Page last updated at 05:00 GMT, Tuesday, 10 June 2008 06:00 UK

Carers' respite leave 'to double'

By Sue Littlemore
Social affairs correspondent, BBC News

Man touching the arm of an elderly woman
The stress of caring for a loved one can lead to health problems

The government plans to double the amount of respite care for people who look after frail and disabled relatives in England, the BBC has learned.

The announcement, expected later today, is part of a 10-year drive to improve the lives of the UK's 6m carers.

According to the Department of Health an extra 150m will double the amount of respite time available over 2 years.

But charities are disappointed that improvements to carers' benefits across the UK have not yet been finalised.

It is almost 10 years since the Government's first Carers` Strategy introduced annual grants for local councils to provide support for carers.

Helen Coughlan is exhausted and stressed in her role as a carer

Today's announcement of a new vision for the next 10 years is - according to the health minister, Ivan Lewis - supposed to reflect the changing needs of our times.

"In a society where an increasing number of us are caring for ageing parents or sick and disabled relatives, it is right that we recognise carers are at the heart of 21st century families and communities," he said.

"In the next decade elder care will be the new childcare and it is essential our policies properly meet the scale of the challenge.

Enhancing support

"Thousands of carers, irrespective of their roles or postcode, have told us they want a support system that is on their side, rather than a constant struggle and the right to a life of their own alongside their caring responsibilities."

According to the Department of Health the new strategy will also include 6 million to support professionals to ensure no child has their childhood stolen through taking on inappropriate caring responsibilities. And 38m will help carers who want to combine a job with their caring role.

A further 61m will be aimed at enhancing support to voluntary organisations and ensuring NHS and Social Care professionals focus on the specific emotional and health needs of carers; for example, there will be pilot schemes to look at ways of providing annual health checks for carers .

Carers' charities are pleased the government is tackling many of the challenges brought on by our ageing population , but one remains unresolved: carers' allowance at 50 a week is the lowest benefit of its kind in the UK.

Many carers of working age have to give up paid jobs and many already retired have just small incomes.

Imelda Redmond from Carers UK told BBC News: " There is a need to radically overhaul benefits for carers . The system is no longer fit for purpose."

Ministers say they want to improve carers` incomes, but any benefits reform has not yet been finalised. Until it is, many carers will give these plans only a cautious welcome.

In Pictures: Portrait of a carer
29 May 08 |  In Pictures
Concerns over support for carers
22 Apr 08 |  Hereford/Worcs


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