This week David Cameron gave a speech on a subject which I know is very close to his heart – the importance of family.
Mr Cameron spoke of how families are the very bedrock of society. The values family life teaches us, compassion, tolerance and understanding, are the very values that bind our society together and form the best and brightest aspects of our national life.
In recognition of this Mr Cameron announced that a ‘family test’ would from now on be applied to all new domestic government policies. This means that every single domestic policy that government comes up with will be examined for its impact on family life.
I think this test is a great idea and am keen that, as impacts on families are considered, special attention is given to the role older people play in families. Type family into google images and you will get a stream of photos of young couples with children. This doesn’t represent the full panorama of family life. In so many families older relatives pay a central role in looking after children, and in providing support to other family members. Grandparents, aunts and uncles do so much, and we should remember that.
I also want the family test to apply to another aspect of family life that can be overlooked –care provided by one family member to another. There are estimated to be 6.5 million carers across the UK, the majority of them providing unpaid care to loved ones. This voluntary care saves the UK health system £119bn a year.
I work closely with Carers UK to highlight the needs of carers. Progress is being made in securing enhanced support for carers, with the Care Act establishing news rights for carers and enabling local councils to do more to provide them with the information and assistance they need. Crucially our pensions system has been changed so that state pension eligibility will be calculated not just on the basis of National Insurance contributions through work, but also on National Insurance credits, earned by unpaid care. This change will help people who have to leave work to look after unwell family members, and women who decide to take a career break to bring up their children.
I want us to go further, and to see policies tested on whether they will have a beneficial impact on carer’s lives. We need a comprehensive approach that enables people to spend time not only working and caring for children but adults if the become ill or disabled. Families should be able to care across the generations, with younger carers getting tailored support to enable them to continue with their education and social lives. Care support should extend to the very end of life, to ensure that at this most difficult time for families people have the option to die at home surrounded by their loved ones, will full palliative support provided by the NHS. Families supported to care for each other, from the beginning to the end of life.