Legal rights for carers of relatives a first in England
Local authorities in England will be legally bound to provide help for people caring for disabled or elderly relatives, according to new government guidelines.
Following Law Commission advice, proposals for legal rights for carers are expected to be published within a few weeks. Such a scheme has never before been adopted in England.
Paul Burstow, the care services minister, said carers' lives will change for the better. "Carers make big sacrifices in undertaking the support of a family member, they often give up their health and their wealth as part of this," said Mr Burstow. "Many feel the need to quit work as a consequence of it as well."
With around 1.25m people engaged in care for 50 hours or more weekly, Mr Burstow said the government is looking to extend the number of carer centres and services throughout England.
"What we're trying to do is make sure in future neither the NHS or local councils overlook the family members who are providing the backbone of care and support in our country, and they actually look out for them and provide them with the support when they need it."
He added: "We want to make sure people have access to a break from their caring responsibilities."
"That could be as practical as having a respite care service provided for the person they're caring for, or even access to a computer so they can keep in touch with the rest of their family and have a life beyond their caring responsibilities."
As experts cast doubts over how the proposals will be funded, Mr Burstow said the intention is to use money earlier to help families care for their relatives in the long term.
In 2011, the Dilnot Commission into reforming care funding floated the idea of a £35,000 cap on lifetime care costs; a recommendation which a forthcoming White Paper might include.
The Treasury is believed to be worried about the public costs of reforming the care system. Because of an ageing population, the annual figure of around £1.7bn is expected to rise to £3.6bn by 2026.
A health department spokesperson said: "The way that carers are treated, and the support they receive, will be central to the government's plans to reform the social care system that will be published in a White Paper soon."
Wales and Northern Ireland both have means-tested social care systems similar to the English model. Personal care is free in Scotland, although eligibility criteria has been tightened more recently.
Janet Cooper, Head of Care & Nursing Home Fees Recovery at Simpson Millar LLP said: "This is a welcome development which is well overdue. Whilst there are justifiable concerns as to how this will be funded supporting carers will not only make a difference to the carer and how they are managing their caring role but it will also improve the quality of life of the person they are caring."
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