Monday, February 8, 1999 Published at 17:58 GMT
Funds 'to care for the carers'
There are estimated to be six million carers in the UK
The government has announced a range of measures to help the millions of people who care for sick or dependent relatives or friends.
More than 3.5 million carers look after someone with a disability and over 850,000 provide help for more than 50 hours a week.
Nearly 60% of all carers do not receive visits from the main providers of support services.
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and Home Office minister Paul Boateng unveiled the measures. They include:
Prime Minister Tony Blair was due to launch the initiative, but instead was required at the funeral of King Hussein of Jordan.
Mr Blair told the BBC: "This will be the first time that any government has recognised that carers are not just the great unsung heroes that everybody says, but also have special requirements and needs.
"Carers do an extraordinary amount of work, we literally could not function as a country without them. It is time they were recognised."
"The majority are women, many of whom have gone from bringing up their children to caring for their elderly relatives with very little opportunity to make provision for their future.
"This strategy will ensure that carers get the information, support and care they need."
Great leap forward
Ms Bates said: "This is the first time we have had a commitment by the government to funding and services.
"It means that carers are now firmly embedded in government social policy, and this we warmly welcome."
She said the introduction of schemes to allow carers to manage and control the services they wish to buy in, had been a key demand of the CNA for many years.
"It at last offers carers an element of choice and control," she said.
Ms Bates said the CNA still had concerns about whether the money ringfenced for short-term breaks will be enough and how consistently the new services will be delivered and monitored.
The CNA says more than 60% devote more than 20 hours a week to caring for a relative or friend and many never get a break.
Concerns over delivery
Chris Davis, of the Association of Directors of Social Services, welcomed the new strategy, but warned some local authorities might not be able to deliver it.
"What this strategy will help us to do is to reach out to carers, but once you have done that what they need more than anything is somebody to share the care and that means a home carer or perhaps a week of respite care, and those are the mainstream social services.
"But there will be substantial parts of the country with less money to spend on mainstream social services next year than this."
Respite care has faced big cutbacks in recent years, mainly because of cash problems faced by social services departments in many parts of the country.
Crossroads, one of the largest charities delivering respite care, says its statutory budget was slashed by almost £2m last year.
Chief executive Alison Thompson said authorities have been rationing respite care, introducing or increasing charges for it and limiting help to assisting carers instead of allowing them much-needed time off.
She said the government initiative was a "giant leap forwards".
"What carers do msut be properly recognised and supported. Carers need high quality, reliable and responsive services.
"Time off from caring is vital, so that the carer can maintain aspects of their own life.
"We particularly welcome the recognition of the importance of carers being able to have a break from caring."
The Princess Royal Trust for Carers welcomed today's announcement, but said it was concerned that there were no specific funds to develop services for carers at local level.
The trust's chief executive David Butler said: "We want to see extra money for those authorities wanting to set up Carers' Centres, and assurance of continuity of funding for existing carers support projects.