Carers across the UK will be given legal rights under government plans to increase assistance for the army of British carers. It is thought that as many as six million people in the UK look after a family member or friend.
Ministers want to change the current law which affords virtually no legal support to those who care for others. The changes would see carers given support to continue working or studying whilst they care for another person, and the legal right to have some time off for holidays.
"Without support from relatives and friends, many people who are not able to look after themselves would not be able to stay at home", the care services minister, Paul Burstow, said this week. "Carers should have their needs looked after just as much as those that they are caring for."
It is thought that informal care saves the NHS over £100 billion every year, which is roughly the size of the entire NHS budget. The government admits that many do not get the emotional, financial or practical support they need in the current system.
"Carers health often suffers because they don't have enough time to eat properly and look after themselves", added Mr Burstow.
Details of changes in the law to help carers will be set out in the spring, when the government announces plans to reform the entire social care system. The changes are expected to include safeguards to ensure that carers can work flexible hours and are not discriminated against in the workplace. Carers who study are to be given state help so that they can remain at school or college. Another part of the scheme will allow carers assistance so that they can take a break from care to enjoy leisure time.
The supermarket group Sainsbury's will pilot a scheme in 14 stores in the spring to help identify carers living in London. The government is also funding GP surgeries to identify carers and offer them assistance.