Carers of relatives in England to get legal rights

Elderly man The proposals could include carers' rights to respite breaks, education and training

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Ministers are planning to grant legal rights for the first time to people in England who spend hours caring for elderly or disabled relatives.

Under the proposals, local authorities would be legally obliged to offer support to such carers.

Some 1.25 million people spend 50 hours a week or more caring for family members who are unable to cope alone.

Proposals are due to be published "within the next few weeks" after recommendations by the Law Commission.

It has been suggested these could include carers' rights to respite breaks and to education and training.

'Big sacrifices'

Care Services Minister Paul Burstow said the move would make a "huge difference" to carers' lives.

He told the BBC: "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. Many feel the need to quit work as a consequence of it as well.

Start Quote

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”

End Quote Paul Burstow Care Services Minister

"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."

Mr Burstow said the government wanted to expand the network of existing carer centres and services around the country.

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."

Reform plans

BBC political correspondent Tim Reid says what is not yet clear is how the proposals would be paid for, given that funding is a divisive issue.

Mr Burstow said the plans were about using money earlier to provide support to enable families to care for their relatives for longer.

The independent Dilnot Commission last year made wider recommendations on how to reform the funding of care and support.

It put forward the idea of introducing a cap on lifetime care costs of £35,000, which could be included in a forthcoming White Paper.

The Treasury is thought to have concerns about the cost to the public purse of reforming the system.

By 2026, the estimated additional annual cost of £1.7bn is likely to rise to £3.6bn because of the ageing population.

A Department of Health spokeswoman 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 which are similar to that in England.

Scotland provides free personal care, but in recent years has tightened the eligibility criteria.

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