Carers to get legal rights and support in reforms

Carers are to be given legal rights under government plans to increase the assistance available to the six million Britons who look after other people.

Ministers want to ensure that carers are given support to continue working or studying and to receive time off.

The rights of carers are expected to be put on the same legal footing as those of the people they look after.

There are estimated to be about six million people caring for husbands, wives, children, parents or neighbours, but the Government admits that “many do not get the emotional, financial and practical support they need”.

Last night, Paul Burstow, the care services minister, said: “Without the support of relatives and friends, many people who aren’t able to look after themselves would not be able to stay at home. Carers should have their needs looked after as much as the person they are caring for.

“A carer’s health often suffers because they don’t have time to look after themselves. Some often don’t have time to eat properly. So it’s vital we support them to look after their health and well-being.

He added: “None of this is rocket science. It is about the NHS seeing beyond the patient to support family carers. Carer stress is one of the biggest triggers for admission to care homes. That’s why we’ve given the NHS the clearest ever direction to make carers a priority.”

The details of the new rights for carers will be set out in the spring when the Government publishes its plans for reforming the social care system.

They are expected to include safeguards to ensure carers can work flexible hours and are not discriminated against in the workplace. Carers who are studying are likely to be able to ensure they receive state help at school or college.

A scheme that allows carers to take a break is also likely to be strengthened to protect leisure time.

“Caring is for many a full-time job,” said the Department of Health, “but many carers don’t realise they can get help and support from their community.”

A simple programme of assessing carers’ needs and providing tailored help to address them is expected to be introduced.

In the spring, Sainsbury’s will pilot a scheme in 14 of its supermarkets in London to identify carers. The Government is also funding support for GP surgeries to identify carers and offer help.

Ministers have promised to publish a white paper on elderly care reform in April next year.