Carers are estimated to save the government £87bn a year, MPs say
The government must give more money to help Britain's six million unpaid carers, MPs have said.
The Commons work and pensions committee said people who looked after friends and relatives saved the taxpayer £87bn.
It recommended income replacement for those unable to work and compensation for extra costs of "intensive" caring.
Carers say the current £50.55-a-week allowance is "insultingly low". Ministers say they are working to give carers more "balance".
In its report the committee said more state help was of "critical importance" and the current system was "outdated".
It recommended a "two-tier" approach combining income replacement and pension protection for carers who were unable to work or only able to work part-time, and compensation for extra costs incurred by "intensive" caring.
It also said the government should help carers who want to return to work to do so.
The MPs said they were "disappointed" the government had not directly addressed financial help for carers in its Carers Strategy launched earlier this year, and that the group was identified as a long-term priority only from 2011.
Carers struggled to stay in work and often found their vocational skills became rusty and out of date, they said.
The committee's chairman, Labour MP Terry Rooney, told the BBC: "The average, if there is such a thing, carer is aged between 35 and 55. That's normally a prime earning period for people, so they lose out in terms of employment opportunity, earnings, future pensions.
"And that group, I think, especially, truly needs to be recognised and recompensed in a better way."
He said 2011 was "too far away" and he hoped the report would bring changes more quickly.
The £50.55-a-week is the lowest income-replacement benefit and amounts to £1.44 an hour, assuming a minimum 35-hour week.
Imelda Redmond, chief executive of campaign group Carers UK, said the existing Carer's Allowance was "insultingly low".
"The two-tier benefit recommended by the committee would be a major improvement to the current system," she said.
"Carers need a separate benefit which recognises that they are not unemployed but are making an important contribution to society."
Anne McGuire, minister for disabled people, said she welcomed the report as a "valuable contribution to the debate" and said the government was working with employers to help carers get a better balance between their work and caring responsibilities.
She said a review of the care and support system would take place as part of a wider welfare reform programme.
But she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It's not just as straightforward as it might appear that you just up the amount of money - there are all sorts of ramifications to that."
She added that the government had already provided extra resources to allow carers to take short breaks.