No break for carers: it’s time for action

10 Downing Street

It's time we knocked on Gordon Brown's door

Last week, we published research which examined how English Primary Care Trusts (PCTs – your local NHS body) used the £50m given to them as part of the Carers’ Strategy. We found that approximately £10m of the £50m was used to increase support for carers with £40m being spent on other priorities.

We have known since February that this was likely to happen and have reported this to the Government at every opportunity in person and in writing. David Cameron spoke about it on GMTV during an expenses interview; MPs have questioned Ministers in Parliament (Stephen O’Brien and Simon Hughes, 13 Oct); and the media have covered it as a major issue. People are incredulous that a government can announce £50m will be given to support carers when in actuality they are giving £50m to PCTs to do with as they want and PCTs do not have to report if they have used any of the money to support carers.

The Government response is that local decision makers in PCTs know their communities best and are best judged to respond to their needs. Localism is currently very popular; national government should not decide everything as it is the people ‘on the ground’ who are most in touch and who know best. However, in terms of encouraging local democracy, local decision making is only one half of the equation. The other equally important aspect is that local people should be involved in decision-making and be able to hold local decision makers to account.

£50m was distributed among local PCTs without telling anybody how much each received as their share; it was simply included with their general budget. Lack of information is the first problem.

Despite us making these figures public, many PCTs did not involve carers and carers’ organizations during their spending plans for this money. Lack of participation is the second problem.

The Freedom of Information (FOI) Act requires public bodies to respond within 20 working days to requests, so we asked PCTs under this Act what they were planning to do with the money. Half did not respond within the 20 days, some still haven’t despite reminders and others responded with one sentence to seven questions advising “We do not currently hold that information”. Lack of transparency is the third problem.

The problems affecting the Carers Strategy is not a one-off issue. It pervades many areas of national government plans that are to be delivered by semi-autonomous local organizations. I see that Every Disabled Child Matters Campaign has released information about similar problems with money given to PCTs to support disabled children.

National government can either make announcements and take responsibility for ensuring delivery (even if it is local organizations delivering the change) or they stop giving false hope and make it possible for local people to hold local decision makers to account. This is not just an issue about carers; it is an issue about our democracy. But politicians should not forget that 5 million carers in England have suffered as a result.

This is our message when speaking with Ministers, civil servants, strategic health authorities, health regulators, local authorities and other charities to try and make sure that with £100m being given next year, some carers will actually get a break.

Sign the petition and download a template letter to send to your MP.


October 22, 2009 Posted by | breaks for carers | , , , , , | Leave a comment