Holyrood has backed plans to temporarily double the carers allowance supplement given to unpaid carers this winter.
A Bill proposing to increase the allowance from £231.40 to £462.80 that will be paid to eligible carers in December was unanimously supported at the first stage of its fast-tracked route through parliament.
Scotland’s social security minister Ben Macpherson thanked unpaid carers for their “remarkable contribution to our society” and told MSPs the higher payment later this year would help mitigate some of the financial impacts the pandemic may have had.
Opening the debate on the Carers Allowance Supplement (Scotland) Bill, Mr Macpherson said: “We recognise the added pressures that carers have had to deal with as a result of the coronavirus pandemic; many carers have had to step in to provide care for disabled people which would normally have been provided by statutory services such as schools and daycare centres.”
He added that the higher payment was estimated to cost £20 million, with approximately 83,000 unpaid carers eligible for the money.
Challenged by Scottish Labour’s Pam Duncan-Glancy to pay the increased rate until the Scottish Government’s planned replacement benefit for the Scottish Carers Allowance is introduced, Mr Macpherson instead argued the Bill would give the government powers to increase the payment again in future but it was dependent on money being allocated in the next Budget.
In her speech, Ms Duncan-Glancy said: “As someone who uses care – both paid and unpaid – I cannot stress enough to this chamber the importance of the care provided by both paid and unpaid carers across Scotland, and I’d like to say now on the record: thank you for years of support for me and for the millions of people across this country.”
She indicated that Scottish Labour would seek to amend the proposed Bill at its next stage to make the increase permanent.
“This Bill, as it has been drafted, only commits to an increase in December 2021 for the carers supplement payment but we already know that the effects of the pandemic are going to continue far beyond that,” Ms Duncan-Glancy said.
“It’s clear that the impact of the pandemic and the responsibilities of unpaid carers will remain long after we’ve begun to move on from the darkness of the past year.
“This is happening against the backdrop of a system that was already at breaking point. The support available to carers pre-pandemic was already lacking and now, much of it has been removed altogether.”
She added: “This Bill will provide a welcome but temporary measure to ease the financial pressures on carers right now and we will support it today.
“But it by no means addresses the wider inequality that 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.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Willie Rennie said he would support Labour’s calls for a commitment to increase future payments.
Warning that support services will take a long time to recover even when the pandemic is over, Mr Rennie added: “We’re not talking about massive sums of money here. It’s really significant but it’s not massive sums and it means an awful lot to these people.
“Why can’t the minister remove the uncertainty, give them a bit more comfort?”
Mr Macpherson replied: “The important thing to recognise is that this Bill gives the power to consider future years.
“We don’t know where we’ll be next year, we may be looking at a position where we think that there is a need to consider the amount of support again.
“So it’s providing flexibility within the legislation to consider the circumstances of future years, and to seek to support unpaid carers through any additional supplement, if parliament agrees in future.”