Unsung army of carers to get pounds 50 pension bonus

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The Independent Online
CARERS COULD get a pension bonus of up to pounds 50 a week for giving up work to look after an elderly relative or a handicapped member of the family under plans to be unveiled today by ministers.

Tony Blair was to have presented the plans for rewarding voluntary helpers in the home, to underline the Government's commitment to do more for carers, but the Prime Minister will now be attending this afternoon's funeral of King Hussein. Before leaving for Jordan, Mr Blair paid tribute to the work of carers, "the unsung heroes" of British life.

"One in eight people - nearly six million people in the UK - devote large parts of their lives to helping others.

"There are many extraordinary stories out there - stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Caring is of course personal but the Government does have a record of supporting carers and acknowledging their caring role. This package will start to do that," said Mr Blair.

The package of help for carers will include a proposal to reward people who have to give up work to look after a relative an extra pension of up to pounds 50 a week when they receive their normal state pension.

The top-up would be a bonus "thank you" from the state for taking on the extra unpaid work during their earlier life.

The idea will be open to consultation, but it is likely to be warmly welcomed by carers groups. It is estimated that there are more than 3.5 million carers in Britain looking after someone with a disability while millions of others look after an elderly relative; over 850,000 of them provide care for more than 50 hours a week.

Nearly 60 per cent of all carers do not get visits from the providers of support services. Many carers do their work day in, day out without seeking help or rewards.

To try to get a more accurate picture of how many carers are devoting time to their voluntary help for other people, a question will be put on the next census, in 2001, to include information about carers. A new grant could be introduced to help carers take a break from their daily routine of caring at home. There may also be council-tax reductions for disabled people and their carers when their houses are adapted for disability.

The Government is also looking at ways of extending the New Deal to help carers return to work after caring for an elderly relative or handicapped person. There will be a Whitehall-wide strategy to adopt more "carer-friendly" policies among employers, and the Whitehall ministries will be expected to show a lead.

Local authorities, health and other services will be told by the Government to take carers into account. A commitment to do more was given by Mr Blair when he invited a group of carers to Downing Street soon after he took office.

That was followed up in June when he appointed Paul Boateng, then a Social Security minister, to oversee the policy. Mr Boateng was moved to the Home Office but has kept responsibility for the policy.