Carers forced to give up work will get extra help

Services for the elderly and disabled are under "enormous strain", the Care Minister, Norman Lamb, acknowledged yesterday as he promised extra help for family members who give up work to look after relatives.

Mr Lamb's pledge follows the disclosure in The Independent that the crisis in social care is costing the British economy more than £5bn a year in carers' lost wages and tax contributions as well as benefit payments.

"The system which has remained underfunded for decades is under enormous strain," he said in an interview. "But it doesn't have to be a crisis – there can be some hope for the future."

He said the draft Care and Support Bill would put carers "right at the heart of the system" by requiring councils to give support to those found to be shouldering a heavy burden. Mr Lamb also said the Government was urging colleges to allow teenagers who care for disabled parents to have more flexible study patterns.

Blaming the previous Labour administration for the financial strain on care budgets, he said: "Over the last decade there has been massive investment in health which has not been matched by investment in the preventative services." He made clear the Government's austerity measures would make it difficult to boost care budgets, but insisted: "I will do everything I can to secure funding for [care], but it's also about how we use the money available. We need to break down the barrier between health and social care – we have this crazy divide between them."

The Liberal Democrat warned that the pressures on the system would increase relentlessly because of Britain's rapidly-ageing population. "There is the question of demographics. People are living longer, there are more care needs out there and more families are having to face that reality," he said.

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