Meeting date: Wednesday, February 27, 2019
Meeting of the Parliament 27 February 2019
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Carers Allowance Supplement, Justice, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2019
- Portfolio Question Time
- Carers Allowance Supplement
- Business Motion
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2019
Carers Allowance Supplement
The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-16012, in the name of Mark Griffin, on the carers allowance supplement.14:42
I thank carers for the tremendous work that they do every single day, caring for loved ones.
Tomorrow, the Scottish Parliament will consider its first set of instruments to uprate a devolved social security benefit, the carers allowance. Unlike the passing of the best start grant and funeral expense instruments, that moment should not simply pass us by. It should be a moment when new powers are used for real change for people in Scotland. These are critical regulations that will boost the incomes of carers, but an increase of 2.4 per cent, which is equivalent to September’s consumer price index rate, simply does not go far enough. That is why we are challenging the Government to abandon the CPI and re-adopt the retail price index for uprating Scottish social security payments, making it clear that our new powers will be used to invest in the people of Scotland, with carers afforded the dignity and respect that they deserve.
Will the member take an intervention?
I would like to make a little more progress. I will take a question from the member later.
Our motion builds on the call that the national carer organisations made in their submission during the passage of the Social Security (Scotland) Bill, in which they said:
“this should be linked to the retail price index not consumer price index.”
Added to that, voices across the third sector support the motion. Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Energy Action Scotland and Marie Curie, to name a few, have been in touch to say that they support using RPI.
Used by Labour to uprate social security, RPI is generally more generous and, crucially, takes account of housing costs. The change to CPI, the rate that the Government is offering now, was one of George Osborne’s first welfare cuts in 2010.
How much would it cost to implement the Labour Party’s plan this year and the following two years?
The Scottish Parliament information centre has modelled that and estimated that it would cost £3 million, a point that I will come to later in my speech. However, it is about more than the cost of uprating carers allowance; it is about a principle in social security when we look at the whole range of devolved benefits and how we uprate them to make sure that they keep up with the cost of living.
That change to the CPI—the rate that the Government is now offering—was one of George Osborne’s first welfare cuts in 2010. It seems that the Scottish National Party Government is entirely content with that, displaying dogmatic support for the CPI in its motion, and arguments lifted straight from a George Osborne budget. The RPI is no panacea—no measure is—but in this case, carers are being short-changed, because the Government is using the cheapest possible option.
I agree with Mark Griffin’s point about carers being important. However, it is less than a week since stage 3 of the budget; why was this not a Labour Party ask in the budget?
As I said, this issue is much wider than a single-year budget. It is about the full range of devolved benefits and about setting a precedent for using the cheapest option to uprate devolved social security benefits as we go on. At this point, Labour is saying, “No—we are not happy with that. Carers and everyone who relies on social security deserve better.”
When it comes to peak rail fares, surprisingly, the SNP is happy for those to be uprated by the RPI. The public sector pay increase will be 3 per cent, figures released today show that bus fares have risen by 3 per cent and council tax bills look set to rise by 4.8 per cent, so why are we giving carers just 2.4 per cent?
According to the Scottish Trades Union Congress, the switch to using the CPI for social security uprating has cost people billions. The policy sits on the same shelf as the benefits freeze, with the impact accumulating every year. It is a cut to save the Government money at the expense of people in need and it is responsible for pushing families, carers and disabled people to food banks as they struggle to make ends meet
The cabinet secretary knows it. Her own briefings confirm that in Scotland the Tory-led coalition’s uprating policies will have slashed £1.9 billion from incomes by 2021. Time and again, SNP speakers rightly call out the Tory Government for cuts to social security amounting to £3.9 billion in Scotland by 2021. They will lose all credibility when they use that figure now, since they whole-heartedly support George Osborne’s change from the RPI to the CPI, which, again according to the cabinet secretary’s own briefing, has contributed significantly to £1.9 billion of those cuts.
We can use our powers to support 82,000 carers with an extra £33 each next year and depart from that Tory cut. The Government rightly points out that the supplement, supported right across the chamber, is an uplift that is truly appreciated by carers. However, ministers surely do not think that that is the limit of the support that we can offer to carers. After all, next year the supplement will still be £150 short of the extra £600 that the First Minister promised in 2015.
SPICe calculates that a move to the RPI would cost £3 million next year. Our motion proposes that it is paid through the supplement, because we recognise that that would be the only way to do it. That is because the SNP’s deal with the DWP, costing an estimated £6 million next year, means that we cannot change any part of the underlying carers allowance until at least autumn next year.
That means that we cannot block the aggressive recovery action against those who have been overpaid, help recipients to access full-time education or—as Marie Curie points out—extend the time for which carers receive the allowance when their loved one sadly dies or goes into hospital long term.
I want to point out one final quirk of the decision to stick with the agency arrangements. The Government proposes that the earnings threshold for the carers allowance should rise by just £3 next year. That means that a carer who earns a penny more than the £123 cliff-edge risks losing their allowance entirely. That is out of step with increases in the national and real living wages and is clearly a disincentive to carers working. The SPICe analysis shows that a carer who earns the national living wage would be allowed to work a maximum of 15 hours a week—20 minutes less than they were allowed to work this year—before losing their allowance altogether. What advice would the cabinet secretary give to a carer who had to go to their employer and ask to reduce their working hours, failing which they would lose their carers allowance? That is not right: it is too high a burden on Scotland’s carers, in an area in which carers and organisations have repeatedly demanded change.
We have powers to take a different path, and to show that social security is an investment in the people of Scotland. Now is the time to set the precedent and re-adopt RPI in Scotland’s social security system.
That the Parliament rejects the use of the Consumer Price Index to uprate Carer’s Allowance and the earnings threshold; agrees that social security is an investment in the people of Scotland and that, therefore, the Retail Price Index (RPI) should be used, and believes that ministers should use their powers under the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 to uprate the full sum of Carer’s Allowance and the supplement in line with RPI to underline the commitment to deliver a Scottish social security system based on dignity and respect.
Thank you. I point out that we are already over the time that has been allocated for the debate so far, so that will have to come off the time allowed for other speakers. I call Shirley-Anne Somerville. You have up to five minutes, cabinet secretary.14:51
The Scottish Government’s financial commitment to carers is clear. Through the carers allowance supplement we have already put an extra £442 a year into the pockets of over 77,000 carers. That is an increase of 13 per cent in carers allowance, and an investment of over £33 million through that benefit alone. In five years’ time, carers in Scotland will be receiving approximately £491 a year more than those outwith Scotland, due to our supplement. We have also committed to the introduction of a young carers grant and will introduce a new payment for carers who are responsible for more than one disabled child.
All that money has been provided in the context of the new provisions on social care support and carers’ rights in the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016, which came into force last year. The Government has fully funded the implementation of the 2016 act, including providing an additional £10.5 million in 2019-20 to enable local government to meet the projected increase in demand for support under its provisions.
When the uplift was announced by the First Minister in 2015, at a time when I was co-convener of the cross-party group on carers, it was said to be worth £600 per annum. However, as the cabinet secretary knows, at the time of the supplement’s launch in 2018 it was worth £442 per annum. Does she accept that there is still a long way to go to meet the First Minister’s commitment?
I ask Claudia Beamish and other Labour members who will take part in the debate, this question: if they are concerned about the amount of the carers allowance supplement, where were they during the budget process? Where were their proposals on that? A week has passed since the budget process, during which I saw no serious proposals from anyone in the Labour Party—on carers or anything else.
The response to the carers allowance supplement has been hugely positive. We know that we are doing the right thing in making the increase, and when it comes to uprating we will do the right thing, too. Our proposal is based on evidence and internationally accepted good practice. The measure that we propose is the one that accurately reflects the cost of living: the consumer prices index.
I agree with the Conservative amendment, in that we should always keep alternative methods under review. Therefore I give Miles Briggs and all other members my full reassurance that we already do that. For example, we have considered using the measure CPI plus housing costs—CPIH—which is also recommended by the Office for National Statistics. CPIH is similar to CPI in how it is calculated, but it includes additional items. However, in seven of the past nine years, CPIH inflation has been lower than CPI, so using CPIH would have delivered a lower increase to carers.
Using CPI, from April this year, Scotland’s carers will see their carers allowance increase from £64.60 per week to £66.15 per week. That approach is in line with the agency agreement that we have set up with the DWP to deliver carers allowance on our behalf. The agreement enabled us to get much-needed increases into carers’ pockets as early as last summer—a matter of weeks after the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 received royal assent—through the introduction of the carers allowance supplement.
Will the cabinet secretary explain why RPI is used in relation to rail fares but CPI is to be used in relation to carers?
There are historical areas where it is particularly used, but its use is discouraged by the Office for National Statistics. I will come on to that point. We are setting up a new system and it is important that we listen to that good practice and advice.
When we take over full delivery of carers assistance, we will work with stakeholders to agree a mechanism to uprate it, and that will, of course, be done with members of the Parliament. I will be happy to discuss any ideas and hear the views of all the parties and all members as our social security system develops. What I will not do is agree to use something that experts consider to be a poor measure of inflation.
The CPI is used for the Bank of England’s inflation target. The Office for National Statistics describes the CPI as
“A measure produced to international standards and in line with European regulations.”
By contrast, here is what the Office for National Statistics says about the retail prices index, or RPI:
“Overall, RPI is a very poor measure of general inflation, at times greatly overestimating and at other times underestimating changes in prices and how these changes are experienced.”
Not only is RPI widely regarded as an inappropriate measure of inflation, it has been viewed as such for over five years. In 2013, the UK Statistics Authority, which is the arm’s-length body that oversees the Office for National Statistics, said that the RPI had been
“assessed against the Code of Practice for Official Statistics and found not to meet the required standard for designation as National Statistics.”
The consensus among economists and statisticians is that the RPI does not meet international standards. That opinion is shared by many, but not by my parliamentary colleagues in the Labour Party.
Will you come to a close, please?
I appreciate that a discussion has to be had about levels of benefits. That is right and proper. The place for that discussion is during the budget process, which we have just been through, and during which Labour was not to be seen. It is vital that we keep decisions on the uprating of benefits separate from decisions on benefit levels. Our aim in choosing an uprating mechanism is to ensure that the benefit levels that we agree on will maintain their value over time, and the CPI is the best mechanism to do that.
I move amendment S5M-16012.3, to leave out from “rejects” to end and insert:
“welcomes the immense contribution that carers make to society, caring for family, friends and neighbours; recognises that the introduction of the Carer’s Allowance Supplement (CAS) has increased financial support to carers by 13% and put an extra £442 a year in people’s pockets in 2018-19, which is an investment in carers of over £33 million; further recognises the Scottish Government’s use of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) as an uprating mechanism, which, in 2019-20, will increase CAS to £452.40, which is an investment of around £37 million in carers; notes that CPI is used as the Bank of England’s inflation target; further notes that the Office for National Statistics deems the Retail Price Index (RPI) a very poor measure of inflation; acknowledges that RPI lost its status as a National Statistic in 2013; further acknowledges that there is a consensus among economists and statisticians that RPI does not meet international standards, and agrees that the Scottish Government should not use RPI as a measure to uprate benefits for these reasons.”
I call Miles Briggs. You have up to four minutes.14:56
We should all be concerned about the wellbeing of Scotland’s carers and the support that we provide for them, so I welcome the Labour Party bringing this debate to the chamber. As an MSP, I have attended the Scottish young carers festival every summer. The festival provides a chance for young carers to have a break from their caring role, meet other young carers, take part in consultation and, perhaps most important, just have fun. I am always amazed that those young Scots often do not see themselves as young carers; they just say that they care for their mum, their dad, their brother or their sister.
In Scotland, there are at least 759,000 carers aged 16 or over, and 29,000 young carers. The value to the taxpayer of the care that is provided by carers in Scotland is estimated to be equivalent to £10 billion a year. It is important that we remind ourselves that three out of five of us will become carers at some stage in our lives, and that one in 10 of us is already fulfilling a caring role. How we support carers in Scotland today and in the future is therefore incredibly important. It is vital that we get our social support system right and that it is fit for purpose. That is why we called for and supported the introduction of the carers allowance supplement and why we on the Conservative benches support a wider look at how we support Scotland’s carers and the challenges that they face.
The useful briefing that Marie Curie provided before today’s debate, which has been mentioned already, outlines that many people who care for someone with a terminal illness are not identified as carers so they do not get the support that they may be entitled to, including access to benefits. There are many opportunities to identify carers who are supporting someone at the end of their life, and the identification of those carers clearly needs to be improved. I welcome initiatives that provide information and reach out to identify carers, such as the pop-up hub for carers last week at the Royal infirmary of Edinburgh.
Scottish Conservatives want carers to be supported so that they can live healthy, fulfilling lives, and we want the crucial role that they play in our communities to be both recognised and valued. For that to happen, a range of good-quality support needs to be on hand for carers at the right time and in the right place.
My amendment calls on ministers to
“investigate the use of alternative methods of uprating”.
Every party in the Parliament has made a commitment to deliver a Scottish social security system that is based on dignity and respect and which recognises the immense value that carers bring to our society. We on the Conservative benches want to look at how we can further support and thank Scotland’s carers. Scottish Conservatives have long campaigned on behalf of carers on measures such as the increase in the carers allowance and our campaign for local authorities to give carers short breaks. SNP ministers should be open to looking at different methods of uprating benefits.
It is also important that we see the issue in the wider context of the benefits system and the wider package of support for carers in Scotland. Many young carers groups in my Lothian region have raised with me the delay to 2020-21 in delivering free bus travel to those in receipt of the young carers grant. I believe that ministers can look at that and that they should make it more of a priority.
My amendment asks ministers to investigate
“the use of alternative methods of uprating the full sum of Carer’s Allowance as well as the Carer’s Allowance Supplement”.
Scottish Conservatives believe that it is important that we get that right and that we take a considered and long-term approach to such issues. My amendment would give Parliament the opportunity to do just that.
I move amendment S5M-16012.1, to leave out from “rejects” to end and insert:
“agrees that social security is an investment in the people of Scotland; believes that, in the context of delivering better support to unpaid carers, Ministers should investigate the use of alternative methods of uprating the full sum of Carer’s Allowance, as well as the Carer’s Allowance Supplement, to underline the commitment to deliver a Scottish social security system based on dignity and respect, and recognises the immense value that carers bring to Scottish society.”15:00
We cannot thank carers in Scotland enough, yet it remains the case that people who care are undervalued and underpaid. Despite the fact that unpaid carers save the Scottish economy some £10.8 billion annually, there remains a vast mismatch between the value of care and the support that carers receive. Three out of five of us will become carers at some point in our lives, yet the value of the work that carers do is not fully recognised. Carers benefits do not recognise the enormous contribution made by unpaid carers.
In 2016, the Scottish Greens stood on a manifesto commitment to campaign for an increase in carers allowance to £93.15 per week, which would be £96.90 per week today. We will support the Labour motion, which calls for the use of an uprating mechanism that is more generous to carers.
I appreciate that the Scottish Government made a manifesto commitment to increase carers allowance to the same level as jobseekers allowance. That is progress, and I welcome it, but I will continue to urge the Government, and indeed the Parliament, to go further.
Greens have long called for a lower hours-of-care threshold and, importantly, for more flexibility. Surely one person caring for two people and reaching that threshold should receive carers allowance. I know that the previous cabinet secretary was not unsympathetic to those calls and I look forward to the current cabinet secretary’s response to them.
I am pleased that the Scottish Government has taken up the call in the Green 2016 manifesto for a young carers grant. The First Minister responded to that call quickly.
Will the member give way?
I have only four minutes. I would like to make progress.
Evidence suggests that it is the most financially vulnerable young people who are most likely to have caring responsibilities. The grant will entitle young carers to support worth £300 per year and will contribute to ensuring that young carers can take part in activities such as going to the cinema or perhaps having some driving lessons. We must ensure that the 29,000 young people in Scotland who care are properly and fully supported and that their education and personal development are prioritised.
Carers UK’s caring and family finances inquiry found that 70 per cent of carers were £10,000 a year worse off, and that one in three had seen a drop of £20,000 a year in their household income, as a result of caring. Being a carer can lead to additional financial costs such as an increase in household bills. That is why we urgently need to examine increasing the value of social security payments to carers. The carers allowance top-up is a good first step, but more can be done.
As part of its work on preparing for the delivery of carers assistance, I would like to see the Scottish Government doing all that it can to properly understand the financial impact of caring on carers and what the devolved social security system can do to help.
We also have to look at how we value particularly intensive forms of care. Current rules allow payments only in respect of one cared-for person, but we know that thousands of Scots care for more than one person, which brings additional costs. The Government intends to act in respect of people who care for more than one disabled child, which is welcome, but let us take a broader view and consider everyone who cares for more than one person. It is also unfair that, under current UK rules, people who care for more than one person but who do so for less than 35 hours miss out entirely.
I raise again the issue of take-up. There is a particular issue with the take-up of carers allowance, which Mark Griffin mentioned. Some people do not even realise that they are a carer; they do not see themselves as a carer in a formal sense. Take-up of the best start grant suggests that we can do more to increase take-up, so I would be interested to hear the cabinet secretary’s comments on that issue, too.
Without carers, independence and quality of life for many are reduced and the burden on our health service is increased. Carers do one of the most important jobs in our society and members of the Scottish Parliament have a duty to ensure that all carers—paid and unpaid—are valued and have the support that they deserve.15:04
I thank the Labour Party for securing time for this debate. It is important that we recognise the input and contribution that our unpaid carers make to our society. I recognise that the Labour Party raises the issue time and again, and it is right to challenge us in this way. On any given day, there are 171,000 carers in Scotland who work more than full time. We could not hope to pay them a salary for the work that they deliver; instead, the state relies on—and, arguably, exploits—their love for their family members and those around them and the caring responsibility that they feel naturally exists in their relationships. It is absolutely right that the Labour Party keeps raising the issue.
The hostile environment that exists in public policy is very real when it comes to carers. On identification, only 9 per cent of carers who present at general practitioners actually recognise their caring status. The situation is worse for young carers, particularly because children who grow up knowing only one reality often do not recognise that they are different from anyone else, so it is absolutely vital that we get to them. People often have to jump hurdles when trying to get an official diagnosis for the relative for whom they care, and no support is triggered until that diagnosis is forthcoming. Once the diagnosis exists, people then have to navigate the difficult and opaque benefits landscape.
We should be able to unite across the chamber on this issue. My party and the SNP had a very similar policy on the issue going into the Scottish Parliament elections in 2016 in seeking to uplift the carers allowance to the level of jobseekers allowance, which is why we will support the SNP amendment. On 10 September last year, we finally got that uplift over the line, giving carers the significant uplift of an additional £452 per year.
I have sympathy with what Labour is trying to do through its motion, but I believe that shifting from the CPI to the RPI would amount to only a small amount of money per individual. We have to look at the whole package of support that we offer. If we want to give our carers more money, which we probably aspire to do, we should give them meaningful uplifts beyond the rate of inflation. We should also look at the paucity of respite care, as less than a quarter of full-time carers receive any respite support. That is not because they do not know about it; it is because it does not exist in many parts of the country, or because the cost is beyond their financial reach or the amount that their local authority has agreed that it will support them for.
I thank Marie Curie for the briefing that it gave us for the debate—it always gives us briefings on the support that it offers carers. I support Marie Curie’s call for an extension of the payment threshold after the person who is being cared for has died. We often forget what a tumultuous and devastating time it is for the carer when they lose the person they have been caring for. However, on top of that, the state expects them to go back to normalcy and to restart full-time employment or whatever. We need to go far beyond the eight-week payment extension after the cared-for person dies to the full six months that Marie Curie suggests. That would give carers the opportunity to get back on their feet and re-establish a working life.
I thank Labour for taking the time to give us the debate today. I understand what Labour is trying to do, but I think that we need to look at the issue in the round. I look forward to working with the Labour Party in the coming weeks and months to establish common ground in this area.
We move to the open debate. We are already over time, so I ask members to aim for speeches of three and a half minutes, please.15:09
As thousands of carers across Scotland struggle on a daily basis to maintain their living standards and a decent quality of life, yet again the Scottish Government is not using the full powers that are available to the Parliament. In this debate, we need to be clear about the fact that the UK Government’s decision to move from using the RPI to using the CPI has resulted in a real drop in income for those households that can least afford it.
The cabinet secretary’s amendment asserts that there is a consensus among economists and statisticians that the RPI is not a reliable measure, but members should note that, in a report published only last month, the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee said:
“We disagree with the UK Statistics Authority that RPI does not have the potential to become a good measure of inflation. With the improvements to RPI that we set out ... we believe RPI would be a viable candidate for the single general measure of inflation.”
It does not sound from that as though there is a consensus against using the RPI.
The TUC does not agree with the Scottish Government, either. In a recent report that warned about “pickpocketing statistics”, it pointed out that the evidence that is cited by the UK Government, and now the Scottish Government, in support of CPI use is very weak. As we know, housing costs are an important part of the expenditure of everybody in Scotland, yet they are not included in the CPI calculations, whereas the RPI includes them. The TUC said:
“RPI is based more tightly around the spending patterns of workers than CPI, since it excludes most expenditure by pensioners dependent on state pensions, tourists and the ultra wealthy.”
Further, the fact that the RPI and the CPI use different statistical methods matters, as the TUC pointed out.
The key finding of a detailed report by Dr Mark Courtney is that almost 80 per cent of the difference between the RPI and the CPI is caused by the fact that the CPI underestimates the change in the cost of living that workers face. The rising cost of living and financial pressures on households are adding to the unacceptable gap between rich and poor in this country. There is a gap between those who can afford to provide and eat three meals a day and those who cannot; between those who can clothe their families and those who cannot; and between those who can afford to travel to visit frail relatives and those who cannot.
For carers who already work long hours providing essential support and care, a small increase in income is very significant, so I disagree with what Alex Cole-Hamilton said. As that income accumulates year on year, it can make the difference in better food, a warmer home or the ability to take part in community activities.
Overall, it seems that organisations that take our money use the higher inflation figure of the RPI, whereas those that pay us use the lower figure of the CPI. Our social security system should be based on the RPI; it might not be perfect, but it is the best measure that we have.
Given that the majority of carers are women, I presume that a full equality impact assessment has been undertaken on the differential impact of using the lower inflation figure for uprating. I ask the minister to confirm the findings in that regard when she sums up.
Most members will have warm words to say about supporting carers, but actions speak louder than words, which means taking action in Scotland now and using all our powers to raise the living standards of carers. We can and should do that now.15:12
Social security is a human right and, as such, the principles of dignity, fairness and respect are at the core of Social Security Scotland. Social security is an investment in the people of Scotland. I am pleased that a fraction of social security powers have been devolved to us, but I would like those powers to be increased as a means for the Scottish people to escape the UK version of social security, which is provided through the DWP.
Will Fulton MacGregor take an intervention?
I am sorry, but I do not have time.
I would have liked the Labour motion to have looked at such a proposal, which is one that we could get behind.
There is a large diversity of carers. They come from all backgrounds and are faced with a large array of challenges, as I have noticed, as a regular attender at the Lanarkshire carers forum that meets in Coatbridge each month. The fact that carers often face financial challenges as well as strenuous emotional and physical demands is sometimes overlooked. Many carers give up their careers and professional opportunities to care, then find themselves struggling financially. That is why the carers allowance supplement, which recognises the vital contribution that carers make to society, was introduced.
I was taken with Miles Briggs’s speech, which reminded me that, when I was a teenager, my family and I looked after my gran. That was just something that we did. Nothing was put in around that situation; everybody just mucked in. It is important that we recognise that that happens every day.
As the cabinet secretary said, last year, through the carers allowance supplement, an additional £442 was provided to more than 77,000 carers, which was an increase of 13 per cent and an investment of more than £33 million in Scotland’s carers. In 2019-20, the supplement will rise to £452.50, which will go straight to carers.
Like other members, I have heard positive feedback relating to the way in which the supplement has been rolled out. One carer who relayed her story to me said that she had a very positive experience of being entitled to an allowance; she was uplifted about not being required to fill out any forms or to prove that she was a carer, because the fact that she was already a registered carer was enough for her to qualify automatically. When a person is a carer, one of the last things that they want to do is to spend time filling out long, intrusive forms to get something that they are entitled to. The carer noted that it was a dignified approach, which was backed up by a positively worded letter. She commented on the fact that it came in a white envelope, as opposed to a brown one. Other members will have heard of similar experiences.
Because we have been asked to cut our speeches to three and a half minutes, I will go straight to the point with which I was going to conclude. I want to mention a fantastic young carer from my constituency: 17-year-old Megan Boss. Megan cares for both her parents on a daily basis while she continues her studies at Coatbridge high school. It was no wonder that Megan recently earned Action for Children Scotland’s inspirational young woman of the year award. Like many young carers, Megan looked after herself and her parents from a young age, but did so in silence until she met Action for Children at a school assembly and finally got the support that she needed. That gave her the opportunity to socialise and take part in clubs, which is something that most normal teenagers would take for granted, but it has made a big difference to her life.
It is important that we recognise the role of young carers in our society, and I congratulate Megan on her award.15:16
I agree with Mark Griffin’s comment that we are talking about a wider issue around carers and caring. It is important that we widen the debate.
Everyone will rightly say how much we rely on unpaid carers in this country. As previous speakers have said, we could not meet the cost of care were it not for the sacrifices that some carers have made. For example, I would not be speaking in today’s debate were it not for an unpaid carer who helped me to get ready this morning.
As we widen the debate, I suggest that members of the different political parties need to come together to look—not immediately, but over time—at how we develop our approach, bring more people on board and give more people support. The system is good, but it could be better and it could reach more people without dramatically increasing the cost. In my short speech, I will mention three areas in which I would welcome cross-party discussions in the years ahead.
Alison Johnstone picked up the first area, which is that the carer must reach 35 hours before they get any payment. For many people, that is a high number of hours. I understand why that figure is there and the rationale behind it, but there will be people who care for people for 20 or 25 hours. Would it be worth doing some cross-party work on whether there could be a tiering system to the benefit? I appreciate that that would become administratively difficult to implement. The advantage of the 35-hour threshold is that, in many ways, it is straightforward to implement. However, many carers around Scotland provide vital care below that 35-hour level and miss out on the payment. It is at least worth exploring whether there could be a tiered payment system.
The second area that I want to talk about is the fact that the person who is being cared for must be on benefits before the carer can get the money. That discriminates against certain individuals. In particular, it discriminates against older people and other individuals who might have an illness or disability that means that they need care, but which does not get them a recognised benefit. I appreciate that that would make the administration more difficult and that we do not want to make the system overbureaucratic, but we must look at the situation of people who are not on benefits but are being cared for.
The third area is one that applies to younger carers, in particular—it relates to the travelling time that is involved in providing care. The Social Security Committee has heard in evidence that there are young carers who might study in Glasgow but have a parent who lives in Edinburgh, to where they travel two or three times a week. However, the time that is spent travelling from Glasgow to the parental home, and from there back to where they stay in Glasgow, is not included in the 35 hours. That time spent travelling can add a lot to the time that is spent caring, and we need to take that into consideration.15:20
From the very establishment of the Scottish Parliament, unpaid carers have ensured that their voices have been heard. We have been told about what they do, what they save the country and how important it is that people recognise the role that they play in looking after their loved ones. From the very beginning of the Parliament, they have imposed their demands on us, and it is essential that we continue to listen to them.
We know about the impact that cuts have had on public services and social care. That slack in our communities is, as we speak, increasingly being picked up by unpaid carers. It is therefore essential that we do not just say how much we care about carers. I have no doubt that all of us across the Parliament care about unpaid carers and want to make a difference to their lives. However, it is not good enough simply to settle for warm words; we have to do the heavy lifting—this is particularly true of those in Government—of translating those words into making a real difference to people’s lives.
I hear what Alex Cole-Hamilton and Jeremy Balfour said about the broader questions. However, we should not make good the enemy of excellence. We are not pretending that the proposal in our motion would completely transform the lives of carers. There are issues with carers centres and the support that they give and with the way in which the system looks after young carers. However, our motion contains a very simple proposal that would make a difference to the lives of unpaid carers right now, so why on earth would we resist it? It is a simple proposal that does not pretend that it would completely transform people’s lives, but we know that it would make a difference.
We all know that George Osborne and the UK Tory Government chose to change the uprating index from the RPI to the CPI with the active intention of cutting the cost of benefits and in the knowledge that it would have a direct impact on carers. We know that that is why they did it, and it is why many of us thought that the Scottish Government would resist continuing that kind of uprating. I am not easily shocked or taken aback at what is said in this place, but I never thought that I would see the day when a Scottish Government minister would pray in aid the Bank of England in justifying an uprating approach that has direct consequences for unpaid carers in our communities.
In the face of an issue of principle, the cabinet secretary has chosen to settle for an argument that is based on process. The reality is that a party that claims to be able to set up a new state in 18 months has put the issue into its “It’s too difficult, it’s too expensive” box. The Government has returned £6 million of our money to the DWP with a contract that prevents it from using its powers to vary things and do things differently here. I wonder what equality impact assessment was undertaken for that contract, which is preventing the Scottish Government from making choices that would enable it to live up to the claims that it has made about carers in the past.
As I said at the beginning, warm words are not enough. We are not pretending that the proposal in our motion would change everything. However, we are asking the Scottish Government to live up to its own language and to stop hiding behind a process that is utterly inconsistent, when rail fares can go up by the RPI but carers allowance cannot and when even the Scottish welfare budget is not uprated by the CPI.
You must come to a close, please.
I urge the Government to understand that it has a very simple decision to make. It is one that will have an impact on the broader social security system in this country for a long time to come.15:24
I do not think that anybody in the chamber would argue against the fact that carers are an invaluable part of our society and that, if we could not count on them, lots of people would be costing us a lot more money through having to be looked after in institutions and hospitals. As Fulton MacGregor said, we are talking about something that happens all the time. Many of us will have been brought up looking after somebody and not realising that we were a carer because the person was part of our family.
Nobody here is trying to play down the importance of carers or do anything but ensure that they get the best deal possible. I am listening to the Labour Party. It has come in two or three weeks late instead of talking in the run-up to the budget about the importance that it places on carers, the amount of money that it would give them and where it would get that money from. It appears to me that the reason why the Labour Party did not do that was that it can now spend the next year saying, “You should be doing this,” without having to justify the cost. It is proposing the SNP approach plus a pound, and that is disgraceful.
Will the member give way?
Ms Lamont, it is clear that Mr Dornan is not taking an intervention.
Children are having to look after people in their house when they get up in the morning and then get to school for their education. We have a responsibility to do everything that we can for them, and we are trying to do our best. This Government has done more than any other Government in Scotland has ever done to raise the profile of carers and look after them. We should be looking to get a wider consensus on how we can make their lives as easy as possible. That is not a matter of raising the supplement using RPI rather than CPI; RPI is not a stable measure. I say to Elaine Smith that I suspect that, if the RPI figure was lower than the CPI figure, this debate on a motion that was lodged by Mark Griffin would have been focused on using CPI.
We need to get round the table and see how we can look after carers in a holistic way, not fight about a pound or two—or maybe a couple of hundred pounds over a year, if it is that.
Elaine Smith rose—
Please do not give me, “Do you know what a couple of hundred pounds a year means to the poor?” I do, because I have been poor. It would be much better to get a long-term solution to the problem.
I agree with the point that James Dornan is making. This is about a wider issue; it is not just about carers. We are talking about the first uprating measure and a precedent of using CPI for the full range of devolved benefits. James Dornan talks about it being just a couple of pounds for carers, but we do not want to see a precedent set for the full range of people who will depend on social security in Scotland.
James Dornan, you have less than a minute.
CPI is a more sensible measure to use, because it is more stable. RPI is much more volatile—almost all the experts say that.
I had to laugh when Johann Lamont said that she could not believe that the Bank of England was being used. She spent two years standing up with others, defending what the Bank of England was saying, when she was trying to ensure that we did not get to run our own welfare and social security affairs.
Alex Cole-Hamilton’s speech was superb—I never thought that I would say those words—and it hit the nail on the head. That is what we should be doing. I hope that this gets scrubbed from the record, but he hit all the right notes. The debate should be about taking a holistic approach and seeing how, in the round, we can make life better for carers; it should not be about scrambling over a pound or two or about whether we should use CPI or RPI.15:28
The debate appears to be about the means rather than the end. I hope that, when we move past that, we can focus on the end, which is doing our best for carers. By choosing to discuss the methodology of uprating, Labour has wasted an opportunity to debate the needs of carers and how we might improve their opportunities by broadening our thinking.
Becoming a carer is rarely a planned life choice. For the majority of people who become a carer, it is the result of life circumstances. I have the utmost respect for the many men, women and children who care for their loved ones selflessly and often to the detriment of their own lives. In my experience, they do so with little complaint and often with very little help. It is therefore right that, as a Parliament and as a society, we should seek to support carers. Without them, both the Government and society would struggle.
That is why we supported and welcomed the introduction of the carers allowance supplement, which is a living, breathing example of devolution in action that is bringing benefit to the people of Scotland. We believe that the Scottish ministers should use the raft of powers that have been devolved to this Parliament to explore further ways to ensure that carers receive a proper entitlement. On that point, Mr Griffin and I agree. Therefore, I might reasonably have expected Mr Griffin to question the delay in devolving carers allowance or to ask why the free bus pass for young carers will not be delivered until 2020-21. I did not expect the Labour Party to focus on the carers allowance supplement being linked to RPI rather than CPI, because there is a body of evidence that contradicts that view. The Scottish Government, the UK Government and the ONS have all dismissed RPI as unfit for purpose.
Will the member take an intervention?
I will in a second.
Indeed, the ONS has said that RPI is “not suitable for use”, and the Scottish Government has echoed that view by saying that the formula is
“a very poor measure of inflation.”
The House of Lords Economics Affairs Committee has said the opposite and that RPI could be used as the one measure. There are Conservative members on that committee, so does Michelle Ballantyne disagree with them?
No. Our amendment says that these issues should be explored. That committee said that RPI could be used but that it would need to be changed in order to be fit for purpose, because the current measure is not. Because it includes mortgages and housing, RPI is subject to the volatility of the housing market. In 2008, when there was a Labour Government, people would have suffered under RPI, because the Government had crashed the market.
We want to use a more stable measure that guarantees people’s futures. It is right that we look at the system and keep it under review, but it is not right for us to change it without thought. I say to Labour members that uprating should be considered in an evidence-based manner; it should not be carried out as a knee-jerk reaction. The matter was discussed during the passage of what became the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018, and we rejected the proposal at that time. Now, the Labour Party is bringing it back for a second bite, but we are giving the same answer.
Although SPICe may have produced an eye-catching number, the Labour Party needs to look at the issue in more depth and bring back a more robust proposal. We need to know exactly what the costs would be and on what basis we would be rejecting the current evidence. If we want uprating to be done soon, we need to look at how that would impact on the amount that is paid to the DWP under split competence. We also need to look at how uprating would affect recipients’ income tax, which is a question that Mr Griffin has raised in the past.
You must close, please.
Although I agree with Mr Griffin’s aims, the proposal needs a lot more work. The system needs to be reviewed and kept under review.
You must close, please.
We support the Government’s position and we think that it has done the right thing, but that is not to say that we should not keep looking at the issue.15:33
As others have done, I start by paying tribute to carers. It is worth putting on the record that, certainly from my experience, carers can be vulnerable individuals, and there can be co-dependent relationships in terms of health needs and disabilities. Carers are not always in the best of health, so there is a varied picture, but I know the essential work that they do.
I welcome the debate on the powers over 15 per cent of benefits that lie in this Parliament, and I look forward to the day when powers over the other 85 per cent are returned to this Parliament. The Scottish Government has made good progress on that 15 per cent of powers. We have introduced the best start grant, which goes far further than the UK Government has gone in that regard. In a similar vein, we have provided assistance and support with funeral expenses.
To folk who are watching, it will appear that we are arguing about whether to use the CPI, at 2.4 per cent, or the RPI, which is a higher figure this year, to uprate the carers allowance supplement, but that is the wrong way to look at the issue. The number that we should be looking at is the 13 per cent increase—an additional £37 million—that the Scottish Government has given to carers through the carers allowance supplement. After tomorrow, I hope that that will mean that every carer across the country will receive an additional £452.40. That is not 2.2 per cent or 3 per cent; it is 13 per cent. Labour should not muddy the waters over that during today’s debate.
Crucially, the Scottish Government has confirmed that, in some years, the CPI was higher than the RPI and, in others, the RPI was higher than the CPI.
I want to turn the debate on its head a little bit. Mark Griffin helpfully pointed out that the price tag for this proposal would be £3 million, but I would like some more information on that. I commend Mark Griffin—
Will the member give way?
No, but only because of time constraints. I apologise.
I commend Mark Griffin for suggesting that £3 million more be made available for carers—that is essentially what he is doing—and, had it been part of a credible dialogue with the Scottish Government on the budget just a few weeks ago, that fairly reasonable request might have been secured. Of course, more cash for carers means less cash for somebody else, and that sort of discussion needs to be had in the round.
However, it leads me to ask not only why Labour did not make this suggestion as part of the budget process—and I will return to that later—but how, if there was an additional £3 million available for carers, that money would be spent. As convener of the Parliament’s Social Security Committee, of which Mark Griffin is a very valued member, I can tell the chamber that we have looked at the young carers grant, with a round-table evidence session with young carers; the possibility of awarding more money to a second young carer; lifting the age limit; the experience of young carers in full-time education; the wider package of respite care; and the issue of unpaid and unidentified carers. Doing more on any of those things would cost money. As Alex Cole-Hamilton has pointed out, we need to look at the package for carers in the round.
If Labour wants to discuss how we find an additional £3 million for carers from somewhere else, we should have that dialogue—and I am happy to have it on the Social Security Committee. However, I feel that what we are getting today is neither a considered nor a strategic plan from Labour, but political opposition and posturing for its own narrow benefit. That disappoints me and I do not like it, but I get it: it is just politics for Labour, and we in this place are politicians. Despite that, I as a member of the Social Security Committee commit to continue to have a constructive, vibrant and progressive debate about how best to support all carers as part of a wider package—and to do so without any party politics whatever.
We move to the closing speeches.15:36
I welcome the chance to close on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives a debate that has allowed members across the chamber to recognise once again the value of carers in the work that they do and the care that they provide to family and friends and the need to continue to consider how we deliver an effective package of support to them. Although it seems rather crass to mention the monetary value to the economy of the work that carers do, it is important that we keep that statistic in mind. Money is not the reason why people find themselves in a caring role but, as Miles Briggs highlighted in his speech, what they do is worth £10 billion to the Scottish economy.
Like Miles Briggs, I have attended the young carers conference weekend. I found it rather enlightening; indeed, it gave us an opportunity to hear directly from young carers themselves. We sat around a table, and the young people asked us questions and put their points of view to us—and, boy, did they. I found that particularly refreshing and quite enjoyable. One story that stuck in my mind was of a young carer who, in order to pick up a prescription for her parent, had to go to town and back again on the bus, a trip that cost her £5. That is the reality of that carer’s life; it is not only time out of her day but money out of her pocket, and that is why the introduction of free bus travel for young carers in 2021 will be so important.
In the short time that I have, I want to mention a couple of contributions. Alison Johnstone, Miles Briggs and Alex Cole-Hamilton made the incredibly important point that some carers do not even recognise that they are in a caring role, and we need to establish a better way of identifying carers to ensure that we get support to them.
I gently highlight to Bob Doris that the Scottish Government has a third of working-age benefits available to it. Stop hiding behind that 15 per cent, because you are, of course, not counting pensions in that figure.
Will the member give way?
Go on, then.
Given the invidious predicament that WASPI women—the women against state pension inequality—are in, would you celebrate pensions being brought back under the control of the Scottish Parliament instead of the cuts to pensions that the Tories are making at Westminster?
You were given the working-age benefits three years ago and the first thing that you did was give them back to Westminster, and then you gave them back for another two years. You have the ability but—guess what?—you have found out that welfare is difficult.
Mr Whittle, I remind you that you should always direct your conversations through the chair.
Yes, through the chair. [Laughter.]
Mr Whittle, I am serious. Please do not speak directly to other members in that way, particularly when there are interventions.
Sorry, Presiding Officer. I apologise.
Given the consensus across the chamber on the need to consider how to increase support for carers, like Michelle Ballantyne, I am left with the feeling that the debate is an opportunity missed. Frankly, there is a lack of ambition in the Labour motion. To me, its approach is without any creative thought.
When we discuss ways to put more money into carers’ pockets and recompense them for the work that they do, we should look at other avenues that are available to us. It is not just about the money that goes into pockets; it is about how much things cost. I would like concessionary travel to be expanded to include all carers, and perhaps that could even be written into contracts as part of the tender process. Many carers have highlighted their need to keep connected. It might also be possible for carers to get free access to public facilities so that they can keep active.
I could say much more but, unfortunately, the debate is very short, so I will leave it there.15:41
As many other speakers have done, I pay tribute to carers, and I do so having seen at first hand their hard work and sacrifice and the challenging environment that many of them work in. As some Labour members have said, actions speak louder than warm, empty words, and that is why the Government has put more money into the pockets of carers, has introduced a new benefit for young carers and has committed to supporting carers’ rights. It is also why the Labour Party does carers a disservice by having a debate about inflationary indexes. I thought that we had seen enough of the Labour Party’s financial illiteracy over the past few weeks but, less than a week after stage 3 of the budget, it is back.
For clarity, inflation relates to the cost of living, and the process of uprating is to ensure that social security payments keep up with the cost of living. For the Labour Party to suggest that we adopt what is widely deemed to be a more inaccurate measure of inflation simply because it is anticipated to overestimate price rises is not just wrong but unfair.
Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab) rose—
Mark Griffin rose—
Is Mark Griffin aware that, in previous years—
Mark Griffin rose—
Colin Smyth rose—
You cannot all stand. Please sit down.
Is the member aware that, in previous years, the RPI has been higher than the CPI and that the whole point of inflationary indexes is that they can change? There is a place for debate about the appropriate level of payments. Let us have that debate. [Interruption.] I will take an intervention from whoever stands up fastest.
Can the minister explain why hard-pressed train commuters are forced to live with RPI increases to fares while carers will not get a similar uplift in their carers allowance?
That is a fair question. Train fares are increased by the RPI because that is a historical use. The review of UK price indices that was carried out in 2013 stated clearly in its recommendations that
“RPI is a flawed statistical measure of inflation which should not be used for new purposes”
“Government and regulators should work towards ending the use of ... RPI as soon as practicable.”
Those are not my words; they are the words of experts. The key point is that the RPI is more erratic.
Let us have a debate about how much carers should be paid, but it is counterproductive and flawed to link it to inflationary indices. The debate about payments to carers is completely different from the debate on inflationary uprating, which is a reflection of the cost of living. We need to recognise those costs and therefore the approach needs to be evidence led.
The important thing in the debate is that we value carers and we are doing everything we can to support them, but we will not jeopardise that support by using a flawed and counterproductive approach.
In closing, I return to a point that I made in an intervention. The Scottish Parliament has carefully considered and scrutinised the Scottish budget over the past three months. Scrutiny included a wide range of evidence sessions in committee and debates in the chamber. The process resulted in the approval, last Thursday, of a £42.5 billion budget to support the use of our new devolved social security responsibilities and powers.
During the stage 3 budget debate on Thursday, the Labour Party demanded—as is its right—that additional money be allocated to a range of commitments, including local government and child poverty, but there was no clarity on how those commitments would be funded.
Pauline McNeill, who I believe will close this debate for Labour, welcomed the carers allowance supplement. Why has that changed in less than a week?15:45
All members have expressed our deepest thanks to and respect for the millions of carers across the country, including 29,000 carers who are under 16. One in five people gives up work to care for someone, in an act of huge selflessness and love.
We welcome the Greens’ support for the motion and we hope to persuade the Liberal Democrats that what we propose is the right thing to do.
Carers come from a wide and diverse range of backgrounds. A carer who is in full-time education, at college or university, for example, is not eligible to receive carers allowance, even though, due to their caring responsibilities, they are unlikely to be able to hold down a part-time job and will have additional financial stress.
We have the power to act, and the debate that we should have is about how we use our powers to enhance carers allowance and the carers allowance supplement.
Let me begin to answer Kate Forbes by pointing out, in case she is unclear about this, that Labour is arguing on a question of principle. In our view, when we uprate carers allowance, we must choose a mechanism in which we have confidence, and Labour members think that the RPI best reflects the cost of living. It is not just Labour members who think that; carers groups, too, have more confidence in the RPI.
This is a critical point. A statutory instrument will come before the Social Security Committee tomorrow, and the Government could choose to re-lay the instrument, if it so wished.
We welcome the devolution of carers allowance and we welcome the carers allowance supplement. However, the Labour motion calls for the RPI to be used as the uprating mechanism, because we think that that is the most beneficial approach for recipients. Far from being the trivial matter of a few hundred pounds, as Mr Dornan said, our figures show that the difference since 2010 would be nearly £1,000.
We hear that there are historical reasons why the RPI is used for train fares. Does the Scottish Government not accept its own position? The Social Security Agency is a new agency. We set new precedents.
Kate Forbes rose—
We are asking you to set a precedent. The cabinet secretary painstakingly tried to justify the adoption of the CPI, quoting statisticians and some organisations’ opinions. What further evidence is needed than the fact that the CPI was adopted in 2010 by George Osborne—a man who is widely distrusted by you, cabinet secretary and minister, as you have said in many debates. If you want evidence, that is the beginning. The increase for carers should cover actual inflation costs, and the RPI is the mechanism that does that.
I will take an intervention from you, minister. Do you support George Osborne’s measure—
Before you say anything, minister, I say to members that in the chamber the word “you” is used by the Presiding Officer and not by members. My colleague has just told you off about that. We will not give up on this.
I want to support carers, to ensure that they have sufficient money to meet the cost of living, and to do that we need to ensure that the index that we use is evidence led. The UK Statistics Authority, the Office for National Statistics and the Bank of England—and I could go on if we had more time—all claim that the RPI is flawed. Should we really use a flawed system to support our carers?
Carers themselves do not have confidence in the mechanism that is being used.
Earlier, the minister asked why Labour did not ask for this in the budget. I ask the minister and cabinet secretary why they need to be asked not to use the CPI, which is the mechanism that George Osborne adopted.
Alex Cole-Hamilton seemed to be almost persuadable on the point—I do not know. I am sure that he was not flattered by Mr Dornan’s praise for his speech. I ask the Liberal Democrats to consider the evidence that shows that, because the CPI was adopted in 2010, there have been substantial losses since that time. We believe in what we are doing and we believe that it is a matter of principle. There is more work to be done. We welcome the Scottish Government’s work on that. You have a chance to reverse this and do the right thing.
That concludes the debate. I want members to come down very quickly and take their positions for the next debate.