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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, October 7, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 07 October 2021 [Draft]

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, World Mental Health Day 2021, Portfolio Question Time, Heat in Buildings Strategy, Carer’s Allowance Supplement (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Carer’s Allowance Supplement (Scotland) Bill, Withdrawal of Scottish Statutory Instruments, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Point of Order, Decision Time, Correction


Contents


Carer’s Allowance Supplement (Scotland) Bill

I ask members who are leaving the chamber to do so as quickly and quietly as possible. The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-01554, in the name of Ben Macpherson, on the Carer’s Allowance Supplement (Scotland) Bill. I invite members who wish to contribute to the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons or enter R in the chat function.

16:23  

I am very pleased to present the Carer’s Allowance Supplement (Scotland) Bill to Parliament for this stage 3 debate. I recognise and thank, as we have collectively done throughout our consideration of the bill, the thousands of unpaid carers across Scotland, who make a remarkable contribution to our society.

I also put on record my thanks to the Parliament and the Social Justice and Social Security Committee for allowing me to secure an accelerated timetable for the bill. That has been critical to ensuring that we can increase December’s carers allowance supplement payment. I thank committee members and clerks for their work on the bill, and also my bill team and private office.

The Scottish Government has taken action to address the fact that carers allowance was the lowest of all working-age benefits. Carers allowance supplement, which was the first payment made by Social Security Scotland, increases carers allowance by around 13 per cent. It provides carers with an additional £462.80 a year on top of their carers allowance in recognition of the role that they play in our society.

Since September 2018, we have paid more than £149 million to around 120,000 carers through the carers allowance supplement. Carers in Scotland who have been continuously in receipt of carers allowance and carers allowance supplement will have received over £2,270 more than carers in the rest of the UK since the supplement was launched.

Moreover, since October 2019, we have invested around £1.3 million through our young carer grant, which is the first support of its kind in the United Kingdom. We have heard from young carers how it has made a difference to their lives and helped them to access more opportunities.

Overall, using our social security powers, we invest more than £350 million a year in supporting carers through carers allowance, carers allowance supplement and the young carer grant.

Of the 11 benefits that we are now delivering, the carers allowance supplement and the young carer grant are two of seven brand-new benefits that support people across Scotland by putting money directly into their pockets. That, of course, is in stark contrast to the UK Government’s £20 a week cut to universal credit this week.

As colleagues will know, the provisions in the bill seek to increase the amount of carers allowance supplement to be paid in just a few months’ time in December, in recognition of the increased pressures that carers have faced and are facing as a result of the pandemic.

The bill ensures that a payment of £462.80 will be made in December to all carers allowance supplement recipients, instead of the planned £231.40. This is the second time that we have done that. The additional supplement payment was first made in June last year as a result of emergency coronavirus legislation. As it did then, the Government is now investing more than £20 million to assist carers in these challenging times.

Our total investment this year and last year in our carers allowance supplement and our additional payments is around £120 million from our own budgets. As we discussed during the debate on the stage 3 amendments, we are doing that in a largely fixed budget under the devolved settlement.

Now that we are in the last stage of the bill, will the minister address the issue that my colleague Jeremy Balfour has repeatedly raised? Given everything that the minister is saying in his speech, why will the Government not review and report the success that he is describing? Why will he not allow Parliament to see the review and scrutinise the performance of this benefit?

I thank Stephen Kerr for his intervention, which I know that he makes from a position of advocating the principles of transparency and collective evaluation. I would point him to my letter of 6 October, which is several sides—not one side—of A4, from which he will get an indication of all the ways in which we measure our performance and set our direction, including the evaluation work that has been done and is on-going to make sure that our benefits are delivering as was envisaged by the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 and our social security charter.

If we pass the bill today, the increased payment will help to mitigate some of the negative impacts of the virus on carers’ finances and wellbeing; it will also help them to provide vital caring roles at a time when health and social care services are being stretched more than they would be in normal times.

Will the minister give a commitment to unpaid carers across Scotland that the money that they need in their pockets will be available again next June? They need that certainty.

There will be a payment of the carers allowance supplement in June, as there has been since its introduction in 2018. As we have debated through the various stages of the bill, whether there is a further additional supplement will be down to budget matters that the Parliament will consider collectively in due course.

We also recognise that the pandemic has identified a need for greater flexibility in how we support carers when society faces significant changing circumstances. The bill includes a power to enable ministers to introduce regulations that, if approved by Parliament, could increase the amount of the carers allowance supplement in future periods, which Pam Duncan-Glancy inquired about.

As I noted during stage 1, we continue to work with carers and organisations that represent and support them to consider the options to improve support through the introduction of Scottish carers assistance—our replacement for carers allowance—ahead of the consultation that is planned for this winter.

I will say a bit more about Scottish carers assistance in my closing speech, but I highlight now that we will create a carers assistance that works better for carers than the current carers allowance does. The improvements that we make will build on changes that we have already made, and those that are planned, to improve support for Scotland’s unpaid carers, which has been a priority with our social security powers.

I urge everyone to support the bill.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Carer’s Allowance Supplement (Scotland) Bill be passed.

To avoid curtailing the debate, I am minded to accept a motion without notice to move decision time back.

Motion moved,

That, under Rule 11.2.4 of Standing Orders, Decision Time on Thursday 7 October shall begin at 5.20 pm.—[George Adam.]

Motion agreed to.

16:31  

Like the minister, I thank everyone in and outside the Parliament who has been involved in the passage of the Carer’s Allowance Supplement (Scotland) Bill, especially the organisations that have provided assistance and briefings.

The Scottish Conservatives accepted the reasons that the minister gave for the expedited timetable for the bill’s consideration, and we have worked constructively to ensure that unpaid carers receive the double payment in December ahead of Christmas. However, I put on record my disappointment that the bill has not provided the opportunity to progress at an earlier stage some of the improvements that all parties supported at the May election and, indeed, the constructive amendments in the name of Maggie Chapman and Jeremy Balfour that were lodged at stages 2 and 3.

I am disappointed in the Scottish Green Party. Green members seemed to lose their voice at stage 2. We proposed positive amendments that the Parliament has now rejected. That is disappointing.

The passage of the bill has presented a number of important areas in which there is cross-party support for reform to, and improvement of, the uptake and delivery of support for carers.

I welcome the letter that the minister sent to the Social Justice and Social Security Committee yesterday regarding on-going work to review carer benefits, including work on the young carer grant. Unpaid carers are the backbone of our social care system, but they often go unrecognised. I thank our unpaid carers—especially young carers—for everything that they have done, including the work that they undertake to provide care and love to people throughout Scotland. It is because of those efforts that, throughout the passage of the bill, the Scottish Conservatives have tried to progress further support for carers.

The committee heard many responses outlining concerns about the qualifying rules for carers allowance, including young carers not being able to get the young carer grant if they are in receipt of carers allowance when they apply for the grant. The committee report raised all those important issues with the eligibility criteria. I hope that the minister, and the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government, who is still in the chamber, will be able to outline to Parliament at the earliest opportunity their approach to those issues and how and when progress to extend the additional payment to people who care for multiple persons can be delivered. There is cross-party support for that and I hope that that will be implemented as soon as possible.

As I outlined during the stage 1 debate, the Scottish Conservatives also support early action to extend payments for carers after a bereavement and a new support package for people who often have to give up work to care for a loved one. Carers organisations have supported that call, as we heard at the committee. Although the minister has not included that specific ask in the letter that he wrote to the committee yesterday, I hope that he will agree to meet me to discuss that important reform and how we can progress that change at the earliest opportunity.

I have written to the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills to ask what support and reforms can be introduced for bereaved carers to access training and mental health support in particular. The number of young carers who have been impacted has increased during the pandemic, and we now need to look to their educational needs and at the attainment gap, which has grown wider and wider. That is an incredibly important issue, and I hope that we can find cross-party support for improvements and reforms.

We need to take a cross-portfolio approach to carers’ rights and the package of support that the country can deliver. I hope that ministers across Government will consider how they can individually add value in their respective departments.

As has been stated by carers and their representatives during the passage of the bill, it is vital that we recognise the importance of carers being able to access support. However, that goes beyond just financial support. We need to have in place a system and package of support for carers that takes account of carer’s individual needs and the carer as a whole. I hope that all arms of Government and local authorities, and all sectors, will look towards where we can add value to help support Scotland’s carers and improve their lives and future opportunities.

The Scottish Conservatives welcome the Carer’s Allowance Supplement (Scotland) Bill. Unpaid carers are the backbone of our social care system and it is only right that they receive an additional payment to mitigate the financial effects of the pandemic. I hope that many the reforms and carers’ asks that we heard during the bill’s passage will be heard by ministers today. The Social Justice and Social Security Committee took on board many of the views that were put to us by carers during our evidence taking. I hope that ministers and Parliament will consider how we can progress those at the earliest opportunity. The Scottish Conservatives will support the bill at decision time.

16:36  

I thank the clerks and committee members for their hard work on the bill. The bill seeks to put more money in the pockets of unpaid carers this December by doubling the winter payment of the carers allowance supplement. As someone who relies on paid and unpaid care, I cannot stress enough the importance of the care that is provided by all carers across Scotland. I again thank every carer across Scotland, paid and unpaid, for the years of support for me and the millions of people throughout the country who rely on care.

Scottish Labour recognises the importance of unpaid carers and the contribution that they make. Carers have gone above and beyond during the pandemic by working more hours and taking on more responsibility while the services that should have been there to support them have been reduced and, in some instances, removed altogether.

Carers deserve far more than our praise; they need bold and transformative action. One carer said to me that thanks and love do not pay the bills. Although the bill does not go far enough in recognising carers, we appreciate that it does more for them than is the case now, so we will support the bill at decision time.

Nevertheless, the Government has much to do. There are an estimated 1 million unpaid carers throughout Scotland, and they need us to go further in order to tackle the poverty and inequality that they face. I am disappointed that my amendments and those in the name of Jeremy Balfour were not passed, as those amendments would have given carers more certainty over the money they will have in their pockets.

The uplift to the carers allowance supplement was introduced because the Government recognised the additional pressures that unpaid carers faced during the pandemic. It was the right thing to do, but the pandemic is far from over. Last week, the Scottish Government rightly condemned the Tory UK Government for its failure to maintain an uplift to universal credit that was also introduced in recognition of the unprecedented situation that has been brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. It was wrong to remove that uplift to universal credit—its removal is catastrophic, in my view—and it is also wrong for the Scottish Government not to give carers certainty by committing to the carers allowance supplement uplift.

I have met many carers, carers’ organisations and people who require care, and the realities that they have shared with me have highlighted why—now more than ever—we need to focus our efforts on the inequality that they face. I have heard that some carers are caring for 24 hours, seven days a week, and 90 per cent of carers say that they have done so without a break. In many places across the country, they are still waiting for the services that they relied on before the pandemic to recommence. I reiterate to the Government the importance to carers and service users of getting those services back up and running. We are not back to normal—far from it. Although I hope that we will strive for a better, new, more equal normal, we must recognise that the additional pressures brought about by the pandemic still exist, especially for unpaid carers in Scotland.

We must also recognise that unpaid carers were struggling to make ends meet long before Covid and that the reason to act is longstanding. The reality is that, often, carers do not have a choice whether to care. They take on responsibilities in the absence of a social care system that fully meets the needs of those they care for. They are stepping out and stepping in when there is no one else to do so. Some—many of whom are women—have had to give up work, which has put them further into poverty. Indeed, in the Social Justice and Social Security Committee this week, we heard of the need to address that inequality and the importance to reaching our child poverty targets of lifting women who provide unpaid care out of poverty. Engender highlighted that this morning and noted that, in doing so, there is an urgent need to address the chronically low carers benefits.

Carers allowance is currently set at the equivalent of 15 hours a week at the living wage, which is below the poverty line. The Scottish Government has held powers to reform that benefit for the past four years, yet it does not expect to be in a position to review Scottish carers assistance and pay more until 2025. I have already aired my frustration about that and about the constraints that have been placed on our freedom to amend the bill and bring long-term transformation. It is a shame that we are not today debating a bill that would do just that—a policy that could have the potential, if done right, to give financial security and certainty to carers in the long term. This is a missed opportunity.

With 90 per cent of Scotland’s carers still unable to claim carers allowance, we should be using the powers of this Parliament to revise eligibility criteria that currently let too many slip through the net. Instead, carers are being left in the hands of the Department for Work and Pensions until the Scottish Government is ready to pick up the DWP’s rule book. Carers simply cannot wait that long.

The bill will provide a welcome but temporary measure that will ease the financial pressure on carers right now, and we will support it, but it by no means addresses the wider inequalities that carers face. We know that the effects of the pandemic will be felt far beyond the payment. We also know that caring responsibilities will not disappear; indeed, they will increase. In the weeks and months ahead, Scottish Labour will continue to push the Government to go faster and do everything in its power to support unpaid carers and reform carers allowance. Today, though, we recognise that, although it may not be enough, the bill will put money in the pockets of carers, and Scottish Labour will always support doing that.

16:42  

If they had not done so before, the value of and the need for unpaid carers have shone brightly throughout the pandemic. The bill is our commitment that recognises their commitment. It does not cover every carer—it falls far short of doing that—but those it does cover will receive an essential supplement to their income. It is an essential supplement, but we should never kid ourselves that it will be enough for most. We know the financial struggles that carers endure week in, week out, which is why we must return to the issue when we consider shaping the new benefit—Scottish carers assistance.

I had hoped that the Government would end the uncertainty about next year, at least by committing to the supplement for next year. However, unpaid carers now face the prospect of a cut next year, just like the universal credit cut, because the trauma of the pandemic has not ended. In fact, the costs continue to rise for carers just as they do for everyone else.

Willie Rennie will acknowledge that we have had an additional payment since 2018. What we did in June 2020 was—and what we intend to do in December this year is—make an additional additional payment, and we intend to secure the power potentially to make such additional additional payments in the future, if that is the will of Parliament.

But it is not guaranteed. Yes, it could result in the payment going up, but, equally, it could go back down again. The sooner we get the commitment, the sooner the unpaid carers of this country will get the certainty that they need in incredibly difficult times. I am sure that the minister understands that.

I just do not buy the argument from the minister and the Government that the issue is subject to future budget negotiations. The Government makes multiyear commitments all the time, and, given its multibillion-pound budget, the cost is insignificant. When he was challenged, the minister qualified the description of the Government’s budget by calling it “largely fixed”, not completely fixed. He has flexibility within a multibillion-pound budget; therefore, he could make the commitment to reduce the uncertainty for carers.

For individual carers, the supplement is worth so much more; for the Government, it is not a big deal. Given that we require carers to provide 35 hours of care a week, the amount is equivalent to £2 an hour. The increase is not enough to take them out of poverty; therefore, we will have to look at the financial commitment that we can make if we are to address the fundamental problems that carers experience. We need to look at the matter in the long term, in the carers assistance process.

The underlying entitlement issues need to be addressed, too. At present, there is a massive gap between the number of unpaid carers in Scotland and the tiny number who receive the allowance. The current benefit provides support to only one in 10 carers. Those who are of pensionable age are denied support, as are those in many other categories. With carers assistance, we need to investigate how we can extend the coverage.

I thank the committee, the clerks, the officials and the minister for their rapid work on the bill. I pay particular credit to Pam Duncan-Glancy and Jeremy Balfour for provoking and challenging the minister, the Government and those on the SNP and Green benches throughout the process. I admire the work that they have done.

At stage 1, I talked about Amy Newton, who has multiple sclerosis, and the experience of her world that she provided for me in just one afternoon. I was exhausted after shopping with clouded goggles, thick gloves and heavy weights on my arms and legs. We owe Amy, the hundreds of thousands of people like her and their carers a proper level of support. The Parliament must return to the job with a full commitment to do right by them.

We will support the bill this afternoon.

16:47  

Further to my earlier contribution, I will make a more general speech about the merits of the bill before stage 3 is completed.

The bill delivers a second double payment of the Scottish Government’s carers supplement. It means that eligible carers in Scotland are due to get an additional £462.80 in December on top of their regular carers allowance. The evidence that we heard in committee from carers and representative stakeholders proves why that payment is necessary. It goes a small way towards demonstrating the value that the Scottish Government places on the role played by unpaid carers. Carers Scotland estimates the economic value to Scotland of unpaid carers to be over £10 billion a year, but it is far harder to measure the social and wellbeing impact that they have.

There is no doubt that carers and the people they are caring for have had a particularly difficult time over the past 18 months. Many have had to take on additional roles and faced additional costs during the pandemic. We heard about those challenges in evidence to the committee and, at stage 1, the financial challenges, as well as those in relation to respite services, were also raised.

It is right that we make sure that we keep doing what we can to assist those heroes to keep doing their phenomenal work for the people they care for. The doubling of the December payment means that carers in Scotland will be £690 better off this year compared to those on carers allowance elsewhere in the UK.

An earlier line of argument being pursued by Miles Briggs, Jeremy Balfour and Stephen Kerr—in an intervention—needs correction. The letter from the minister of 6 October, which Mr Briggs said was just a paragraph actually extended to three pages. Perhaps Mr Briggs should check his printer settings—maybe it was only the final page that came out.

I was specifically referring to carers of multiple persons. Having had a long discussion about that in committee during the passage of the bill, Mr Gray will be very aware that there is just one paragraph in the letter on that point.

I thought that Mr Briggs and Mr Balfour were referring to the section on evaluation, which is certainly longer than that. There is also a link to the published evaluation that the Scottish Government produced in December 2020. There is no secrecy or conspiracy, as some of the Conservatives would have wanted people to believe—far from it.

Perhaps the Tories need reminding that their party continues to preside over the carers allowance as the most miserly form of social security. The supplement is available only to eligible carers in Scotland. Perhaps if the Tories want the supplement to go further, they could persuade their colleagues at Westminster to pull their weight by expanding the payment of, or eligibility for, the carers allowance. If they will not, the calls that we hear today for the Scottish Government to go even further than their colleagues in Westminster lack any credibility.

While the Scottish Government is investing in providing additional support to carers, the UK Government is shamefully cutting universal credit by £1,040 per year. It should be remembered that many unpaid carers who will receive the supplement will also receive universal credit. One Government is investing in social security to support our citizens who are carers and the other is driving poverty by cutting social security.

I have no doubt that we will have further discussions about future supplements via the regulatory power that the bill gives to ministers, and I look forward to taking views on the new Scottish carers assistance when those proposals are published soon.

To conclude, I put on record again my thanks to carers in Scotland for all that they do. I also thank those people who submitted their evidence and suggestions to the committee for our consideration and the team who support the committee, such as our clerks and the Scottish Parliament information centre, for getting our scrutiny done in the truncated timescale. I very much hope that the bill will pass unanimously and that we can get the crucial support that our carers deserve into their pockets for December.

16:51  

I welcome the final stage of the bill, and I am pleased that it will get all-party support. I thank the clerks and others who have got the bill through so quickly and smoothly.

The Parliament has the power to implement the measure. It is, unlike many issues that have been brought to the chamber over the past couple of weeks, within our remit to enact it. However, it is disappointing that the bill does not go as far as it could have gone. We pay other benefits on a recurring basis, such as personal independence payments. That is fixed within the Scottish Government’s budget. I am still not clear why the Government cannot commit to what is a small sum for it but a massive sum for carers in the long-term budgeting process. Carers who do so much unseen work require longer-term stability.

I hope that we will get an early announcement from the cabinet secretary or the minister, as soon as the budget is announced, on whether what is going to happen will happen again next summer and next Christmas, and I hope that the minister will at least commit in his summing-up speech to coming back to Parliament before the end of the year to give us a commitment on that one way or another.

Members will have noticed that I lodged a number of amendments, some of which were originally lodged by Maggie Chapman at stage 2. I found it curious that the SNP and the Greens voted against the amendments at stage 2 and today. They were lodged by a member of their coalition, and they were interesting and helpful amendments that would have given Parliament a greater role in scrutiny, but they were quickly dismissed by the minister. Ms Chapman has evidently learned the harsh lesson that the Government is in no way interested in constructive deviations from its rigid and dogmatic agenda. [Interruption.] No, I am afraid that I will not take an intervention.

We have seen today that the party of Government talks about reaching out to other parties and working together but, when people propose constructive, non-financial amendments, they are rejected.

The member lodged financial amendments that require to be looked at through the budget process. A number of members have made a point about the reach to carers. People say that they want to reach more carers. Surely it is better to look at the need for carers support in the round rather than to try to amend a very clearly tight bill.

The cabinet secretary has obviously not read the amendments. I was asking in some of my amendments for reports on what the Government was doing, but she did not support them.

The point that the minister made when discussing the amendments was that we have started the consultation period now and that any new benefit is likely to be introduced in 2025, which means that for four years unpaid carers have to live with this uncertainty because of what the Scottish Government has decided.

Again, our carers are individuals who are invaluable for our society. It behoves us in this place to offer them not just warm words but proper financial support. We will support the bill, but it could have been so much better if the Government had listened to what was said in my and Labour’s amendments.

I call Marie McNair, who will be followed by Mark Griffin. Ms McNair, you have around four minutes.

16:56  

I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate and put on record my support for unpaid carers, because I have long recognised what they do. My support is shaped by my daily contact in my previous job as part of the nursing team at St Margaret of Scotland Hospice in my constituency. I repeat my praise for the staff and volunteers of Carers of West Dunbartonshire and Carers Link in East Dunbartonshire, who provide outstanding support to carers in my constituency.

Throughout our communities, the contribution of carers is invaluable and inspiring. I said during the stage 1 debate that the care that they have given during the pandemic has been life-saving. It is often someone looking after a parent, relative or friend, and they see it as an automatic response to help someone who they love and care for. However, with that support, the person who they care for can live in their house, be part of the community and participate in the way that they want to.

This debate gives us the opportunity to put on the record our thanks to every single unpaid carer for their dedication, love and compassion. This period has been incredibly difficult for many in society, but many carers will have felt it more than others. The bill, if passed today, will, first, recognise the massive contribution that unpaid carers have made during the pandemic by doubling the amount of carers allowance supplement; and, secondly, it will get the money into the pockets of carers for Christmas, a time of real financial pressure for families.

I welcome that the chief executive of the carers group VOCAL said:

“We believe the Carer’s Allowance Supplement is a positive step towards valuing the role of carers as equal partners in care and recognising their crucial contribution to Scotland’s economy.”

We really do value carers. The carers allowance supplement is part of the wider support to carers that has been clearly set out and carefully budgeted for. I did not support the Opposition’s amendments, and it is disingenuous to suggest that we set future amounts of the supplement in that way, given the scale of what needs to be done, including the mitigation of a Westminster wrong that put carers on the lowest level of earnings replacement benefit.

The Opposition parties should bring forward their budgets for debate and scrutiny at budget time, and to do it any other way will be seen by many carers as a continuation of promises to them that have never come to fruition. Doubling the supplement payment for December means that over 91,000 carers will receive additional support, which I know will bring some relief. However, more action is needed, and I hope that colleagues across the chamber will agree to add their voice to calls for the UK Government to increase carers allowance, which is the lowest of all earnings replacement benefits. Surely the Opposition must have better aspirations for the UK social security system, and this really is a test of whether we are “better together”.

The supplement has fixed a wrong inflicted on carers for years, because for 45 years successive UK Governments have refused to align the amount paid with other earnings replacement benefits. Now, because our Parliament is listening, carers in Scotland have a 13 per cent increase and, in addition, will be £690 better off than carers south of the border. The Labour, Liberal and Tory parties have had all those years at Westminster to sort this, but refused to do so. In fact, from what I can see, their current Westminster leaders have never called in Parliament for the carers allowance to be aligned with the rate of jobseekers allowance. Again, we are left to mitigate their shameful policies.

Will Ms McNair take an intervention?

I am nearly finished.

If the Westminster parties finally do the right thing, we will ring fence the money to further enhance support for carers in Scotland. Once we pass the bill, we must work closely with carers as quickly as possible to devise the new system of carers assistance that leaves behind the inadequacy and inequality ingrained in the Westminster approach and responds to the real-world demands on carers in Scotland.

16:59  

As one of the co-conveners of the cross-party group on carers and a former member of the Social Security Committee, I am grateful to speak in this debate, because carers deserve this additional payment.

Being an unpaid carer is a 24-hour job, which is done out of love, not for the allowance, but unpaid carers have likely lost income in the pandemic and had the huge task of supporting severely disabled people, many of whom have been shielding in the past 18 months. Although they rightly get a lot of thanks from us, they have been waiting years for a carers allowance that makes the best of the powers that this Parliament now has.

When the minister and I were on the Social Security Committee, the supplement was one of the landmark policies that the whole committee agreed on. For my part, I was proud to ensure that the supplement was protected from inflation.

The pandemic legislation saw us agree to unique and substantial measures. The additional supplement, the £20 uplift in universal credit and the pandemic support payments to low-income families have all had a substantial positive impact on household budgets. They have not only been lifelines but made our social security more adequate, so they should never have been special measures in the first place.

When we look at the responses that the committee received to its call for evidence, we can feel the importance that the additional payment makes to carers. One says that caring

“can be very stressful for some carers”,

who are

“over worked and need a break”.

Another said:

“I get roughly 34p an hour to look after them I don’t get a break … sometime all day and all night. I care for them cause I love them I do it so they get best care”.

One carer said that the payment will relieve stress, and that

“December is the hardest time financially as I want to give my kids all I can but also need to be able to put food on table.”

Those responses show the impact that the payment has, so why should it be a one-off that is ending?

We should consider the possibility that this might be the final additional supplement, so it is similar to the decision to end the universal credit uplift. The Scottish Government has not done it with the same public malice as the Tories have shown in that debate, but the effect on carers’ income is no different because, if we do not see a similar intervention next June, their income will fall.

In its next budget, I hope that the Scottish Government will offer a permanent uplift to the supplement, and then set a route map to the incorporation of that payment into the weekly award.

It is time that the Government brought legislation on carers allowance to the chamber, to set out a long-term settlement for unpaid carers to look forward to, or even just to give them hope. Allowing full-time students to claim or offering a taper to end the earnings cliff edge would be a start.

The underlying allowance is low and is still delivered by the DWP, so we need to get to a point where carers have a choice—even certainty—over whether they get a better weekly payment or a lump sum. Although carers get a great deal of thanks from us, they have now been waiting years for a carers allowance that makes the best of the new powers of this Parliament, and they have been waiting long enough.

17:03  

Just yesterday, when the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions was performing at the Tory party conference karaoke, her Government implemented the largest ever cut to the social security system.

In real terms, the support that is paid to unemployed people is now as low as it was in 1992 and, as a proportion of earnings, it is the lowest that it has been since the modern social security system began in the late 1940s.

The £20 a week—or £1,040 a year—cut to universal credit and working tax credit will impact more than 400,000 Scots households, of which more than 20,000 have a recognised unpaid carer. Scottish Government analysis suggests that that will put an additional 60,000 people into poverty, including 20,000 children. That is on top of the benefit cap, the rape clause, the two-child limit, the benefit freeze and PlP. Those constant attacks on the incomes of our poorest citizens form the backdrop to the bill that we debate today.

The additional support for carers that is provided in the bill seems modest by comparison, and it is. An extra £231 increase to carers allowance and a power for the Scottish Government to introduce further such increases are both very welcome, and that is why we will support the bill at decision time. However, we must recognise that it is only one very small part of the fundamental change that we need in how unpaid care is recognised, valued and supported.

Let us be clear about how valuable unpaid care is. Recently, the University of Strathclyde published a report on the value of the unpaid care that is provided for people with learning disabilities. The care that is done by unpaid carers would cost an average of £35,000 per person if it were paid at the rate of the living wage. If those being cared for had instead to be transferred to supported accommodation, the cost per person would average £114,000. A carer who was interviewed as part of that research said:

“Unpaid carers are the mortar in the wall. We’re there, we’re essential, but we’re hidden.”

[Interruption.] No—I have a lot to get through.

For decades, carers allowance has been hidden away, a backwater of the social security system that has been neglected by successive UK Governments. Unfair rules have also been in place for far too long. There is no recognition of care that is done for more than one person, nothing is offered to those who care part time, there is nothing for those who claim other income-replacement payments, and so on. Proposals in 2008 to provide an extra payment were welcomed by the Labour Government but were never implemented. That must change. We must have a social security system that reflects the incredible work that unpaid carers do.

The forthcoming introduction of carers assistance and the consultation on the future of support for unpaid carers are crucial opportunities to build a fairer social security system for carers, and we cannot miss them. However, there is no escaping the fact that, given the powers that this Parliament has, we are restricted to tinkering on the edges of a broken system. Scotland clearly needs greater powers over borrowing and social security.

Before I close, I want to briefly raise the issue of take-up. About 80,000 receive carers allowance and the supplement and so will receive the additional payment, but we know that 1 million people do some level of unpaid care. DWP work to estimate the take-up of disability and carer benefits was started long ago but never finished.

It does not have to be this way. The Scottish Government’s shared policy programme with the Greens has earmarked £10 million for income-maximisation services, including for households with disabled people. We must see urgent action on that, and I would welcome an update from the minister on the issue.

Greens will vote for the bill at stage 3 today but, in doing so, we are clear that it is but one small step towards a system that offers true dignity and respect to Scotland’s unpaid carers.

We move to closing speeches. As members will be aware, those who have participated in the debate should be in the chamber for closing speeches. I note that Mr Gray is not in the chamber, and I would expect an explanation for that.

17:08  

I would like to begin by restating what everyone in the chamber has said already, which is thank you. Thank you to all those who have contributed to the bill’s progress, and to all organisations that gave evidence and briefings that contributed to the passage of the bill. Thank you also to carers, who do so much and too often receive too little support and not enough recognition. We have heard from colleagues across the chamber just how challenging the past 18 months has been for carers—indeed, they have been the most challenging times that unpaid carers have ever faced.

Services continue to be squeezed, and enough respite care is still not available. Colleagues have alluded to that very powerfully today, including when Mark Griffin and Willie Rennie spoke about the experiences of people who are caring for loved ones. In the past few weeks, we have seen councils across the Lothians and in Glasgow, for example, cutting back on care-at-home provision and asking unpaid carers yet again to do more. All that is before we even get to the worst of winter.

At stage 1, I said that it is important that we hear the voices of carers in the legislation and respond to what they ask of us. That is the least that we can do, and those of us on the Scottish Labour benches have reiterated that through our amendments. Although there has been a very constrained timetable for the bill, we have sought to hear what carers have told us and to act on it.

The ability to increase the supplement, albeit for a limited number of months, is of course welcome. As colleagues have said, we have supported the bill and will support it today, because we believe that putting extra money into the pockets of carers in time for Christmas is a vital step in supporting them at a very demanding time of year and in the midst of a pandemic that is still very much impacting people’s lives.

However, the bill only goes so far and we must do more. That is what my colleague Pam Duncan-Glancy’s amendments and Jeremy Balfour’s amendments sought to do. The bill provides a one-off increase in carers allowance, and it also gives the power to increase future payments of the supplement but, as we have heard, that is not guaranteed. The bill should not be a missed opportunity to ensure that there is a guaranteed bridge of uplift for carers so that they have more financial security until the advent of carers assistance, but I fear that it will be.

The Government had the opportunity to change the calculation, to use universal credit and fix that to the rate prior to the Tories’ shameful cut. That would have meant that eligible carers would be entitled to a higher supplement that was £480 more than the current supplement level, but the Government refused to take that amendment on board. I ask what that says to carers in Scotland. I was disappointed not to hear Maggie Chapman speak about that amendment, which she had pursued in the committee.

The Government could also have ensured that the increased supplement is paid every six months until carers assistance is rolled out. Currently, the bill guarantees only one payment of the increased supplement in December 2021, as we have heard. Mark Griffin talked about what we would hope to see as a long-term strategy and solution to providing a meaningful uplift for carers in carers allowance.

At stage 1, the minister suggested that the Government intends

“to introduce Scottish carers assistance for new applications long before 2025.”—[Official Report, 23 September 2021; c 93.]

Those were his words. Therefore, it would be helpful if, in his concluding remarks, he would clarify what is meant by that. When will carers have extra money in their pockets before 2025, and how long before 2025 will that be?

The convener of the committee, who is in his place now, said in his speech and, I think, in remarks to the Daily Record, that the additional payments from the supplement will ensure that we provide greater recognition to the people who help to look after a loved one. We have seen today that there is a consensus on that in the chamber, but we have to ask ourselves whether that recognition ceases at the end of December.

Scottish Labour will support the bill to make more support available to stretched carers, but it is a sticking plaster to cover a gaping wound, and carers and carer organisations have been clear that it is not sufficient to lift carers out of poverty. We can do more. We must do more. The Scottish Government must hear the voices of carers, who for too long have felt like an afterthought.

17:12  

I am delighted to close this stage 3 debate on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives. Through each stage of the bill, we have heard thoughtful contributions from members of all parties regarding the importance of unpaid carers. It has been said previously, but it is worth repeating, that unpaid carers are the backbone of our social care system. It is clear that that perspective is shared across the chamber.

While the bill’s progress has been swift, it has provided the opportunity to debate and scrutinise how we can best support unpaid carers, and it has also given us the opportunity to hear that during the pandemic an additional 400,000 carers were involved across Scotland. For example, one challenging topic that has been discussed this afternoon is the area of supporting carers who have more than one person to look after, such as someone who has two elderly parents. The bill had the potential to help to address that issue. Members also spoke about the role of young carers and how we can best support them. The amendments lodged by my colleague Jeremy Balfour would have provided a key opportunity for ministers to review the issue, but unfortunately the Government was not willing to seize that opportunity.

It was also disappointing that an amendment lodged by the Conservatives at stage 2, which would have provided greater financial certainty for unpaid carers by making the double supplement permanent, was also rejected. Representatives from organisations such as Family Fund and National Carer Organisations in Scotland have made it clear that that additional layer of financial certainty would have helped over the winter months. Another example is Lanarkshire Carers, who have spoken about how a permanent doubling of the supplement would give unpaid carers a fixed idea of their income over a longer period of time and would also give them more opportunity to plan ahead. Although the bill as it stands will ensure that ministers have discretionary powers to double future payments on an ad hoc basis, we do not believe that that should be left to ministerial whims.

Those are just some of the issues that arose in the debate and which the bill provided an opportunity to address. The fact that the Government failed to capitalise on the potential has been described as a missed opportunity.

I will move on to some of the comments that we heard this afternoon. The minister himself talked about opportunities; however, as I said, we have seen a missed opportunity to provide greater financial certainty to unpaid carers.

My colleague Miles Briggs spoke about how there has been constructive work across the chamber and across parties; that has been recognised. However, we also need to say how disappointed we are by how the Greens seem to have lost their voice. Miles Briggs also talked about carers and bereavement and mental ill-health, and the opportunity to address those issues has not been seized on either.

Pam Duncan-Glancy spoke about carers giving and going above and beyond and about there being more than 1 million unpaid carers in Scotland. Without anyone noticing, the pandemic has helped to ensure that many unpaid carers have been put under huge pressure. She also spoke about missed opportunities.

Willie Rennie commented on our commitment to recognising the commitment of carers—that is vital. He also talked about how, although the subject of future budget negotiations was talked about, a gap still exists and will continue to exist.

I pay tribute to Jeremy Balfour for his powerful speeches on the amendments that he lodged and for the passion that he has on this topic—nobody in the chamber can deny that. He talked about the commitment of carers and how they go far beyond in doing what they can. Once again, however, he also spoke about the missed opportunities that we see today.

Nothing that I have said should imply that the bill is not welcomed by the Conservatives, because it is. However, although it will provide financial assistance to more than 90,000 carers this winter—which we whole-heartedly support—it is nevertheless disappointing that the bill has failed to reach its full potential.

The debate around the vital contribution that unpaid carers make to our society, and how the social security system should impact them, will be important as we go forward, and will continue to be discussed in the weeks, years and months ahead. Although the bill has failed to address many of the aspects that we hoped it would, the potential is still there.

I have no doubt that supporting the bill—which the Conservatives will do—will provide very welcome support to individuals this December. I support the bill.

17:17  

It is clear from this afternoon’s debate that there is cross-party support for the intent behind the bill, which is to increase December’s carers allowance supplement payment; I really appreciate that from all parties. We have also demonstrated together our recognition and appreciation of the remarkable role that carers across Scotland play and have played, particularly during the pandemic, as well as the impact that it has had on them.

As I made clear in my opening contribution, the Government is building a social security system based on the principles of dignity, fairness and respect. The bill intends to offer further support to carers across Scotland, who have been under additional pressure because of the pandemic. This is more than simply warm words—this is standing up and making a financial investment at an important time, and undertaking a legislative process in order to do that. This Government is committed to doing things, and that is what the bill is all about.

A number of points were raised during the debate, and I may not have capacity to address them all. However, a series of questions were raised around Scottish carers assistance and how we move forward from here. It is clear that there is a determination across the chamber to do more; we want to do more—we all want to do more.

That is why we continue as a Government to make good progress towards the launch of Scottish carers assistance, including the additional payment for those with multiple caring roles. Due to the impacts of the pandemic, the Scottish Government and the DWP—which is integral to our work during this phase—have had to work on a new timetable for delivering Scottish carers assistance and transferring Scottish clients in receipt of carers allowance. However, we are, as I said, making good progress.

We have started feasibility work with the DWP that will carry on into the new year. That will give us a much more detailed understanding of what needs to be done and how long it will take. Our aim is to begin to build the systems required for Scottish carers assistance and the additional payment in the new year, and we anticipate that that will take a minimum of 18 months, given the complex interactions between carer benefits and the reserved benefits system.

Given that it might take 18 months to get to that point, and that carers are living in extreme poverty now, I ask the minister again to give a commitment that he will double the supplement in June, when the pandemic will be far from over, and again in December, and again until the adequacy of the payment can be addressed.

As I have said on several occasions, we will give consideration to those matters during the budget process, and I urge all parties to give them that same serious attention.

When we begin delivering Scottish carers assistance, our immediate priority is to protect the support that carers already in receipt of carers allowance rely on, and to ensure that the transfer of their benefits is safe and secure, as well as opening a new application process. That means that we will not be able to make any changes to eligibility criteria immediately. The one exception to that is introducing the additional payment for those with multiple caring roles.

That does not mean that we will not be making improvements from the launch of our new support. We want to deliver a better service, and will be working with carers to design applications and communications so that they will work for the people who use them. We will also use the new benefit to help carers to find out more about other support that they may be entitled to.

When looking to prioritise the further changes that can be made once safe and secure transfer is complete, we need to carefully consider the balance between extending eligibility for Scottish carers assistance and increasing the amount of Scottish carers assistance.

Working with carers and organisations that support them, we have identified 15 options for changes that we could make when we introduce our replacement to the carers allowance, the Scottish carers assistance. That includes the option to make a recognition payment to carers with underlying entitlement, as Willie Rennie raised, action to expand payments for carers after bereavement, as Mr Briggs said, and considerations around carers who are in full-time education, as Mark Griffin rightly highlighted. We are working with stakeholders and undertaking further analysis of those to identify which options should be progressed in advance of consulting on the final proposals for Scottish carers assistance this winter.

Moving back to the here and now, we have secured the financial resources for doubling December’s carers allowance supplement, which is why we prioritised bringing forward the bill—one of our 100-day commitments and the first programmed bill to be passed by the Parliament, if the Parliament chooses to do so. It is about focusing on getting assistance to carers in December.

As was noted at stage 2, we could do more, and the UK Government could do more for carers allowance generally. Let us come together today to acknowledge the fact that the bill will ensure payment of £462.80 instead of the planned £231.40 to all carers allowance supplement recipients in December, and an additional payment of £694.20 will be made this year to unpaid carers in Scotland who are in receipt of Scottish carers allowance, which is more than is paid south of the border.

There has been a bit of negativity in today’s debate but it is a positive thing that we have before us. We can and will do more together to support unpaid carers in the months and years ahead, but we can make a difference today, so let us make that difference. I urge the Parliament to pass the Carer’s Allowance Supplement (Scotland) Bill.