Children’s minister warns welfare reforms could undermine young carers
Letter by Tim Loughton exposes Conservative divisions over benefits as House of Lords begins welfare debate
The children’s minister has warned colleagues that the government’s welfare changes “appear to undermine” ministerial commitments to support children of disabled lone parents by cutting as much as £3,500 a year from benefit payments.
In a letter seen by the Guardian, the education department minister, Tim Loughton, points out to Lord Freud at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that the “planned changes in the welfare reform bill appear to undermine our efforts to ensure young carers are recognised and supported”.
The letter – between two Conservatives – exposes divisions over how heavy a burden the poor and vulnerable should bear from the budget cuts. Many argue that slashing welfare payments to disabled lone parents means their children will be forced to spend more time caring and less time growing up.
Peers begin to comb through the controversial welfare reform bill todayon Tuesday in the House of Lords. If it becomes law the government will abolish the severe disability premium and the enhanced disability premium when it replaces the present benefits system with its flagship universal credit scheme in 2013.
The payments are meant either to support disabled people who have no adult relative to help care for them or to recognise the contribution that children make in that situation. More than 42,000 children are likely to be affected by the changes.
According to the Children’s Society, which raised the issue with the Department for Education, this “means that families with a young carer looking after a disabled parent could lose up to £69.50 per week – more than £3,500 per year”.
The cut, says the charity, could be “equivalent to 20% of household income after housing costs”. In the letter Loughton argues that the system of welfare payments “goes some way to supporting these young people and their families”.
The children’s minister warns that should the cuts proceed they would simply load costs on to health service and social care budgets. “If it meant young carers were no longer able to provide care this could result in considerably greater costs being passed on to the NHS or children’s social care.
“Young carers often provide support to other family members in extremely difficult circumstances. You will be aware that my department strongly supports the government’s carer’s strategy and its commitment to protect them from excessive caring responsibilities.”
Loughton, considered an effective minister, has been instrumental in ensuring that young carers are not left to fend for themselves.
The children’s minister points out that his counterpart in welfare, Chris Grayling, had made a commitment to parliament that the issue would be given further consideration, asking what provisions would be in place to support families with young carers.
Campaigning groups have long said the government should make sure that “the family is supported in the home rather than relying on children to provide care”. Bob Reitemeier, chief executive of the Children’s Society, said: “These changes will only serve to pile more pressure on children caring for a disabled parent. It is wholly inappropriate to withdraw support to families with young carers and will make life much harder than it already is for potentially thousands of vulnerable children. Children frequently tell us that their caring responsibilities affect their education, wellbeing and futures.”
The cut in welfare payments, which saves the taxpayer little more than £50m, will also infuriate disabled groups – already angered by what they claim is the government’s hidden agenda to “cut the deficit on the backs of the needy”.
Last year the charity Scope calculated that of the approximately £90bn of proposed cuts, £9bn will fall upon disabled people, making them the hardest hit.
The DWP said: “Universal credit will create a simpler and fairer system and will target support to those who need it most. It will also ensure that the support given to disabled people is more consistent throughout their life.
“Disabled adults in greatest need and some disabled children will receive more support than now and there will be no cash losers as a result of the move to universal credit. We continue to spend over £40bn a year on disabled people and their services and our commitment to help support disabled people live independent lives runs at the heart of our welfare reforms.”