Do Carers Fit Cameron’s Big Society?

Whilst you’ve been treated to a few guest bloggers, I’ve been doing some thinking. This could be dangerous but please stay with me!!!

Cameron’s Big Society is all about redefining the relationship between individuals, communities and Government/the State. But what does, or should, this mean in relation to carers?

I actually think carers don’t fit Cameron’s view of current society. His view is that Government is too involved; does too much in people’s lives; and has extinguished the do-it-yourself (or ourselves) attitude. We have become reliant on the government.

David Cameron on GMTV

David Cameron announced a Big Society plan

How many carers feel that they are reliant on Government? Or that Government in the form of social and health services are too involved? Or that carers don’t very often do it for themselves?

No, it seems that carers fit the society that Cameron wants to create. Individuals, families, friends and neighbours taking responsibility for the care of each other. Carers are not people passing the buck to the State, they are people doing it for themselves.

But that’s not the end of the story. There are fundamental questions that follow from this:

  • Should Government be more involved – what is or should be their responsibility?
  • Carers are taking responsibility, but is it their responsibility to do so in the first place?

Legally speaking, Government does have responsibilities regarding people requiring care and support, but there is not a law saying that people have to provide care.

From this, you could say that carers are doing what Government should be. You can see this feeling contained within some of the campaign messages that we/carers/carers’ organisations use: carers save the Government £87bn from the care they provide; carers only get paid £53.90 (Carer’s Allowance for which you have to care at least 35 hours p/w) which is well below the legal minimum wage.

But these two messages raise two questions:

Are we saying that people should not be providing any care and the Government provide it all? Are we saying that people should be paid to care for spouses, parents, children or siblings rather than expecting families to provide some element of care for each other because they want to?

I don’t think many people believe that the Government should provide all care, with many wanting to be the one who cares for their wife/husband/father/mother etc. And I think many would say that families should be there for one another, and not need to be paid to do so.

So, there should be responsibilities on both individuals and Government. What should those be and what does that mean in terms of policy? That’s for the next blog.

Take care,



August 12, 2010 - Posted by | Big Society, Carers Strategy, Conservatives, David Cameron | , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. I think we might look to the German system where if you choose to be a carer a contract is drawn up outlining your role and responsiblities and that of the local and national government. This gives much more clarity about not only who does what, but about entitlements. Carers are given payment for that role. This goes beyond recognition in my view.

    On the issue of the Big Society – YES carers are already doing exactly what is required by Cameron’s Big Society – but the problem with not having any boundaries or definition of roles and responsibilities for carers is that it is very easy for carers to be at risk from over-caring (which LAs have a duty to protect them against) because of the nature and extent of their caring duties. Good volunteer programmes define the duties and responsibilities of both the organistion and the volunteers – this does not appear to apply to carers, who to all intents and purposes are volunteers.

    On the issue of state involvement – many carers find it a struggle to get state support for themselves and those they care for – so many carers report how hard they have to battle for even basic services for their cared for. And with Personalisation not using a “carer-blind” system, nor recognising the needs of people who don’t fulfil critical and substantial creiteria, the situation will become much more difficult for many carers and those they care for.

    Along with many people I am seriously concerned about the actions this government is taking and the effect it will have on vulnerable people.

    Jill Pay

    Comment by Jill Pay | August 12, 2010 | Reply

    • Hi Jill
      With reference to my reply to Wendy below – I think I should be buying a train ticket (I’m an eco warrier as well. Kind of.) to Germany to do some investigating. Not sure if the bosses would miss me or not…


      Comment by Gordon | August 12, 2010 | Reply

  2. Gordon, I really think you should be sitting in on some of the cabinet making decisions which are made for carers. Your blog has shown the complexity of the situation and I am really looking forward to reading your solution!

    Comment by Wendy Chill4us | August 12, 2010 | Reply

    • Hi Wendy, you’re putting me under pressure now aren’t you? I really should have thought about the solution before I wrote the question. 🙂

      I think this means more thinking, reading and listening for me to find that solution in time for the next blog. I’m happy to hear what people think and promise I won’t steal them all and pass them off as my own.
      Take care

      Comment by Gordon | August 12, 2010 | Reply

  3. I think that you have summed things up very well here. In my opinion, the situation regarding carers demonstrates the way in which the government has dreamed up The Big Society without investing the time and effort required to understand the way in which people are already contributing to society: as Jill has said, carers are already doing precisely what is required by The Big Society.

    My totally uneducated view is this: people will always want to provide care for their loved ones. However, as things currently stand the decision to do so condemns most people to a life of poverty and stress, and the government could support these people far more effectively by paying them a reasonable allowance and ensuring that respite care can be provided when it is required. As things currently stand, I think that successive governments have taken advantage of that instinct to care for loved ones and have totally failed to support carers.

    Comment by Jacq Collins | August 12, 2010 | Reply

  4. The central idea of the Big Society is that community groups should take over control of public services such as schools, hospitals, social care and social services. The theory is that such groups will include co-operatives, mutual societies, charities, voluntary organisations and not-for-profit companies.

    In practice, however, few such groups have the organisational and managerial capacity for running such enterprises on the scale necessary in a society with as large a population as Britain’s.

    The first example relates to NHS hospitals whose control, in accordance with the Big Society philosophy , is supposed to be taken over by groups of GPs. What is likely to happen is that large private contractors, in theory under the control of GPs, will take over the control of most hospitals.

    In a very different way –by being successful in tendering to Local Authorities at lower costs than voluntary organisations, privately owned orgnisdations are increasingly taking over the provision of respite care for carers, often saving Local Authorities money at the expense of reduction in the quality of respite care provided to carers.

    The Big Society philosophy will be implemented in very different ways in the various sectors of the economy. But anyone who can see the Big Society as anything other than a clever cloak to mask the resumption of Thatcherite policies of privatisation accompanied by public expenditure cuts must have a vivid imagination.

    Comment by Peter Senker | August 12, 2010 | Reply

    • Peter, I couldn’t agree more with your closing comment. I went to an event last night and heard one of the principal architects of The Big Society discuss his ‘vision’, and to say that it is lacking substance is to put things very mildly indeed. I asked him two direct questions: 1) what consultation had been held with the stakeholders before coming up with the concept; and 2) how would the model of small, community-led initiatives be funded.

      He was extremely vague with regard to consultation and seemed to feel that it was beneficial to have come up with the idea without involving charities or other stakeholders. We didn’t get much further on that point – there isn’t much to say when somebody tells a room full of charity and CSR professionals that decisions like should be made without involving them.

      With regarding to funding, again: very vague. He had no clear idea about capacity building, didn’t seem to understand economies of scale with regard to charities and community groups, and hoped that people would do things for free. This isn’t great news for the vast number of excellent people who already run charities and/or co-ordinate volunteers’ efforts. And although he was obviously an educated and engaged guy, he admitted that he very seldom bothers to do any type of voluntary work himself, so I’m not sure how he intends to bring about the massive change in culture required to engage a lot of apathetic people.

      I would confidently bet £20 that the question of carers’ roles has barely crossed the minds of these people. So that leaves good scope for campaigning by Gordon, I guess…

      Comment by Jacq Collins | August 18, 2010 | Reply

      • Hi Jacq and Peter
        I like the vision of the Big Society. I like the idea of community spirit, voluntary activity and well schucks, people just being nice to each other.

        The Conservative Government see the reason we don’t have a Big Society as one of enablement. The State/Government is too prescriptive and regulatory. Remove this and the Big Society will flourish. Because the Conservative philosophy has it its heart this idea that more Government = less freedom, then they instinctively start from the premise that less Government will give people more freedom – and more freedom to be active in community because the State has less of a role.

        I think this is exemplified by Jacq’s example of the guy not having even thought of how this change could be initiated. His premise is that individuals would make it happen if they are given the freedom to do so.

        However, at the heart of Conservative policy is a contradiction. The Big Society wants community based activism – lots of local groups and volunteers doing stuff. However, they also want to see greater involvement of social enterprises and charities in providing services that councils may otherwise provide. Now, representing Carers’ Centres and Crossroads Care schemes who do provide services commissioned by councils, I don’t necessarily have a problem with this. I think we provide better support for carers than councils do, so give us the money to do it.

        However, in a competitive environment where charities, social enterprises and private companies are all tendering to provide these services, small, local charities relying on volunteers to manage them will not stand a chance of winning these tenders or getting funding from councils.

        Oooh, I wish I had saved this for a blog. I may cheat and repeat this. Don’t tell anyone!

        Comment by Gordon | August 25, 2010

  5. Having just read Gordon & Wendy`s comments;my wife & I totally agree.What country in the world(apart from 3rd world)would expect carers to work 24/7,365 days a year for about 24pence an hour? Lets face it ,the workers in the 3rd world earn more than us;& then that idiot Cameron says hes going to means-test the whole system.Its making both of us feel like committing suicide & leaving our daughter to the mercy of the state.

    Comment by Phil | August 12, 2010 | Reply

  6. I suppose I am in a fortunate position as a carer. My dad (who I care for 24/7) has savings and gave me and my brother a good portion. So my dad and I are self-funders. But self funders also lose out without actually being in poverty. I had a job paying £43k. I gave it up to look after Dad so I lose that and my pension contributions. I was never going to get a full occupational pension because I didn’t work while my children were young (I missed 10 years).
    I have paid for respite but have had many bad experiences and am reluctant to put dad in Nursing Home again, we can’t get Day-care unless I pay for 2 carers per hour in the home. So I don’t get many breaks. You have to have something really important to do to pay £24+ per hour, not just mooching round the shops or going to an art class. So I do nothing that can’t be done in an hour.
    My parents were careful with their money. We didn’t have foreign holidays, never went out for meals. I always thought we were poor. And we are compared to David Cameron, very poor.
    All I really want is affordable day-care.

    Comment by Barbara | August 15, 2010 | Reply

  7. i found your entry interesting thus i’ve added a trackback to it on my blog.
    Love this posting. Thank you.

    Comment by cumie | August 15, 2010 | Reply

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