The Government recognises the valuable contribution made by carers, many of whom spend a significant proportion of their life providing support to family members or friends. Professionals in health, education, social care and other parts of the community including employers, have a key role to play in identifying and signposting those with caring responsibilities to information, advice and support.
The Care 2014 is a historic step for carers, for the first time putting their rights on the same footing as the people they care for. Under the Care Act, local authorities have an expanded duty to assess carers, removing the previous test of whether they were providing “regular and substantial” care. This is predicted to lead to an additional 360,000 carers a year receiving an assessment by 2018/19. In addition, local authorities are required to ensure that there is a comprehensive information and advice service available to their local population, specifically including carers.
Under the Act, carers’ assessments will include a thorough consideration of the impact a caring role has on a carer’s wellbeing and the outcomes they wish to achieve, including their ability to engage in work, training, education or volunteering. On the basis of these assessments, local authorities will have a duty to meet eligible needs for support (and will also be able to meet needs which are not considered eligible). The Department of Health has provided £104 million of funding to local authorities for additional carer assessment and support in 2015/16.
The Care Act requires National Health Service bodies and local authorities to co-operate with each other in the exercise of their respective functions relevant to care and support, including those relating to carers, so we would expect local authorities and NHS bodies to cooperate in identifying and signposting carers.
In addition, we made it clear in our mandate to NHS England that by 2015, carers looking after friends and family members should routinely have access to information and advice about support available, including respite care. This supports Government investment of £400 million between 2011 – 2015 to improve NHS support for carers and to enable them to take a break from their caring responsibilities.
Support for carers more broadly is integral to the work NHS England is leading to improve the quality of life of people with long term conditions. NHS England published a Commitment to Carers in May 2014 - an action plan with a series of commitments around eight priorities, including raising the profile of carers; person-centred, well-coordinated care, commissioning support and partnership links. NHS England are currently reviewing progress and developing plans for next steps.
The Department of Health has also provided over £2 million in recent years to the professional bodies such as the Royal College of General Practitioners and the Royal College of Nursing, as well as Carers UK and the Carers Trust, to develop initiatives to raise awareness of carers among healthcare professionals and to help identify and support carers. Initiatives have included the recruitment of GP carer champions, work with pharmacy organisations to identify carers in pharmacy settings, and to identify more carers through the 2014 flu vaccination campaign.
We recognise that many carers of working age wish to stay in touch with the job market for their financial well-being and to enhance their own lives and the lives of those for whom they care. Many also feel under pressure to give up paid work to care.
On 30 June 2015 the Government extended a right request flexible working arrangements after a 26 weeks’ qualifying period, building on a previous entitlement for some carers. This will help to normalise the kind of flexible working patterns that can help carers balance different responsibilities.
On 13 February the Government launched a joint Department of Health, Government Equality Office and Department for Work and Pensions investment of £1.6 million in pilots in nine local authority areas to explore ways in which people can be supported to combine work and care. Through the scheme, nine pilot areas will explore how professional support, technology, volunteering, informal networks and support from employers can be combined to ease the pressure of caring. This will build on the requirement in the Care Act to consider support for employment as part of an assessment of eligible needs, set out above.
More broadly, the Department for Work and Pensions continues to invest in supporting carers to return to work. For example, income replacement benefits help people and households on lower incomes, and include a carer premium, currently £34.60 a week. An equivalent additional amount applies in Pension Credit. Universal Credit will also include a carer element at the rate of £150.39 per monthly assessment period. This means that lower-income carers can be better off than others who receive these benefits.
On 1 July my Rt. hon. Friend the Secretary of State (Mr Jeremy Hunt) announced that I will develop a new carers’ strategy that looks at the best of international practice and examines what more we can do to support existing carers and the new carers we will need.