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Nick Clegg sets out respite for carers guarantee

February 22, 2010 10:09 PM
By Nick Clegg, Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Kings Fund

In a speech to the King's Fund, Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg has today set out the party's respite care guarantee, providing a week's break from caring every year to the 1m unpaid carers who provide more than 50 hours care each week.

"The way a society treats its elderly and vulnerable people is a true mark of its identity. With an ageing population, rising numbers of people suffering from dementia and millions of people in need of care with basics like washing, dressing and feeding themselves - if ever there was an issue for cross-party talks, this was it.

Those talks fell apart when the Conservatives chose to launch a poster and in doing so killed off one of the best hopes in recent years of agreeing a long-term settlement. But the Labour Party contributed to this breakdown with their cynical promise of free care at home. A promise everyone now knows will actually lead to cuts in care budgets for some of the most vulnerable elderly people. This policy is one of Gordon Browns so-called dividing lines, designed to paint opposition parties into a corner rather than to improve the country.

We need a solution that unites the generations, not divides them.

A solution we can all sign up to, not just for today but for the long term. A solution that will not be torn apart on the rocks of short-term party-political advantage. The Liberal Democrat manifesto will confirm that progress must be and will be made on a consensus basis, by an independent, cross-party commission.

I commit us to reaching an agreement that will help all people, no matter their needs in their retirement. An agreement that is fair, affordable and sustainable. I challenge the other party leaders to stop grandstanding and put the long-term needs of the elderly ahead of the short term demands of politics.

I would be happy to meet with Gordon Brown and David Cameron at any time on the basis of the principles I have set out to start thrashing out the beginnings of a cross-party solution. But, even as we wait for progress on a long-term approach, that doesn't mean we can't do something now to help with the difficult challenges faced by the many families in which someone is in need of care.

It is time to recognise that there is a hidden army of people in Britain, without whom no social care policy would be even remotely affordable. Between them, they save the country an estimated 87 billion a year. They are some of the most dedicated, hard-working and under-valued people in Britain today.

They are carers: people who put in hour after hour, day after day, week after week of care for their relatives and loved ones. The physical challenge of looking after someone who needs help. But also the emotional challenge of seeing someone you love struggle or suffer. There are a million carers who do this for more than 50 hours a week. That's more hours than anyone else is allowed to work in paid employment. Without even the right to time off, breaks or holiday.

I am in awe of every carer, young or old. I want to make an announcement today about a new policy we will put in our manifesto to help carers. Labour has allocated hundreds of millions of pounds to its mistaken pledge on care at home. That policy threatens other forms of social care, has not been properly costed and should be dropped.

We are proposing an alternative: guaranteed respite care for the million hardest working carers in Britain. Paid for by redirecting the money the Department of Health has allocated to the Governments flawed care policy, together with its existing, poorly-focused funds for respite care. It is a simple promise: if you care for more than 50 hours a week, you will have the right to a full week of respite.

Giving you the time you so desperately need to rest, recuperate, or simply have a holiday. This commitment to carers would finally acknowledge the debt all of society owes to carers. And it would make a difference, a real difference, to a million families straight away.

The Policy in Brief

There are close to five million unpaid carers in England, with a million providing more than 50hrs care each week. Liberal Democrats believe that people who selflessly provide care to their loved ones deserve a break. In most jobs you get paid holidays but for a huge number of carers that simply isn't an option. We believe that respite care is a lifeline - not just for carers but for whole families. That's why we will provide a weeks break from caring every year to the million unpaid carers who provide more than 50 hours care each week.

Why is it Necessary?

Caring matters deeply to families and individuals but when you are taking care of somebody you also need to think about caring for yourself. The millions of unpaid carers in this country deserve as much support as possible and that is why we will provide a week of guaranteed respite care each year for a million carers who work the longest hours. This also makes financial sense because carers who don't get a break can often end up suffering health problems themselves. Sustaining the ability of carers to provide the care and support they give to others is of critical importance.

Policy Detail

We will provide a weeks respite care to the million carers in England who currently provide more than 50 hours of care every week. Each carer will be entitled to receive a personal budget each year equivalent to the cost of a care homes weekly charge to redeem with whichever local service they choose. How you use your personal budget will depend on your own circumstances. The money can be used to take one break or a series of breaks, for example: to get someone to take over caring for several weekends while the carer takes a break; payment towards the cost of the person you care for going away leaving you to take a break at home; arranging for someone to look after the person you care for at home while you go away; payment towards the cost of a break for you both together.

Each Local Health Board (currently Primary Care Trusts) will receive a block grant dependent on an assessment of the needs of their local populace and the costs of care in their local area. Local Authorities are already equipped to carry out assessments of the needs of the people requiring care, and the needs of their carers. Once such an assessment has been made and the person is considered to eligible they will be able to apply to their Local Health Board for funding for respite care. By operating the system in this way we hope to encourage improved partnerships between the NHS, social care and third sectors, in looking after the needs of carers.


We will provide a week's respite care to the million carers in England who currently provide more than 50 hours of care every week. The total cost of this scheme will start from 460m in 2010-11 rising to 500m in 2014-15. Some people will not want to take part in the scheme and some will already qualify for respite care through local authority funding. We have therefore assumed a 90% take-up rate for this scheme. We will pay for this by using the 420m of health funding that the government intends to use for the Personal Care at Home Bill. And we supplement this money with the 100m that has already been allocated by the Department of Health for respite care through the Carers Strategy.