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The Liberal Democrats have promised they will offer Britain’s unpaid carers a series of new perks should the party succeed in the next General Election.
The perks, which are outlined in the Lib Dem manifesto, include free parking at hospitals thanks to ‘Carer’s Passports’; free visits to carers’ kitchens to help them save money on food and hot drinks, and also possible discounts at their local chemist or cinema.
The party also plans to increase the the amount that carers can earn before losing their weekly £60 carer’s allowance by a third, bringing it up to £150 a week. The plans also involve a greater encouragement for employers to provide more flexible hours to carers so they can fit their caring duties around their jobs.
Liberal Democrat Care Minister Normal Lamb said:[quote]A lot of carers can end up spending a fortune on visiting hospitals with their loved ones for appointments and having to pay every time for parking. Free car parking is something that could benefit carers enormously.”[/quote]
There is growing concern over the number of people supporting family members who are older, sick or disabled as a result of an aging population. According to the charity Carers UK, the number is around 6.5 million across the UK.[quote]Supporting carers is essential and is only going to become more important as more people are living with long-term conditions,”[/quote]
Mr. Lamb said.[quote]They are often supported by carers who are under enormous pressure, and quite often feel that they don’t get sufficient support and recognition by the health and care system.”[/quote]
Last month, party leader Nick Clegg introduced a carer’s bonus of £250, which carers could receive annually if they had been taking care of a loved one 35 hours a week for a year or more. It is expected that this policy will also be included in the Lib Dems’ 2015 manifesto.
The Lib Dems are also worried about future rises in the minimum wage, which they say could push many people above the carer’s allowance threshold if no action was taken, giving them a disincentive to work.
Whilst the raised carer’s allowance income threshold would apply across the whole of the UK, the suggested ‘Carer’s Passport’ is said to only be likely to apply in England and Wales.
However, it is expected that the Scottish NHS would introduce its own version.
Emily Holzhausen, director of policy and public affairs at Carers UK, said:[quote]As we approach the next election, carers will be looking to all parties for a coherent approach to enabling them to look after their own health, stay financially resilient and to combine work and caring where possible.”[/quote]