Carers and the Big Society

Note: This post is from our guest blogger Tony Baldry MP who is Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Carers. Tony Baldry MP made a speech at the meeting of The Princess Royal Trust for Carers held in the House of Commons on Wednesday, 28th July 2010.

Last week, the Prime Minister repeated his commitment to the Big Society making it clear that its’ success will depend “on the daily decisions of millions of people – on them giving their time, effort, even money, to causes around them”. My whole political life has been predated on this same principle.

However, I am concerned at a potential and unintended conflict between the Coalition Government’s very understandable desire on the one hand to promote the Big Society and the need to cut the budget deficit.

In my constituency in Banbury we have the North and West Oxfordshire Carers’ Centre, member of The Princess Royal Trust for Carers and has been successfully running now for nearly two decades.

Such has been the dedication and commitment of the volunteers that the centre has won the Queen’s Award – one of very few such awards in Oxfordshire. The Banbury Carers’ Centre like the Oxford and South Oxfordshire Carers’ Centres are comprised of a mixture of experienced volunteers and some paid staff, enjoying the financial support of the local community.

They help train carers. They provide outreach services for carers. They provide a place where carers and different types of carers can come and meet, share experiences, unwind and support each other.

As we all know, carers come in many kinds from young carers to very elderly spouses still looking after a much loved husband or wife.

In undertaking this valuable work, for many years the Banbury Carers’ Centre has received funds from Oxfordshire County Council to deliver specific agreed services to carers. The reasons the County Council was procuring these services from Carers’ Centres are exactly the reasons set out by the Prime Minister in support of “the Big Society”; Carers’ Centres and their volunteers are exactly the people who are making a difference, are in contact with other carers and are in the best position to understand, articulate and meet carers’ needs. They are full of people who come together and work together to affect social change and to improve life for carers.

As far as I am aware there has never been a suggestion that the Banbury Carers’ Centre or the other Oxfordshire carers’ centres have failed to meet the objectives with which they have agreed with the County Council. However, the Council has to make savings in their budget.

They are proposing withdrawing their funding from the carers’ centres in Oxfordshire and replacing that service by a telephone call centre, almost certainly run from outside of the county to which carers will be able to call.

Part of the justification of this move, in addition to the need to save money, is an assertion that it will help them reach more carers. However, there doesn’t appear to have been any or any real discussion with the existing Carers’ Centres as to the number of carers that they are already reaching.

I would suggest the issue here is that many people who are carers simply don’t recognise themselves as being carers and if they don’t recognise themselves as being carers, they are not likely to ring a carers’ telephone hotline.

We need a collective effort to help carers voluntarily register themselves as carers so that they are recognised as being carers by GPs or by schools if they are young carers. This requires a sustained campaign in GPs surgeries, in the schools, and in the media to make people ask the question “are you a carer?”

I suspect that for many years GPs haven’t been asking the question of whether someone is a carer, because there has been very little that they could do to support them. However, now that PCTs have funds to support respite care, GPs are in a position to refer carers for respite care and short holiday breaks and for that reason alone, one would hope that every GP practice would know which of their registered patients are also carers.

I think the reality is that for many years central government has used local government to support a whole range of social interventions. Money for carers’ breaks is given in part to PCTs and given in part to local Councils. However, if local government is obliged to save money, they understandably start by reducing funding for those organisations for which they have no immediate responsibility.

However, there are a very large number of active citizens undertaking constructive voluntary work within our community who to a certain extent depend on some funding from local government. An alternative, of course is to allow organisations such as the Banbury Carers’ Centre to bid direct to central government to provide carers’ services.

Here we appear to be bedevilled that Oxfordshire County Council has decided to bundle up all its carers’ contracts into a single contract, thus bringing it within the parameters of the EU procurement directives and requiring compulsory tendering. This makes it much more difficult for local voluntary organisations to bid and appears to run completely counter to the desire for localism and the Big Society.

I think we all have to accept that these are particularly difficult and unusual times. No peace time government has had to tackle a similar financial deficit. We need to develop the Big Society. We need to see how we can best reconcile these two policy objectives. However, to start with we have to recognise and acknowledge that there are some real tensions that need to be worked through.

Tony Baldry MP
House of Commons



July 28, 2010 - Posted by | Budget, Carers Strategy, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats | , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. This news has such appalling implications for Carers across England. It could mean a complete close down for the Princess Royal Trust Carer Centres for a much cheaper option. It also shows the complete ignorance of local politicians to Carers needs & services.
    I would also suggest that many people who are carers simply don’t recognise themselves as being carers they are unlikely to ring a carers’ telephone hotline.The hidden carers are at GP Surgeries & Hospitals the fact that both these organisations have dragged their feet in identifying Carers has made it more difficult for families to find the information to get help.
    The investing in Carer Centres in supporting carers will be more economical in keeping people independent and out of acute hospitals . It will help provide person centred care & support at home for patient & Carer.
    Carers must unite and protest to stop the closure of carer centres.

    Comment by Daphne Sanderson | July 28, 2010 | Reply

  2. I am shocked and horrified to hear that Oxfordshire County Council think that they can replace a service run by a mix of highly experienced, skilled – not to mention hard-wrking, welcoming and friendly people with a telephone line! I totally agree with Tony that carers are unlikely to pick up the phone when they don;t consider themselves to be carers; also I work for Camden Carers Centre and many of our referrals are made by other agencies who bridge the gap when carers feel self-conscious or lack the confidence to contact us themselve for whatever reason. Often support workers elicit more from the face to face meeting than a telephone conversation because the issues carers face often go beyond the words in which they describe them – if indeed they are able to do that.

    Unfortunately I fear that this will be the story as “efficiency” measures fail to take account the needs of real life human beings.

    Please keep me in touch with updates.

    Jill Pay

    Comment by Jill Pay | July 28, 2010 | Reply

    • I agree entirely with Jill and Daphne. This is a step backwards for carers from our new Government, who promised in the run up to the General Election to recognise the important and vital role carers play in our society. If I am correct, in Channel 4 News last night, they informed us that the money invested in providing drugs to treat less common Cancers (which is highly commendable) has come at the expense of care for the elderly. Highly immotive subject I agree, but one for us all to think about seriously. Why should there be a choice between the two, when our current economical situation has been brought about by mismanagement and greed.

      Comment by Anne Yavary | July 28, 2010 | Reply

  3. Oxfordshire County Council should hang their heads in shame! They are taking away the most vaulable resource available to carers – their carers centre. All the carers in Oxfordshire should write to the council and tell them they are unwilling to care for their loved ones. Lets see what that would cost the council in relacement care – bet it would be 1000 times the cost of a carers centre! I would not manage to care without the support I get from my Carers Centre.

    Comment by Linda Smith | July 28, 2010 | Reply

  4. The whole situation is bizarre, but Mr Baldry should note that GP’s should already be recording carers’ existence: that was a part of the 1998 National Carers Strategy. Sadly, nothing is ever done with the information.

    Comment by charles47 | July 29, 2010 | Reply

  5. Wow – I love Linda’s suggestion! It is good to remember that there is NO legal obligation to care on family carers, however the state does have a duty of care for those in need. It might seem a drastic measure effectively to go on strike, but perhaps that is what it will take … In Germany carers did go on strike at one stage in the renegotiation of their terms and conditions when Germany was sorting out its social care system. It definitely is a case of keep a watchful eye on all this.

    Comment by Jill Pay | July 29, 2010 | Reply

  6. More fine sounding words from that great and outspoken body of people MP,s. And when all has been said and done NOTHING WILL REALLY CHANGE EXCEPT THAT THE COALITION GOVERNMENT WILL HAVE PUSHED THROUGH ITS BUDGETS CUTS BY MAKING THE DISABLED AND THERE CARERS PAY FOR IT ALL
    To MR Baldry and all his fellow mp,s i say this why not cut your own extravegant expenses before cutting HELP AND SUPPORT TO THE DISABLED AND THERE CARERS



    Comment by Taras Kurylak | August 1, 2010 | Reply

  7. Yet more fine words about carers, yet more pats on the back. But no more help, no more money, no more respect, and no more respite.

    Do we carers really look like mugs? Somebody seems to think so.

    (Sorry, living with semipermanant sleep deprivation does little for my patience).

    Carers like me have been on local registers for years, have been doing what we do for years, have been asking for help for years, have been waiting & hoping for change for years.

    Enough of piecrust promises (lightly made and easily broken), carers need their lives (and the lives of their carees) to improve right here and now.

    Comment by Bet Reuer | August 3, 2010 | Reply

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