The so-called “Sandwich Generation” who juggle work and family life with caring for their own frail parents will receive an entitlement to help, such as respite holidays, and training in care techniques.
Under new laws to be announced in Wednesday’s Queen’s Speech, councils will have to assess what support carers need to manage their own lives and provide services to those who need them.
Although financial assistance will be means-tested, other help with advice and guidance will be offered to all for the first time.
Downing Street hopes the reforms will combine with a new flat-rate state pension to offer more support to millions of women approaching retirement.
An estimated 1.25 million people, many of whom are women, spend more than 50 hours each week caring for family members who cannot look after themselves because they are frail, disabled or have dementia. The number is due to rise sharply as the population grows older.
Research has suggested that the NHS would face collapse if hospitals had to cope with everyone who is cared for informally by family members at home.
However, Norman Lamb, the care minister, told The Daily Telegraph that many carers currently felt “completely isolated” and left without any support from the state.
Carers often find it difficult to persuade councils to consider whether they are entitled to help and even if they do manage to get an assessment of their needs, carers “don’t have a right to support”, he said. Under the new laws, this will change.
“Every carer can get their own needs assessed by the local authority and even if they don’t meet the eligibility level for getting support, they will still get all the guidance about local groups that can help them, guidance about how they can get help in caring for loved ones,” he said.
“There will be proper support. They will be linked into the system. If their needs are of a sufficient level they will be entitled for the first time to get support from the local authority.”
Carers could be offered assistance including training in care techniques, leisure classes and help with transport. Social services can also provide care for elderly people while their relations take a break.
“This is the most important piece of care legislation for decades and reforms a dysfunctional system,” Mr Lamb said.
A new £72,000 cap on the cost of care, which is currently unlimited, will also be introduced to end the “cruel” system under which “catastrophic” bills force pensioners to sell their homes.
“The package as a whole will give people a lot of reassurance and help people to plan for old age a lot better because they will know the extent of the risk they face,” Mr Lamb said.
While campaigners will welcome the legal rights for carers, the reforms are likely to prompt fresh calls for more money to be invested in social care, which is under growing pressure from an ageing population and council cuts.
The Queen’s Speech is not expected to include a promise to enshrine in law David Cameron’s commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of GDP on overseas aid. Conservative MPs have been calling for the pledge to be abandoned.
Nearest tube – Elephant & Castle underground station (Northern and Bakerloo lines).
Nearest Railway Station – Elephant & Castle
Buses from Elephant and Castle – ask bus driver for Burgess Park. Bus numbers: 12, 171, 148, 176, 68, 484, 42, 40, 45