19/08/2014 08:58 BST | Updated 19/10/2014 06:59 BST

Easing The Burden on Carers

There are 6.5 million carers in the UK today looking after friends and family who started to need a little help to carry on their day to day lives. Sadly for both carers and those they care for, a little help can become a lot more as conditions deteriorate and people are able to do less for themselves.

That one in eight of us is willing to selflessly prioritise the needs of our loved ones is truly inspirational. But too often as a society we seem to punish rather than venerate and celebrate the sacrifices carers make. Carers UK tells us that 61% of carers have faced depression because of their caring role and 49% are struggling financially. Considered in the context that 45% have had to give up work to care, maybe neither of these financial or emotional pressures should surprise us.

But carers are the unsung heroes of our health and care system and save the state an estimated £119 billion - that's more than the entire annual budget for the NHS. Looking after carers isn't just the right thing to do, but it makes financial sense too so in this government despite the deficit we have made a start. We've allocated more funding for carers breaks and enshrined new rights for carers in the Care Act. And I'm delighted that the Lib Dems have now nailed our colours to the mast and committed to going much further to give carers the fair deal that they deserve.

As Norman Lamb and I announced at the weekend, the Lib Dems will put carers front and centre of our manifesto with a package of support designed to ease the strain. We want to make it easier for carers to stay in work, encouraging employers to be more flexible, and we will make sure that carers who have left work get much more support to help them get back into the job market when they are able. We are also going to raise the amount you can earn before losing carers allowance to £150 to make sure work pays for carers. We will introduce a "carers' passport" to give carers more information and more support through the NHS, including access to free hospital parking, and we will give every carer who cares for more than 35 hours a week a carers bonus worth £250.

We know that government can't alleviate the emotional and physical toll care takes on millions of carers every day, but, having campaigned on carers issues for many years, I am delighted that we have committed to delivering a package of reforms in the next government that should make the practical challenges a lot easier. With our ageing population and projections suggesting an ever greater number of people will be relying on family carers in the years to come, none of us can afford to wait any longer.