The Carers (Scotland) Bill

In March this year, the Scottish Government introduced the Carers (Scotland) Bill. It’s been a long time coming – first announced in Autumn 2013, an extensive public consultation took place to look at what was required from a Bill for carers and how it would interact with other pieces of Scottish legislation. And of course, this was all done with one eye on the Care Act – seeing what was happening elsewhere in the UK, what we could learn from the process of the development of the Care Act and what carers wanted to do differently in Scotland.

The Carers (Scotland) Bill is a further chance to highlight carers’ needs and experiences to policy makers, showing them where the gaps are in support and services and improving the carer identification and assessment process. However, there are a few areas where big changes need to be made to ensure the new legislation delivers new rights and real change for carers. We know that the Bill will lead to an increase in demand on third sector services, particularly carers’ centres, so it’s important that they are seen as key community functions and the great work they do is well resourced.

One of the key things we’re calling for is national eligibility criteria for carer support. At the moment, the Bill specifies local eligibility criteria, which risks all local authorities in Scotland setting different criteria for carer support – a postcode lottery. Of course there’s a requirement for local variation in services to meet varying needs and caring trends, but there is no justification for a variation in the levels of need which trigger an entitlement to support. Nationally-set eligibility criteria will mean that carers are able to access the same level of support when they have a similar level of impact and intensity of caring role.

We also think the Bill could make stronger provisions on short breaks. Providing opportunities to have breaks from caring responsibilities is now widely accepted to be vitally important in helping to protect carers’ health and well-being, and to sustaining caring relationships. We know that carers often struggle to obtain information about the different short break services available in their area. The Bill sets out that local authorities must give ‘consideration’ to whether support to carers should be in the form of a break from caring. It’s not clear how this will tackle directly the need for local authorities to actively plan to improve the availability, choice and flexibility of short break provision, so along with Shared Care Scotland, we’re lobbying for a minimum entitlement to short breaks alongside clear information about what’s available in a local area.

Obviously a lot of questions have been asked about how much this Bill will cost, and it’s difficult to predict at this stage, although the Scottish Government have had a good go and the Bill has been scrutinised by the Parliament’s Finance Committee. The Bill does have a strong preventative focus, and carers who are not eligible for support will be directed to carers’ centres. But as we know, support for carers does not have to cost a lot. I was speaking to a carer the other day who is looking after her husband with a rare form of dementia who had developed an obsession with taking the bin out for collection and was doing this every day. The carer had asked the Council if they could provide her, at no additional cost, with an extra bin which she could hide in the garage and use for collecting the rubbish. Her husband would continue to check the other bin but wouldn’t move it as it didn’t have anything in it. The day after she made the call, a new bin arrived. This small intervention has made that family’s life a little bit easier, and even better that it was done swiftly without any difficulty or paperwork.

The next step for the Carers (Scotland) Bill will be the publication of the Stage 1 report, where the Health and Sport Committee will recommend changes to the Government based on the evidence they’ve heard about the Bill. Hopefully some of these changes will be based on the evidence we submitted. After that, the Bill will move to Stage 2, where amendments can be made. We’ve been working closely with key MSPs since before the Bill was introduced, anticipating where amendments should be made and lobbying MSPs to table and support amendments. I’ll report back in the autumn to see what progress has been made…

Heather Noller is Policy and Parliamentary Officer for Carers Trust Scotland


July 21, 2015 - Posted by | Scotland |

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