Support for 7 million UK Carers
Thank you for writing to me about support for carers and I wish you well with all your campaigning on this very important issue, as it is an issue which I and the rest of party have as a priority because we care greatly about it.
You are right to say that high quality social care must be underpinned by sufficient and sustainable funding. I was pleased to see that last year the Government provided an extra £1.1bn to councils in England to ensure they continued to provide proper social care to support carers and their families.
However I appreciate that there is still much more we can do. As you will be aware, many carers also struggle financially. Needless to say there can be huge challenges to combining work with caring responsibilities. One way in which we have proposed supporting carers in this positon is by increasing the level of eligibility for the Carers Allowance.
There are also real problems with carers not being able to take a break and the impact this can have on their health. That's why the Liberal Democrats want to introduce an annual 'respite bonus' of £250 for anyone who is a carer for more than 35 hours a week. Each individual would be free to decide how to spend the money, but it could cover some of the cost of a day trip or weekend away.
In Government, my Lib Dem colleagues have secured an increase in the amount carers can earn before losing the Allowance, taking it up to £110 this April. However, we will go further in the next Parliament, and raise this again to £150 a week. This will increase the number of carers accessing this support, as well as making it possible for more carers to take up paid work if they are able to do so.
With around one in five carers giving up work and half of carers who are not working, saying that they would like to do so, we also need to make work more flexible. The Lib Dems have proposed consulting on proposals to give additional days leave for carers in the next Parliament.
With regard to the problems you have highlighted about the identification of carers, we want to place a legal duty on the NHS to identify carers. Under our proposals, carers would then receive a 'carers passport' which would make carers more aware of their rights as expert partners in care and give them clearer and easier access to support.
Lastly, I want to say that I wholeheartedly support your calls for better integration between health and social care. Addressing integration will vastly improve patient experience for people with long term conditions and a range of needs.
I would like to council social care staff and district NHS staff co-located and working out of the same base in their areas. I my experience in project management co-location of teams is the best way to get the team working together to produce the best outcome. Such co-location should also be locally based and not centred around Newport as such much on the Island is.
The Liberal Democrats have championed this in Government, including by introducing the Better Care Fund. This pooled budget for local authorities and clinical commissioning groups, will be spent on improving the coordination of services in their area. In the next Parliament we want to take this further, by supporting local areas to pool their entire health and care budgets and deliver all services in a more coordinated way.
I hope this answers your question.