more still to do.

Once again, I acknowledge the work of unpaid carers across the country, and I acknowledge members’ contributions to the debate. I could probably talk about the subject for many hours; I see you shaking your head at that, Presiding Officer, so I will not do so. Instead, I make a pledge to the members here that I will write to them with all the support that is available, including from the fuel funds that the Government has established.

I, too, acknowledge the huge contribution that carers make in looking after family and friends across Scotland, and I recognise their value in alleviating pressures in health and social care. I reiterate the Government’s commitment to doing what we can to ensure that they can access the support that they deserve when they need it, and I hope that other members will help us in that regard.

That concludes the debate.

Meeting closed at 18:07.