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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, September 23, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 23 September 2021 [Draft]

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Awareness Day, Point of Order, Portfolio Question Time, Point of Order, Decarbonising Scotland’s Transport, Carer’s Allowance Supplement (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Carer’s Allowance Supplement (Scotland) Bill: Financial Resolution, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time


Contents


Carer’s Allowance Supplement (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-01318, in the name of Ben Macpherson, on the Carer’s Allowance Supplement (Scotland) Bill at stage 1.

I invite members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak button now, or to put an R in the chat function if they are joining us online.

I call Ben Macpherson to speak to and move the motion. You have around 10 minutes, Mr Macpherson.

15:30  

I welcome the opportunity to open the debate on the general principles of the Carer’s Allowance Supplement (Scotland) Bill. I begin by recognising and thanking the thousands of unpaid carers across Scotland, who make a remarkable contribution to our society.

As part of our wider commitments across Government, we are committed to supporting carers to protect their health and wellbeing, so that they can continue to care, if they wish to do so, as well as have a life of their own alongside caring. Across Government, we are committed to a variety of actions to support carers. For example, we introduced a £1.4 million holiday voucher scheme, which will provide thousands of vouchers for short breaks and days out to carers, people with disabilities and families on low incomes. The Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 introduced the right for all carers to an adult carer support plan or a young carer statement to identify their personal outcomes. We also recently accepted the recommendations of the independent review of adult social care, many of which are designed to improve carer support.

We recognise the added pressures that carers have had to deal with as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Many carers had to step in to provide care for disabled people that would normally have been provided by statutory services, such as schools and day care centres. As a constituency MSP, I have had casework on that issue and have seen at first hand the challenges that it has presented to families and individuals. Those challenges are why we delivered extra support to unpaid carers in receipt of carers allowance by increasing the amount of carers allowance supplement in June 2020, as part of the wider package of Scottish Government support to help mitigate the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

It has been three years since we gained the legislative powers to introduce social security benefits. When the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 was passed, our first change was to introduce the carers allowance supplement. That has improved the incomes of more than 90,000 Scottish carers. It increased carers allowance by 13 per cent, and eligible carers in Scotland received £690.30 more support last year than carers in the rest of the United Kingdom. [Interruption.] Of course I will take an intervention.

I call Pam Duncan-Glancy.

Thank you, and apologies, Presiding Officer—I should have said, “Will the minister take an intervention?”

I appreciate that the doubling of the supplement has been welcomed by a number of organisations and carers, but what will the Government do for the almost 1 million people in Scotland who care, and who have undertaken considerably more caring roles in the past year, but who do not qualify for any financial support?

Minister, we have quite a bit of time in hand, so I can give you back that time.

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

Pam Duncan-Glancy raises a very important question that orientates around the introduction of Scottish carers assistance, which I will come on to later in my speech.

As I said, carers in Scotland who were in receipt of carers allowance received £690.30 more last year in comparison with carers in the rest of the UK. Carers in Scotland who have been continuously in receipt of carers allowance and carers allowance supplement since September 2018 will have received over £2,270 more than carers in the rest of the UK. Through our social security powers, we invest more than £350?million a year in supporting carers through carers allowance, the carers allowance supplement and the young carer grant.

Although the first coronavirus payment was part of a much wider package of support for unpaid carers, stakeholders have continued to call for a second payment to help carers with the strain that many have felt and continue to feel as a result of their enhanced role during the pandemic. That is what the bill is all about.

Section 1 of the bill seeks to increase the amount of the carers allowance supplement to be paid in December 2021. If Parliament agrees, a payment of £462.80 will be made in December to all carers allowance supplement recipients, instead of the planned £231.40. That is a further investment of around £20 million by the Scottish Government, taking the Scottish Government’s investment across the two coronavirus carers allowance supplement payments to around £40 million, all of which comes from our own budgets.

I have raised this point previously both in committee and in the chamber. Given what many of our constituents have faced, as the minister has highlighted, does the Scottish Government support an extension of carers allowance for up to six months after a bereavement? Is the Scottish National Party Government willing to take that forward and outline a timetable for it?

Like Pam Duncan-Glancy, Miles Briggs raises an important point, which is related to how we consider the support that is available for carers in Scotland in the round as we develop Scottish carers assistance. Again, if I may, I will come on to that shortly.

Sticking with the content of the bill as introduced to Parliament, I am pleased to note that the Social Justice and Social Security Committee has welcomed that proposed payment in its stage 1 report. The increased payment would not only help to mitigate some of the negative impacts of the virus on carers’ finances and wellbeing, but help carers to continue to provide vital caring roles at a time when health and social care services are stretched, as we know.

The Government also recognises that the pandemic has demonstrated a need for greater flexibility in how we support carers when society faces significant changing circumstances, such those that face us now. That is why the bill includes a power to enable ministers to bring forward regulations, which, if approved by Parliament, could increase the amount of the carers allowance supplement for a future period.

It is important to note that, as we continue to balance the Scottish budget, challenging decisions will have to be made regarding any new policy suggestions that we receive, to ensure that any new changes are affordable. However, as we are seeking to do through the bill, the Scottish Government will work to provide additional support to unpaid carers where and when we can. That is why, although I am here to talk about the bill that is before us, it may be helpful—this relates to the interventions from Pam Duncan-Glancy and Miles Briggs—to reiterate our broader commitment to improving carers allowance, particularly as that was raised during evidence taking at stage 1 and in the committee’s stage 1 report.

We are working with carers and stakeholders to develop a replacement benefit for carers allowance, known as Scottish carers assistance. We are carrying out a detailed options analysis and we will consult in the coming winter—the period ahead—on proposals for the delivery of Scottish carers assistance. It is important that we take adequate and appropriate time to get it right, as carers allowance has some of the most complex links with United Kingdom Government benefits of all the support that is being devolved under the Scotland Act 2016. We need to ensure that we can protect the existing support that carers rely on.

We are continuing to make good progress towards the launch of Scottish carers assistance. Due to the impacts of the pandemic, both the Scottish Government and the Department for Work and Pensions, which is integral to our work to transfer delivery of carers allowance, have had to work on a new timetable for delivering Scottish carers assistance. We are about to commence feasibility work with the DWP in the next quarter, which 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 the build of Scottish carers assistance in the new year and we anticipate that it will take a minimum of 18 months, given the complex interactions between carer benefits and the reserved benefits system. We will, of course, continue to keep Parliament updated as that work progresses.

I thank the minister for taking another intervention.

We recognise that it could take up to 18 months to build Scottish carers assistance, that we are far from out of the pandemic and that, as we have heard from members across the chamber, we are likely to face one of the most difficult winters we have had in a long time, including for health and social care services. It is therefore likely that unpaid carers will continue to face considerable hardship in the short and medium term. On that basis, will the minister commit now to doubling the carers allowance supplement for at least the 18 months until the build starts?

We are committed to doubling the December payment if the Parliament is able to pass the bill in the rapid timescale for which we are aiming, including getting it through stage 1 today. We will then go into a budget process. If Parliament passes the bill, there will be the power to make changes in the next financial year, should that be the will of Parliament. Of course, such changes will have to be part of the budget considerations for the next financial year.

Will the minister give way?

Do I have time, Presiding Officer?

We have a bit of time. I can give it all back to you.

I want to press the point a bit further. Pam Duncan-Glancy is right to say that many support and respite services are not back up and running again, because significant problems exist with staffing and getting those services ready. Things will not be any easier for carers over the next year. Why can the minister not commit now to providing more finance for next year?

As I stated a few moments ago, we have to go through a budget process. Particularly in light of the current pressures on families and on household budgets, the Government is focused on getting to people who are in receipt of carers allowance not just the 13 per cent increase that it has delivered for a number of years but the additional payment, and to doing that as quickly as it can. I am grateful to Parliament for agreeing the expedited timetable for the bill, so that we can get that money into the pockets of families in good time for the festive period.

I put on record my thanks to the Social Justice and Social Security Committee for leading the work on the bill to date, and to all those who have contributed to that expedited process. I am pleased to note the support that has been expressed for the bill and its aims. I commend the general principles of the bill to Parliament.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Carer’s Allowance Supplement (Scotland) Bill.

We have a bit of time, so I will be able to give time back to any members who take interventions. I call Neil Gray, on behalf of the Social Justice and Social Security Committee; you have around seven minutes.

15:42  

I understand that this is the first non-emergency stage 1 debate of the parliamentary session. It is also my first opportunity to speak in my capacity as convener of the Social Justice and Social Security Committee. Before I share our specific findings on the general principles of the Carer’s Allowance Supplement (Scotland) Bill, I know that colleagues in the chamber will want to join me, as they did the minister, in agreeing that it is fitting that we pay testament today to the hard work of unpaid carers and acknowledge the impact of the pandemic on them.

Carers deserve recognition and support for the tireless work that they do to provide care for family members, friends and neighbours, which is why I am pleased to see support in Scotland going further than it is elsewhere and going some way to recognising the contribution that carers make.

The issue strikes at the heart of one of the Parliament’s key principles—to ensure that all people are treated fairly. Although timing for our consideration of the bill has been tight, we as a committee have received powerful testimony from more than a hundred carers about their experiences. I take this opportunity to thank all those carers for finding the time to engage with us. The committee wants to ensure that it hears how the policies that it considers have a real-life impact.

Those carers’ testimonies are not an easy read, as they show in some cases the sometimes damaging impact that their caring responsibilities can have on their own health and wellbeing. We were told about the 24 hours a day, pressure-cooker nature of caring work. Carers shared with us that they were at breaking point after 16 months of caring during a pandemic, with no let up. The pandemic has placed significant demands on unpaid carers’ financial, physical and mental health and employment. It has resulted in a lack of opportunities for carers to take breaks from their responsibilities, with the reduced availability of respite services adding further stress and pressure to their roles.

I turn to the provisions of the bill. It will come as no surprise to the chamber that the committee welcomes the move to provide an increase in the December payment of carers allowance supplement, in recognition of the extra burden that the pandemic has placed on them.

Although we support the doubling of the December payment to £462.80, our stage 1 report highlights some specific issues that were raised during the evidence that we received regarding the specific remit of the bill and looking beyond. Although we acknowledge that significant work is being done by the Scottish Government to support carers, we must also give voice to the evidence that we heard and hope that ministers will consider their views.

Will Neil Gray highlight in his speech whether the Scottish Government will consider making the double payment permanent?

I will come to that shortly. We did receive evidence in that regard. We received some submissions for the amount proposed for the cash payment in December 2021 to be higher, and some submissions also wanted the increase to be made permanent rather than a one off. Arguments to support that view drew comparisons between the level of CAS and what it would cost to provide a similar level of paid care.

Some of the people who shared their views with us also expressed concern that the level of carer benefits was too low to lift carers out of poverty. We believe that it is vital that carers get the support that they need and we would appreciate the Scottish Government giving due consideration to the evidence that the committee received during its inquiry that argues for additional CAS payments to be made in future years, using the regulatory power contained in the bill. We recognise that allowing carers to know their incomes over the longer term would assist them in managing their finances.

We heard from the minister that the Scottish Government intends that the new Scottish carers assistance benefit will improve financial support for unpaid carers, and we were pleased to hear that there are plans for consultation on the new benefit. The committee looks forward to engaging with the Government on the options proposed. In our report, we call for the Scottish Government to publish a timetable for the delivery of the new benefit, including the date for its introduction. The minister has set out the reasons why the Government is working to a new delivery timetable for Scottish carers assistance. We hope that he will be able to confirm to the committee soon when the new benefit will be in place.

A second area of concern that was raised with the committee was that only a small minority of carers are eligible for carers allowance or the supplement. According to Carers UK, there were around 729,000 unpaid carers in Scotland before the Covid-19 outbreak, and that figure might have risen by around 400,000 at the height of the pandemic. Approximately 91,000 carers are expected to get CAS in December 2021—around 10 per cent of all carers in Scotland.

While eligibility for CAS is wholly dependent on eligibility for the UK carers allowance, we hope that the Scottish Government’s plans for its new benefit will consider issues such as expanding eligibility, increasing the level of benefit and recognising those unpaid carers who have more than one caring role. I appreciate the comments that the minister has already made in that regard.

The design and introduction of the new Scottish carers assistance will be crucial for supporting carers’ wellbeing and preventing carers from being trapped in poverty.

The third issue that was raised with us was about the take-up of benefits by those who are entitled to them. We heard about the need for the application process for benefits for carers to be as clear and as straightforward as possible, as carers were often deterred from claiming carers allowance, particularly when they had been in receipt of universal credit. The complexity of the system could be particularly off-putting for people when carers allowance interacted with their other benefits.

We asked the Scottish Government to set out how it will monitor and evaluate whether the steps taken to promote the December 2021 payment have been successful in ensuring high uptake by those carers who qualify for it. I am pleased that, in his response to our report, the minister has referred to working on estimates of take-up in the Scottish Government second benefit take-up strategy.

The final area that I wish to highlight is the bill’s proposal to use regulations under the affirmative procedure rather than primary legislation to increase the amount of CAS paid in the future. The committee received a variety of views on the level of parliamentary scrutiny that future increases to CAS should be subject to. Although some recommended that all social security regulations should be super-affirmative, others suggested that changing the amount of payment ought to require little scrutiny.

Ultimately, we believe that there is wide interest from stakeholders in the increased CAS payment being proposed by the Scottish Government. We therefore consider that it is important that the Scottish Government ensures that the regulation-making powers in the bill be subjected to a suitable procedure to allow robust scrutiny to take place, and also to ensure that the plight of carers continues to be highlighted and considered.

The committee feels that our work to ensure that the right support is provided to carers has only just begun and we look forward to working with the Scottish Government to ensure that its new benefit for carers delivers. The committee is pleased to support the general principles of the bill and recommends that the Parliament agrees to them.

15:49  

I start, as others have done, by thanking Scotland’s unpaid carers, especially our young carers, for everything that they do to provide care and love to people across Scotland.

According to Carers UK, there were up to 729,000 unpaid carers in Scotland before the Covid-19 outbreak. The organisation now estimates that, at the height of the pandemic, that figure had risen by around 400,000. It is also believed that there are 45,000 young unpaid carers in Scotland. It is important for all of us to reflect on the fact that, across the country, 1.1 million of our fellow Scots are undertaking an unpaid caring role for a family member or loved one.

I have always believed that unpaid carers are the backbone of our social care system, and they often go unrecognised. I hope that today’s debate gives the Parliament an opportunity to recognise what they do. It is important that Governments, and we as a Parliament, do all that we can to help unpaid carers. We can and we must support them in that way.

The Scottish Conservatives support the doubling of the carers allowance supplement, which was a welcome measure that was included in the manifestos of all parties in the Parliament. We also want more progress to be made on how we support Scotland’s carers, especially its young carers. We understand the reasons that were given for the expedited timetable for consideration of the bill, and we have worked constructively to ensure that unpaid carers will receive the double payment if the bill is agreed to at stage 1 this evening and proceeds through stages 2 and 3 of its consideration.

The Social Justice and Social Security Committee heard a number of concerns on issues related to the allowance, some of which Neil Gray outlined. One issue was to do with only a small minority of carers being eligible for CAS. There was a desire for that to be changed so that more unpaid carers could be supported. It was expected that around 91,000 people would benefit from CAS in December, which represented around 10 per cent of all carers in Scotland.

Many of the responses that the committee received discussed concerns about the qualifying rules for carers allowance, including the inability of young carers to get the young carers grant if they were already in receipt of carers allowance at the time that they applied for the young carers grant. I understand that around 4,000 payments of the young carers grant have been made to young carers across Scotland since October 2019. That payment has been welcomed by the 16, 17 and 18-year-olds who have received it and who are in receipt of disability benefit for an average of 16 hours of care a week.

Eligibility and uptake are important issues, and I hope that the minister will work with parties across the chamber and the committee to consider some of the reforms to entitlement to the young carers grant that have been proposed, especially those that relate to qualifying for CAS.

The Scottish Conservatives also support early action to extend payments for carers after a bereavement, as I said earlier, and a new support package for carers who—as is often the case—have had to give up work to care for a loved one. We want that to be progressed at the earliest opportunity and, today, we have written to the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government on the issue.

It is vital that we recognise that carers should be able to access support beyond financial support. Carers Scotland emphasises the importance of considering the needs of carers as a whole and not just their financial needs. That includes the impact on their lives and their wellbeing while they undertake caring roles.

The number 1 thing that carers have stressed throughout the inquiry that the committee has undertaken has been the need for breaks and respite packages to be restored. Many carers have had no breaks whatever over the past year, and addressing that must be a priority. As Willie Rennie said, it is absolutely critical that carers have the opportunity for a break and for respite care to be provided. I appeal to ministers to redouble their efforts to consider how they can deliver that and to update the Parliament on progress.

Access to vital healthcare services is an important issue that has been raised with the Social Justice and Social Security Committee and the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee. Carers often put caring for a loved one ahead of their own health and mental wellbeing. Improvements need to be made in providing access to healthcare services for carers across Scotland.

The Scottish Conservatives welcome the bill, which will allow unpaid carers to receive a double payment of carers allowance in December; that is important to all members. Scrutiny of the bill has also provided an opportunity to highlight many of the other areas in which we need to see improvement. The passage of the bill in the committee has given us an opportunity to hear those voices. Unpaid carers are the backbone of our social care system. It is only right that they receive the additional payment to mitigate the financial impact of the pandemic. The carers allowance supplement is a welcome step forward in providing that support and the Scottish Conservatives will support the bill at decision time.

15:55  

The bill that is before us today seeks to put more money in the pockets of unpaid carers at the earliest opportunity. As someone who uses care, both paid and unpaid, I cannot stress enough how important the care that is provided by both paid and unpaid carers across Scotland is. I place on record my thanks for the years of support for me and for millions of people around the country.

Scottish Labour recognises the contribution that unpaid carers make to society every day, especially in this most difficult of years. We whole-heartedly support the general principles of the bill and we will support it today. We have been clear that Scotland’s estimated 1 million unpaid carers need us to go hard and fast to tackle the poverty that they face, and the bill is a step towards doing that.

It will be no surprise to some that unpaid carers need more than supplements. They need certainty, financial stability and a minimum income that recognises their value and their contribution. The reality is that carers do not often have a choice about whether to care. They are taking on responsibilities in the absence of a social care system that fully meets either the needs of those they care for or their own needs. They step up and step in when there is no one else to do so. This year, an estimated additional 400,000 unpaid carers have done that when social care has been withdrawn and, in many cases, has not been reinstated.

Doubling the supplement is welcome but does not go far enough. It is worth remembering that the payment is being made to recognise the additional caring responsibilities that many people have been forced to take on during the pandemic. Carers whom I have spoken to have told me that they have been working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 90 per cent of them have said that they have had to do so without a break.

Before the pandemic, carers were caring without proper recognition, and many were also struggling to make ends meet. The carers allowance is currently set at the equivalent of about 15 hours of work paid at the living wage rate. One carer noted that they get just over £10 a day for caring full time for their partner. That is below poverty pay. The cost of living for many families with disabled people is far higher than that for families without, and those families represent half of all people who are living in poverty. The supplement does not do enough to tackle the poverty and inequality that carers across Scotland face, much of which existed before the pandemic.

That is why I am frustrated by the constraints on our freedom to amend the bill. The time for effective scrutiny is limited. Consultation with carers has been powerful but not as widespread as it might have been. More than that, Scotland has had the power to fully reform the carers allowance since 2018. Many years later, I would like to have been debating a bill that does that.

Scottish Labour would like to have seen a bill that addresses the underlying entitlement issues. As things stand, only one in 10 of Scotland’s carers receives the allowance. The eligibility criteria must be revised to ensure that all Scotland’s carers are recognised. I expect the Scottish Government to do that when it moves to develop carers assistance in Scotland, and I ask it to do that soon. I asked the minister when he thought that that would happen and he said that it would be after the safe and secure transition, which could be in 2025. I do not believe that carers can wait until then.

I am also disappointed that the Government has not sought to use the mechanisms that it has now to increase eligibility for the carers supplement that it administers today. Furthermore, the bill as drafted commits to an increase in the carers allowance only in December 2021. We already know that the effects of the pandemic will continue far beyond that date. We also note that caring responsibilities will not disappear as we begin our journey out of the crisis but are more likely to increase.

The carers who have shared their experiences with me have highlighted the detrimental impact of the pandemic on the wellbeing of those whom they care for, and, in many cases, that impact will be long lasting. It is clear that the impact of the pandemic, and the responsibilities of unpaid carers, will remain long after we have begun to move on from the darkness of the past year.

All of this is happening against the backdrop of a system that was already at breaking point. The support that was available to carers before the pandemic was already lacking, and much of that support has now been removed altogether.

The bill includes a power for ministers, by regulations, to increase the supplement again in the future, as we have heard this afternoon. I ask the Government again whether it recognises that the need for an increase is likely to remain beyond the December payment and whether it will commit now to giving carers the certainty that they need and keeping the uplift, at least until it has reformed eligibility for and reviewed the adequacy of carers assistance and payments under the renewed system have begun. Carers need that certainty. If the Government will not do that, Scottish Labour will seek to amend the bill at stage 2 to extend the date for the increase and ensure that carers continue to receive it.

The bill will provide a welcome measure, albeit a temporary one, to ease the financial pressures on carers. We will support the bill today, but it by no means addresses the wider inequality that carers in Scotland face, which I believe we all want to address. Scottish Labour will continue to push the Government to go faster and do everything in its power to support unpaid carers.

Ms Duncan-Glancy, will you bring your remarks to a close, please? Thank you.

I will finish where I started, by thanking again the army of unpaid and paid carers out there—and in here today—without whom I would not be in this place. I say thank you to each and every one of them for all that they do.

16:01  

If, at stage 2, Labour lodges an amendment of the type that Pam Duncan-Glancy mentioned, the Liberal Democrats will support it. The need for carers has been recognised during the pandemic, and it is not over. We need to make a commitment now to continuing to provide the necessary support for carers. I say to the minister—if he is listening—that the reason for that is simple: the uncertainty for, and the strain on, carers is considerable, and this Parliament could do a good job by removing some of that uncertainty and committing to making the payments next year.

The minister says that the matter will be part of the budget negotiations, but, given that the Government makes other commitments to spending many years in advance, why can it not make a commitment in this area? I will take an intervention from the minister if he wants to clear up that point.

The important thing to recognise is that the bill will give us the power to consider what we do in future years. We do not know where we will be next year. We may be in a position whereby there is a need to reconsider the amount of support. The bill will provide flexibility in legislation for us to consider the circumstances in future years and seek to support unpaid carers through any additional supplement that the Parliament agrees to.

We are not talking about massive sums of money. The amount is reasonably significant, but it is not massive. However, it means an awful lot to the people who receive it. Why can the minister not remove the uncertainty and give them a bit more comfort? We know that it is going to take a long time for services to be back up and running, even when the pandemic is over. We will therefore support Labour’s initiative if the Government does not move to make such a commitment.

We need to look at the matter in the longer term. The underlying entitlement needs to be addressed, because at present there is a massive gap between the number of unpaid carers in Scotland and the tiny number who receive the allowance. Given that we require them 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. We will have to look at the financial commitment that we make if we are going to address the fundamental problems that carers experience.

I am frustrated that, during the pandemic, the services that are available for carers have vanished for many people. I understand that the pandemic is here and that we need to protect vulnerable individuals, but it is as if Covid is the only thing that counts. There are many other things—health harms, social harms and mental health harms—that count as well, and we need to consider all those things in the round. I want those services to be back up and running as quickly as possible. I know that that is not the minister’s responsibility, but we need him to put pressure on his colleagues to make that change. In addition to providing the financial support, getting those services back up and running again would make a tremendous difference.

Two years ago, I was invited to do something by Amy Newton, who has multiple sclerosis. She gave me a pair of goggles and put weights on my hands and legs, and she sent me shopping with a list. I was exhausted for the rest of the day and my head was thumping with it. That gave me a small insight into that woman’s endurance. We owe her, the hundreds of thousands of people like her and their carers a proper level of support.

Today starts that process, and I commend the minister for that, but we need to go so much further.

We move to the open debate.

16:05  

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this important debate.

For far too long, unpaid carers have been given a raw deal by the social security system. Their essential, compassionate and unquantifiable contribution cannot be overstated. I take this opportunity to praise the staff and volunteers of Carers of West Dunbartonshire and Carers Link East Dunbartonshire for providing an outstanding level of support to carers in my constituency.

During the 14 years that I had the privilege of being part of the nursing team at St Margaret of Scotland Hospice in my constituency, I saw at first hand how caring, attentive, and compassionate unpaid carers are. That was at the time of greatest need—at the end of life—and the unwavering, unconditional love and support that they showed always filled me with respect and admiration.

That is especially true when we consider the contribution of unpaid carers during the Covid-19 pandemic. The love and support that they have given to those they care for has been a lifesaver to many, especially at a time when those people have not had full access to other services. That is why I welcome the intentions of the bill.

As a member of the Social Justice and Social Security Committee, I can advise that we received powerful testimony from carers and others about the impact that Covid-19 has had. The evidence about the emotional and financial impact was clear. Carers said that the doubling of the carers allowance supplement in December will be very welcome at such a challenging financial time. It is a no-brainer that we should continue to provide that additional amount as Covid-19 pressures continue. Members should contrast that approach with one that removes the £20 uplift from universal credit—a cut that will put thousands of carers into poverty.

The evidence that the committee received also made it clear that wider reform to the available support is essential. We must not let carers down when it comes to that much-needed reform, as they have been let down for far too long. Since 1976, when the invalid care allowance was introduced, successive UK Governments have refused to align the amount that is paid with other earnings replacement benefits. Those UK Governments had years and years and numerous opportunities to correct their mistakes and the broken promises made to carers, but they refused to do so.

I am pleased that in Scotland we have acted to do that with the carers allowance supplement. It put carers on a par with others, which was long overdue. When we have the safe transfer of carers allowance cases to Social Security Scotland from the DWP, we should continue apace with the changes that carers are calling for. We must devise a new system of carers assistance that does not discourage claims, and one that more ably responds to the real-world demands on carers in Scotland.

The current system deters carers from claiming, penalises them for working or studying and turns its back on disabled carers and older carers. Powers over take-up are reserved to Westminster, but that issue also needs to be addressed. The underlying benefit rules mean that many disabled and pension-age carers see no gain from claiming. The carers allowance supplement has altered that position in Scotland, so we need to get the message out that it is worth while applying.

The remaining reserved policy hinders our take-up message because of the conflict that the UK benefits system creates for disabled people who are in receipt of the severe disability premium. A disabled person can lose the severe disability premium if their carer claims carers allowance, so that approach puts financial conflict into the relationship between the carer and the person they assist. That obvious deterrent to claiming must end if we are to fully maximise the support on offer to carers.

We must get it right when setting the new carers assistance scheme for Scotland. We must not just listen to carers before taking no action on concerns raised, in the way that successive UK Governments did. I look forward to this Parliament instead recognising the massive contribution that unpaid carers make, and then being able to hold our heads up as we create an effective and compassionate system of support: one that brings the step change that is needed to properly recognise and support carers in Scotland.

16:09  

As we have heard, unpaid carers are the secret heroes of our social care system. We owe them an enormous debt of gratitude for the power of work that they carry out every day, often going without any thanks or recognition. We in the Conservatives believe that it is only right that unpaid carers receive this additional payment to mitigate the financial effects of the pandemic.

The bill allows for the second additional payment of the carers allowance supplement to be paid in December 2021, and gives ministers the power to increase any future payment of carers allowance supplement at their discretion.

The pandemic has undoubtedly exacerbated the issues that unpaid carers face. I have heard first hand from parents of children living with autism in my constituency. I want to highlight how important it is that they are fully supported. During the pandemic, respite was cancelled, therapy appointments were postponed and the usual routines that many autistic children require were lost. Many parents experienced some of their lowest lows. One mother broke down in front of me when she told me about her autistic daughter and her husband, who had recently been diagnosed with cancer. This was just after Christmas and she was concerned about how she would support herself, her child and her husband.

I really want the bill to deliver for my constituent and her family and for everyone around Scotland, but it is by no means a magic bullet. There is a systemic issue that, so far, the SNP has failed address. However, we are making progress, so I want to be positive.

From being unable to obtain child and adolescent mental health services appointments for additional support needs support to having to pay to obtain a private ASN assessment—sometimes, such assessments are not even accepted in local authority systems—it is an uphill battle. I want the SNP Government to deliver on the devolved benefits. I worry that full implementation will be slow to come to fruition and that, ultimately, problems will be compounded for people who are already facing extreme difficulties.

We see concerns in submissions to the Social Justice and Social Security Committee. In particular, I draw members’ attention to feedback from a parent who, given her circumstances, will miss out. She said:

“EVERY carer should get it. I am a carer for someone who has High functioning Autism. I don’t get the Carer’s Allowance Supplement, why? I have MS I can’t work so I live on benefits. I don’t get Carer’s Allowance Supplement but I do get the carers on my ESA. How is that fair?”

It is clear that issues in the bill must be addressed if it is to be fit for purpose. If that involves more collaboration between the UK and Scottish Governments, that is what has to be done to support these individuals.

We talked a little bit about the development of Scottish carers assistance and considerations around eligibility for that. Does Rachael Hamilton believe that the UK Government should also consider eligibility criteria for carers allowance for the whole of the UK?

Looking at the examples that I am giving, I believe that we need to look at a system that works and addresses the overall support package, whatever it might be. If it takes a conversation between Ben Macpherson and his counterpart in the UK Government to highlight the issues, that would be an important thing to have. There have been hundreds of submissions to the committee that have raised issues not just about the carers allowance supplement but about access to other things that would make a positive change in people’s lives, so that they do not break down and cry in front of me.

I appreciate that you took the intervention, but time is moving on.

Sorry—I will draw to a close, but it is important to address these things.

In short, the Conservatives will support the general principles of the bill at decision time, but we should be mindful that we need delivery. There have been a lot of broken promises from the SNP Government, so scratching the surface is not good enough. There are wider issues at play.

16:14  

As a new MSP this session and a member of the Social Justice and Social Security Committee, I could have easily let myself get overwhelmed by the fact that we started scrutinising our first piece of legislation at the committee’s first meeting. However, as it is a bill that is aimed at supporting carers through what is an extremely difficult time with multiple pressures, I am just glad to be involved, and I am keen to ensure that the money gets to where it needs to be as soon as possible.

It is an inescapable fact that, most of the time, the work of carers goes unnoticed by those outwith their care and their families. Care is often a thankless, all-consuming task, so I am glad to hear members from all parties choosing today to publicly recognise the work of carers and thank them for all that they do.

Another inescapable fact is that over the pandemic many people have lost the ability to leave their home to go to work, and many careers have been impacted while people have been staying at home and trying to balance care responsibilities with work commitments. We know that care is a gendered issue, with Carers UK estimating that two thirds of unpaid carers are women. When the economic impact of unpaid care carried out by women in the UK is an estimated £77 billion a year, an additional £21 million of investment seems a bit small, but it means more than 230 quid extra in the pockets of individual carers in Scotland this winter. When budgets are so tight in the context of a perfect storm of irresponsible universal credit cuts, the end of furlough and rising fuel prices, that is surely something worth celebrating.

We also need to recognise that this is the second time that the Scottish Government will have doubled the carers allowance supplement—a benefit that it brought in because the UK Government’s carers allowance is the lowest amount of all the working-age benefits. We are once again looking at a tale of two Governments: one that prioritises supporting carers, with the carers allowance supplement being the first benefit that the new Social Security Scotland took forward, and one that places carers right at the bottom of the list of those who are valued.

That change of direction by Scotland not only puts money straight into the pockets of carers, but, as we have heard, has an impact on their wellbeing. It helps them to feel recognised and valued by the state, which is a concept that is blatantly absent from the UK Government’s approach, and which is particularly important as we consider the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of carers across the country.

As my colleague Pam Duncan-Glancy pointed out, many carers do not choose caring—they do it out of necessity. The Scottish Government’s tact, in stark contrast to the approach that I outlined earlier, bodes well as we move towards implementing a national care service that will put carers and the people whom they care for at its heart.

In the Social Justice and Social Security Committee, we have spent a lot of time listening to insightful contributions from witnesses, and I am very aware of the argument that more needs to be done. However, the bill has a specific scope and its aim is a good one: to provide extra money for carers at a time of increased pressure. Let us let a good thing happen and support the general principles of the Carer’s Allowance Supplement (Scotland) Bill, which, as I can hear today, has good support from members across the chamber.

16:17  

It is a great pleasure to speak in the stage 1 debate, and to follow Emma Roddick; I echo her call for public recognition for the work that carers do.

I also echo the support of my colleague Pam Duncan-Glancy and the Scottish Labour Party for the principle of the bill. Who could not agree that Scotland’s carers need a payment, and that it should be in their bank account as soon as possible?

I welcome the regulations to provide for future CAS payments to be higher than the calculations that were made under the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016. However—there is always a however—I share the Social Justice and Social Security Committee’s concerns about certain aspects of the bill, which it set out clearly in its stage 1 report.

Unpaid carers provide invaluable support to their loved ones and to our society, and they have done so for years, often having to step up where our struggling care system has failed. Of the estimated 1.1 million carers, only 91,000—less than 10 per cent—are eligible for carers allowance. Consequently, the supplement—the one-off income increase for which the bill allows—is a bit of a sticking plaster to cover a gaping wound. I echo the words of those who contributed evidence to the committee in concluding that the payment is, in itself,

“not sufficient to lift carers out of poverty”.

Carers Scotland estimated that for every day of the Covid-19 pandemic, unpaid carers saved the Scottish Government £43 million with the care that they provide. As a contributor of evidence to the committee said, the supplement should be doubled permanently, because if the Government had to pay outside agencies to do the work of carers, it would cost a lot more. The same contributor also felt that carers are completely undervalued and forgotten about. The fact that someone who is a carer holds that view is a deep indictment of the top echelons of Scottish society and those sitting in Government.

In the short time that has been given to me, I want to concentrate on just a couple of matters. The first is the removal of services through the pandemic, particularly respite services. I echo the minister’s point that carers should have a life of their own and I agree with the committee convener about the great importance of respite.

I will quote from an entry in the Scottish Parliament lobbying register, published on 23 August, which sums it up perfectly. Family Fund’s entry states that it lobbies to

“seek improved access to meaningful breaks from caring for unpaid carers, including parent carers of disabled and seriously ill children and young people and to advocate for a rights-based approach to achieve this, specifically for unpaid carers to have enforceable rights that guarantee them access to the breaks they need to safeguard their own health and wellbeing.”

That is not an unrealistic request.

The second issue relates to who can claim the young carer grant when there are multiple siblings in a household. It is an apparent race to claim—a race between caring siblings. There cannot be a Solomon’s judgement on the young carer grant decided by who gets to the computer first. Siblings who care do so equally and they do so with love. They all deserve to be supported equally. I hope that the Scottish Government will address that issue in the near future.

The Government does not propose to increase the young carer grant in the same way as the supplement, which means that young carers are caring more, but without the additional recognition of an increased grant. Young and student carers are four times more likely to drop out of university—and because of their studies, they cannot claim the carers allowance.

The first step is excellent and will get the support of the Labour Party. We will wait to see the next steps.

16:22  

I thank the committee for its short but comprehensive report. As others have done, I offer my thanks to all carers.

I welcome the carers allowance supplement, although it has reminded me—as if I needed to be reminded—of the complexity of the UK benefits system. To claim carers allowance, a person has to spend 35 hours a week caring for a disabled person who must be in receipt of certain disability benefits, such as attendance allowance. However, the twice yearly payment of the supplement is in advance of the introduction of Scottish carers assistance, which is on the cards.

Notwithstanding its limitations, the carers allowance supplement puts an extra £700 per annum into the pockets of carers. That is in contrast to the 33,000 carers in Scotland who will lose £20 a week following the cuts to universal credit—that is almost £1,000 a year. I was interested to see that Ruth Davidson opposes that cut. That is what happens when someone leaves this parish—they grow wings.

There is another rule of which I was not aware because I am not a benefits expert. Who is? The overlapping benefits rule disallows people from carers allowance. That matters if someone is a particular sort of carer. For example, for a pensioner in receipt of state pension, which is just above the carers allowance threshold, the rule prevents that person from getting the allowance and, as it follows that the additional payment in Scotland is piggybacking on that, they also do not get the carers allowance supplement. That is unfair.

I want to see that injustice addressed when we get the other benefit that is coming up—Scottish carers assistance. That will be an opportunity to cure some of the system’s ills. However, although I am very sympathetic to more money going to carers, I know that there is no money tree—I wish that there were. We have to know how we can pay for things and not make promises that we cannot pay for.

It is crystal clear, although members will not necessarily agree with me, that the UK benefits system is so complex that we would never choose to start from this point. It is extremely difficult for the Scottish Parliament to wedge its own benefits into another system. It would be far better if the benefits system were in the powers of the Parliament, so that we could integrate it, make it fair and undo the unjust complexity that prevents many people from getting benefits—even people who are entitled to benefit do not claim it, because the system is so bewildering.

Finally, I put on record my thanks to all carers: the young—as has been mentioned, many of them are very young indeed—and the old. Regardless of whether they receive carers allowance, their dedication mainly comes from love—love, duty and responsibility—and takes the burden away from the state. They deserve the money to back them up, and they deserve respite, too.

16:25  

I am pleased to pledge the Scottish Green Party’s support for the bill, and I echo the thanks to unpaid carers that has come from previous speakers.

Before the pandemic, it was estimated that there were around 800,000 unpaid carers in Scotland, the majority of them women. We have heard this afternoon that that figure now stands at over 1 million people.

Let us do the maths. The average unpaid carer does 26 hours of care a week. The Scottish real living wage is £9.50 an hour. That means that 1 million unpaid carers are doing unpaid care worth £12.8 billion.

The Fraser of Allander Institute said earlier this week that, according to its sample of carers, the support delivered by each unpaid carer saved the taxpayer £114,000 per year. That is 1 million people who are providing incredible and loving care to a family member or friend, saving us money but going under-recognised.

They, too, feel that way. According to a Carers Trust Scotland survey that was conducted this summer, 36 per cent of people caring unpaid for family members or friends feel unable to manage their caring role; almost three quarters of unpaid carers have not had any breaks from their caring role during the pandemic; and only 23 per cent are confident that the support they receive with caring will continue following the end of the pandemic. That makes the modest extra payment being made through the bill welcome—“like winning the lottery”, according to one respondent to the National Carer Organisations survey on the bill. Another said that it would allow them to send gifts to their kids,

“which would be really difficult otherwise.”

They continued:

“It sounds like luxuries but it makes the winter look bearable.”

Those responses show just how little support carers allowance currently offers. Welcome though it is, therefore, the extra supplement that we are discussing is a tiny tweak to an unfair and inadequate system. Of those 1 million unpaid carers, about 90,000, as we have heard—less than 10 per cent—currently receive carers allowance, and only those carers will receive that supplement.

Some of the more than 90 per cent who do not receive carers allowance provide many hours of care yet fall short of 35 hours and so get nothing. Yet more will fall foul of the overlapping benefits rule, and some will lose out because they want to work just a few more hours a week.

Those who care for more than one person receive, at present, no additional support or recognition. Submissions to the committee’s evidence sessions on the bill relayed the sad story of a person who cared for 10 years for their elderly mother and father who suffered from dementia and other illnesses. When their father died, they had to reapply in respect of their mother, as not a single hour of their loving care for her had ever been formally recognised.

That is the result, quite frankly, of decades of neglect of carers allowance by both Labour and Conservative UK Governments. However, it does not need to be that way. The Scottish Parliament now has powers to totally transform social security for carers. We can simplify the rules and widen the embarrassingly narrow eligibility criteria. We can increase the amount that is paid—which, even with the supplement, is still shockingly low—and we must do that, because, at the moment, we are expecting carers to live off less than some members would happily spend on a restaurant meal.

The new social security system was founded on the principles of dignity and respect, but paying carers support at that rate does not allow them to live in dignity; nor is it respectful. The forthcoming consultation on carer’s assistance is a real chance to create a fairer deal for carers. It must look at every option for improving support for carers and be genuinely open to hearing what carers have to say about how support can be improved.

Greens will support the bill today, but we do so in full recognition that the extra supplement is only the first step—and a small one—towards a fairer social security system for carers.

I call Jeremy Balfour, who is joining us remotely. He will be followed by Rona Mackay, who is also joining us remotely. Mr Balfour, you have up to four minutes.

16:29  

I begin, as others have done, by thanking unpaid carers in Scotland. Like my colleague Pam Duncan-Glancy, I, too, benefit from having someone unpaid who cares for me on a daily basis. Without their help and without the help of carers across Scotland, our country would be in a far worse position. It is right and proper that they are fairly supported so that they can continue to look after those who most need it. It would be unfair for them to be providing such a vital service and not to have at least some form of payment. I therefore believe that the carers allowance is an incredibly important scheme to provide such help, and I fully support it. I also believe that the carers allowance supplement is a great way of getting money into the hands of those who really need it. During difficult seasons, the last thing that carers should have to worry about is money.

In that vein, I come to today’s debate. I entirely endorse the move for an extra payment to be made to carers this December. December is always a squeeze financially, but coming through these uncertain times, it will potentially be even more so this year. That is why I think it is a good idea to provide extra help to carers in the form of the extra payment. However, it is worth considering whether we should extend the extra payment every year until the new Scottish carers allowance is in place, hopefully by 2025. I am afraid that I do not accept the minister’s explanation of why such a provision cannot be in primary legislation. After all, we pay payments such as the personal independence payment and attendance allowance on an annual basis. We know that that will have to be budgeted for, and we do that. If the political will is there, it can happen. If the Government does not move on this point, it is my intention to lodge amendments at stage 2 to ensure that that happens. The great thing is that it is something that we can do here in this Parliament. Too often, the SNP-Green coalition Government criticises the UK Government for not doing things; here is a chance for this Parliament, which has the power, the authority and the ability, to enact this crucial policy. We need to find the will.

Another issue that was picked up by the minister concerns the scrutiny of regulations. The Social Justice and Social Security Committee will need to consider that at stage 2, and perhaps the whole Parliament at stage 3, but I would be interested to hear the minister say, in his summing up, whether he believes that the regulations should be subject to the affirmative or super-affirmative procedure.

16:32  

Carers are the unsung heroes of our nation—no one could disagree with that. Without them, society would grind to a halt. That is why the double payment of the carers allowance supplement this winter, in recognition of the additional pressure that carers face as a result of the pandemic, is so vital and so necessary.

Improving support for carers was one of the Scottish Government’s first priorities with its new social security powers, and it is little wonder. The immense contribution that is made to our society by people who care for family, friends and neighbours simply cannot be overstated. If Parliament passes the bill at stage 1 today, it will be the first step for more than 91,000 carers in receipt of the carers allowance supplement, receiving an extra £231.40, which doubles their December payment to £462.80. That extra investment, forecast to be £21 million, will mark the second time that the Scottish Government has doubled the carers allowance supplement.

The past 18 months have been tough for everyone in different ways as we cope with this devastating pandemic, but carers’ roles, which are difficult at the best of times, have been even more challenging, with many of them taking on additional tasks and facing the higher costs of looking after people who are staying at home to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Carers Scotland has estimated that the economic value of the contribution that is made by carers in Scotland is £10.8 billion per year in normal times. The “Unseen and undervalued” report from Carers UK indicates that that increased to unpaid care worth £43 million per day in Scotland during the pandemic. That is astonishing. The report, which was published in October last year, looks at the on-going impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and is based on the experiences of current and former carers. It found that four in five unpaid carers—81 per cent—were providing more care than before lockdown.

As we have heard from others, respite care is crucial. It has always been important, but what we have been through brings a new focus to it. In the midst of the pandemic, I was contacted by carer constituents who were desperate for a break, but of course, due to the pandemic, that was not possible. My heart went out to them, and I could not imagine what they were going through.

In this year’s budget, the Scottish Government has invested an additional £28.5 million for local carer support, bringing the total investment in the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 to £68 million per year. I am delighted that that includes a £1.4 million holiday voucher scheme to provide those vital short breaks. The 2016 act introduced a right for all carers to an adult carer support plan or young carer statement to identify each carer’s personal outcomes and needs for support.

The supplement increases carers allowance by around 13 per cent and is available only in Scotland. That really tells its own story. Doubling the supplement is a good news story, but Westminster tells the very bad news story. While we are increasing payments to those who need it, the Westminster Tory Government is cutting benefits by removing the £20 universal credit supplement in the middle of winter, in the middle of a pandemic. If ever we needed an illustration of a tale of two Governments, that is it.

Let us recognise the invaluable and vital work that is being done by thousands of carers throughout Scotland by agreeing to the bill at stage 1. They deserve nothing less.

We move to the closing speeches. I call Paul O’Kane to close for Labour.

16:36  

In closing for Scottish Labour, I begin, as colleagues in the chamber have done universally, by paying tribute to carers across Scotland. Throughout the debate, we have heard powerful stories about the lives of carers in every community, in a diverse range of families and in a range of caring settings. As with all our debates on the issue, it is key that we reflect carers’ voices and that they are central to our considerations. They are real people—not abstract numbers or financial calculations.

As my colleague Pam Duncan-Glancy said in her characteristically powerful opening speech, the debate is about people who take on caring roles to enable others to live their lives to the full. We have heard about the serious challenges that carers face, which I will come on to in a moment.

We in Scottish Labour agree that the payment is needed by Scotland’s carers and should be in their bank accounts before Christmas, which is why we will back the principles of the bill at decision time. However, we have concerns, as my colleagues have outlined. We share, based on evidence from carers and carer organisations, the Social Justice and Social Security Committee’s concerns about certain aspects of the bill, as set out in its stage 1 report. In that regard, I note the contribution from the committee’s convener, Neil Gray.

Martin Whitfield said that the one-off increase is

“a sticking plaster to cover a gaping wound”,

and I think that there is something in that. Those who contributed to the committee’s report concluded that it is not sufficient to lift carers out of poverty. That is because a third of carers are struggling to pay utility bills, 47 per cent have been in debt and half are struggling to make ends meet and are cutting back on food and heating as a result. Colleagues, including Maggie Chapman, spoke about those issues and the painful decisions that have to be made. We believe that the bill must increase the supplement on a permanent basis until the new benefit—carers assistance—is introduced.

As we have heard, Carers Scotland has estimated that, every single day of the Covid pandemic, unpaid carers have saved the Scottish Government £43 million through the care that they have provided. Carers feel undervalued and forgotten about in the midst of this unprecedented situation. The Scottish Government has promised to introduce carers assistance, the new benefit that will replace carers allowance, by 2025, which means that Scotland’s unpaid carers will have to wait years.

The Government has said that we are working towards full case transfer before 2025, but I point out, just for clarity, that we intend to introduce Scottish carers assistance for new applications long before 2025.

Mr O’Kane, I can give you back your time.

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

I thank the minister for that clarification. I am sure that carers will welcome it and will want to engage with it fully.

Overnight, 392,000 people have become carers because of the pandemic. We are now 18 months in, and unpaid carers are exhausted and overworked, and they feel underappreciated. This afternoon, we have heard a lot about people not being able to access respite services in the normal way and feeling that they do not have the right support at the right time.

Pam Duncan-Glancy and Willie Rennie stated that although the bill provides a one-off increase and includes a power to make future payments of the supplement, further increases are not guaranteed; Pam Duncan-Glancy’s intervention to the minister showed that we do not yet have confirmation of what further increases will look like. She highlighted constraints relating to the bill, including in relation to our ability to amend it, to the time that has been allowed for scrutiny and to consultation of the wider group of carers that we all want. That is why Scottish Labour will seek to lodge amendments at stage 2, as has been outlined, and will continue to engage with carers on the issues that are important to them. I welcome Willie Rennie’s support for that.

Although the measure is positive, it is temporary, so we must look at how we more widely support carers who are stressed, burned out and feel undervalued and who are—sadly, as we have heard all too often—ignored. It has been the most unimaginable 18 months for them. Many have had little or no access to respite services, many are still battling to have day services and support packages restarted, and many feel that they simply have not had a break. Some carers have even said that the only respite that they have had is when they have been hospitalised themselves. That is completely unacceptable.

As we debate measures such as the bill, and as the Government consults on the national care service, we must hear what carers tell us will make a real and meaningful difference. Carers want a plan for how services will be reinstated to pre-pandemic levels. They want assurances that, where they exist, smaller and targeted specialist services will be protected and supported, and that where such services have closed, alternatives will be provided.

As we heard from Miles Briggs and others, young carers want to know how they will be supported to return to learning, having juggled online learning and caring responsibilities, and how they will be supported financially to return to university, college or school.

In closing, I say that although the bill is a welcome step that will put more money into the pockets of carers, there is much more to do, so Scottish Labour looks forward to working with carers to get them the right support at the right time in the right place, because that is what they deserve.

I call Alexander Stewart to wind up the debate for the Conservatives. Mr Stewart—you have a generous six minutes.

16:42  

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I am grateful for the opportunity to close the debate on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives.

It has been said that unpaid carers are the backbone of our social care system. I whole-heartedly agree with that statement, and I also pay tribute to young carers.

The doubling of the carers allowance supplement in December will provide a meaningful financial boost to many who have suffered financially during the Covid-19 pandemic. Throughout the debate, we have heard in detail about the benefits that the legislation will bring for unpaid carers across Scotland, who have endured significant financial burdens over the past 18 months.

Multiple organisations, including Carers Scotland, Carers Trust Scotland and Citizens Advice Scotland, have detailed the extent to which individuals suffered during the periods of lockdown. Research by Carers Scotland has shown that 80 per cent of Scottish carers reported that the needs of those they care for have increased during the pandemic, and half of carers say that that has had a major impact on their health and wellbeing. The fact that so many carers have faced additional hardship is only made worse by the fact that they have had to endure the pandemic and provide care during that time. As we have heard, Carers Scotland estimates that, across Scotland, the number of carers has increased by 400,000 during the pandemic.

Does Mr Stewart agree with Ruth Davidson that the £20 per week cut to universal credit should be reversed?

Like many of my colleagues, I am still lobbying and having discussions with our colleagues at Westminster. Personally, I have some real sympathy with that proposal, so I will continue to lobby and to make that view heard by members of our other Parliament.

Given all of that, it is clear that the decision to provide additional financial support to our unpaid carers is not only justified but necessary. It is perhaps disappointing that the Scottish Government did not see fit to carry out more consultation on how best to provide that additional support. Nevertheless, it is reassuring that care sector stakeholders welcome it, as was heard in evidence to the committee.

Although my Scottish Conservative colleagues and I welcome the doubling of the carers allowance supplement, that only makes it more disappointing that the SNP’s delivery of devolved benefits in other areas has left much to be desired. Only last week in this chamber, I highlighted the fact that it will take the SNP Government nine years to take full responsibility of the welfare powers that were devolved to it in 2016.

Does the member acknowledge the significant achievement that the Scottish Government has made, and the contribution that it is making in communities throughout Scotland, by bringing in seven new benefits, which are among the 11 benefits that Social Security Scotland now delivers?

You can have your time back.

The minister rightly applauds himself, but we have been waiting decades for information and processes to come forward. [Interruption.] I want to continue my speech.

For Scotland’s unpaid carers, too, the SNP is failing to properly capitalise on the welfare powers that it already has. We have proposed a raft of measures to improve the carers allowance, such as ensuring that those in receipt of the benefit continue to receive it for six months after bereavement. That would provide carers with much more time to readjust compared—[Interruption.]—I have a lot to cover, and I would like to make some progress.

We would also like to see the current means test replaced with a tapered system that would gradually reduce entitlement to the carers allowance, and we believe that entitlement should be extended to carers who are in full-time education, who are less able to support themselves through part-time work compared with other students. All those measures are within the gift of the Government, and it can choose to move towards them if it wishes.

There have been many contributions to this afternoon’s debate, and I would like to highlight some of them. The minister, Ben Macpherson, talked about the challenges, which are many and varied. However, progress needs to be made—he is well aware of that.

Miles Briggs talked about young carers, of whom there are 45,000 in Scotland. We need to ensure that they are protected and supported as much as they can be and that they can receive healthcare so that they are able to support the vulnerable people whom they are caring for.

As always, Pam Duncan-Glancy made a strong contribution. She made some very strong points about carers often having no choice but to do what they are doing. They step up, stand up and support.

Willie Rennie spoke about the uncertainty that carers experience. It is a valid point that it will take time for services for carers to be completely reinstated as they were before the pandemic. We will be watching to see what happens with regard to that.

Rachael Hamilton talked about respite for carers of individuals with autism and the support that they require to ensure that they and their families can get by.

Jeremy Balfour spoke about providing for an extension of the extra payment in the bill and about scrutiny. Those, too, are vital points, because we must understand what we are attempting to do and what implications it will have for people in the caring sector.

The bill is an example of the Parliament working in exactly the way that it was intended to. It is about devolved Scottish welfare powers that are supported by—and, indeed, made possible by—the broad financial shoulders of the United Kingdom. Therefore, the Scottish Conservatives will, of course, support the general principles of the bill at decision time. It shows, once again, the progress that can be made through the work of both Parliaments.

I call Ben Macpherson to wind up for the Scottish Government. If the minister could take us to decision time, that would be great.

16:49  

I thank all the members who have contributed to this important debate. It is clear that there is cross-party support for the bill, which I very much welcome, and that we all recognise and appreciate the remarkable role that carers across Scotland play, day in and day out, and have played during the pandemic. We also recognise the impact that the pandemic has had on them. Pam Duncan-Glancy, Marie McNair and Rachael Hamilton all spoke powerfully on those points, based on their own or their constituents’ experiences.

I emphasised at the start of the debate, as I and other ministers have done many times before, that the Government is committed to building a social security system based on the principles of dignity, fairness and respect, which Parliament committed to in 2018. As part of that, the bill intends to offer further support to carers across Scotland who have been under additional pressure as a result of the pandemic. Through the legislation, we intend to make sure that we pay that additional amount in December, so that families have that resource for the festive period.

The first payment of the carers allowance supplement was made by Social Security Scotland back in 2018, and it increases the carers allowance by around 13 per cent. The payment that was made in June last year, and the payment that we envisage making in December, therefore provide an increase on top of an increase to the existing level of carers allowance.

I thank the minister for giving way; I will make the point that I would have made if Alexander Stewart had given way in the considerable time that he had. Will the minister expand on how Scottish carers assistance and, right now, the carers supplement provide considerable extra support to carers in Scotland compared with elsewhere in the UK? Will he also outline the challenges of building the new Scottish carers assistance based on the very low baseline level of policy and financial resource that is received by the Scottish Government from the UK system that it has inherited?

Neil Gray makes important points. As I mentioned in my opening remarks with regard to the additional amount, the increased payment that we envisage in the bill would mean that carers in Scotland will receive £694.20 more than carers south of the border this year. It is important to think about that in the context in which the UK Government is imminently planning to cut universal credit by £20. It really is the tale of two Governments.

Does that not prove that the Scottish Government is taking an entirely Scottish approach? It has the powers. It has had the carers allowance powers since 2016 and we are now in 2021. Does the minister not believe that that is the intention that the Scottish Government wants to achieve?

I do not want to be overly party political, but it is interesting to reflect historically. Three parties are lobbying us today to do more things, when not so long ago they did not want the Scottish Parliament to have powers over social security—but there we are.

Just for clarity, it is important to recognise that, within the fiscal framework, when the Scottish Government provides social security provision that reflects what the UK Government provides we receive a transfer of resource for that from the UK Treasury. However, anything additional that we do, such as the £20 million that we plan to spend as part of the bill, has to be met from our budget. That is us going above and beyond and doing the right thing, and it is important that people understand how it relates to the wider scenario.

No one would expect that we would not consider the cost of something that we are creating here. However, we have heard a couple of times from across the chamber about there not being a magic money tree. That does not help the unpaid carers out there right now who literally said to us, “Love won’t pay the bills.” They really need the Scottish Government—both Governments, frankly—to get on with putting more money in their pockets, using all the powers that we have.

In his answer to my colleague Paul O’Kane earlier, the minister said that he would try to bring forward Scottish carers assistance before 2025. I urge him again to do so as quickly as possible and to use all the powers that the Parliament already has.

I am happy to undertake that we will bring in Scottish carers assistance as quickly as possible. Pam Duncan-Glancy and others have said in the debate, quite rightly, that we need to do more. The Government wants to do more and is moving at pace to do so. In three years, we have delivered 11 benefits, seven of which are new. That is an example of using the powers, making a difference and building an agency that gives a positive contribution in communities across Scotland, and we will continue that work.

For awareness and clarity, it is important to recognise that the work on the bill is taking place alongside the on-going development of Scottish carers assistance, which I will come to in a moment. We are committed to providing extra support for people who care for more than one disabled child, and we are considering how best to extend that support to those who care for more than one disabled person of any age.

Other members have mentioned, and it is important to emphasise, that the bill is not the place to consider the future of carers allowance. That matter is for Scottish carers assistance, and there will be further opportunities to consider the application process and eligibility rules as we develop it. The process will include questions around full-time education that Mr Whitfield rightly emphasised; questions around underlying entitlement that Christine Grahame rightly emphasised; and 15 options, as part of an options analysis, on which we intend to consult for proposals for Scottish carers assistance this winter.

The integral engagement that we have to have with the DWP impacts the process of the transfer of carers allowance, and we are grateful for the on-going constructive engagement between our officials and the input from UK ministers on the matter. We will commence the feasibility work for Scottish carers assistance with the DWP in this quarter, as I mentioned in my opening remarks.

Our aim is to begin to build the systems to deliver Scottish carers assistance in the new year. We anticipate that that process will take a minimum of 18 months, given the complex interactions that I mentioned between the carer benefits and the reserved benefits system. We will keep Parliament updated on that work. I reiterate that we intend to bring forward the payment as quickly as possible—before 2025—for new applications.

Jeremy Balfour asked me specifically to cover the point that he raised around scrutiny procedures for the enabling power, and I want to do so in my remaining time. During the development of the bill, we considered the use of the affirmative procedure, which is appropriate given the nature of the provision and the fact that its use involves modification of primary legislation. It is therefore appropriate that the Scottish Parliament be afforded the higher level of scrutiny of any Scottish proposal by Scottish ministers to increase the amount of the payment of the Scottish carers allowance supplement for a particular period.

Of course, the Scottish Commission on Social Security plays a really important role in providing a detailed level of scrutiny of draft social security regulations, which are often complex. However, given that the changes that can be made under the regulations are limited in this instance to increasing the level of the supplement for a specific period, or periods, we do not consider that the further enhanced level of scrutiny that SCOSS provides is necessary in this case.

There has been widespread stakeholder support for the bill. For example, the chief executive of the Voice of Carers Across Lothian—VOCAL—said that the organisation believes that

“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”

and others have provided supportive comments through the process of stage 1 evidence and in the public domain.

I am really pleased that there is such widespread support in the chamber for the general principles of the bill. I note the points that members have made in good faith through the debate to support carers in our communities, and we will consider those points together through stages 2 and 3.

I thank all members for their contributions in scrutinising the bill so far, which underline our collective commitment to improving support for unpaid carers across our country as a priority through our social security powers. I look forward to working with colleagues to further progress the bill and Scottish carers assistance in due course.

I commend the motion in my name and hope that the Parliament will allow the bill to proceed to stage 2.

That concludes the debate on Carer’s Allowance Supplement (Scotland) Bill.