Carers Question Time

Well we certainly stretched Carers Week out as much as possible. The first event (Thames Walk) was before it even started and the last media interview took place at 11pm last night. The lucky person who got to stay up late on a Sunday night for the Five Live interview was my esteemed colleague Danni Manzi. Danni heads the development of young carers support work in England and Wales for The Princess Royal Trust for Carers.

I’m going to have to take some tips from Danni who managed to remember our website address and telephone number during the interview, which was something that I failed to do with Quay Radio (Portsmouth) last Thursday.

Last Thursday was a busy one with me attending a question time type event at our Southwark Carers’ Centre. I do fear these events in case everybody realises that the carers in the audience know more than me sitting on the panel. Thankfully, I wasn’t heckled or booed and the event showed how poor the level of discourse on the real Question Time can be.

Two fellow panellists were councillors who admitted to me beforehand that had learnt so much in preparation for the event. This honesty meant that they actually listened and even agreed to meet with carers to discuss how carers’ policies could be included in their local party manifesto for council elections. Genuine working together can hopefully bring greater understanding of the pressure on both sides.

Sadly, this will have to be done without Allan Johnstone, who was enjoying his last day as Chief Executive of the centre. He will be missed but will still be working to support carers – so all is not lost. Centre managers often put huge amounts of their lives into supporting carers and I am generally in awe of what they manage to do on a shoestring.

Doing this did mean that I missed the short debate on carers in the House of Commons. However, I did manage to read the debate online.

It was good to see that Dr Andrew Murrison spoke. He was one of the MPs who dropped in to our information service last week who had never previously been involved. 

There was much focus on Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) not providing breaks for carers, which I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs. MPs Paul Burstow, Greg Mulholland and Stephen O’Brien all asked Phil Hope MP (Minister for Care Services) how the Government was tracking whether PCTs were spending the £50m given to them (£100m next year) to provide breaks for carers. Mr Hope didn’t give the wholly truthful answer of “we’re not” but chose to absolve himself of responsibility instead placing it on MPs and carers themselves:

“Part of his responsibilities as a local MP, along with those of carers, might be to ensure that the local primary care trust understands the needs of carers, does the job that it should be doing to assess people’s needs and ensures that it allocates from its budget the money that the Government have allocated to it to support carers in the area.”

I would love to find out how much Northamptonshire NHS, which covers Phil Hope’s constituency, is spending on carers.

The truth is the Ministers gave the money then washed their hands of it. Little guidance was given to PCTs and PCTs were not even told how much of the £50m each was receiving. We have been gathering information over recent months and the feedback shows that only four out of the 70 PCTs we have information on are spending all of their allocation (we worked these out) on carers’ services. The majority do not seem to be spending any of it on carers.

Anne McGuire MP also asked the Government to consider not defining Carer’s Allowance as an income replacement benefit, which would allow a carer to receive a State Pension and a Carer’s Allowance at the same time. Many carers dream of such a scenario.

Young carers also received some focus and the debate does show that there are MPs who care. However, if a new speaker does reform anything, it should be making MPs answer the questions put to them in Parliament. It’s a shame that local councillors find it easier to be open and honest than national Parliamentarians do.

Take care,



June 15, 2009 Posted by | Carers Week 2009 | , , , | Leave a comment