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Party conference season

For a few weeks every autumn the news is full of stories from the party conferences of the three main parties – analysis of the leaders speeches (and what they did or maybe didn’t say), rumours of potential leadership bids from political rivals and news pundits trying to ascertain the mood of the conference delegates.

However there is much more to party conference season than the short snippets that get shown on the news. It’s a really important opportunity for us to speak to key decision makers and to talk about the needs of carers.

In September and October Carers Trust’s Policy Team attended the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat Party Conferences in Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow. Continue reading

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October 22, 2014 Posted by | breaks for carers, Conservatives, David Cameron, Education, Employment, Funding, General Election, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Party Conferences | 1 Comment

A chance to change the social care system in England

For years we’ve been campaigning for a total change to the social care system in England which has been with Government inactivity. But now, there is a chance.

Government health ministers, Andrew Lansley and Paul Burstow, are generally supportive of the recommendations made by the Dilnot Commission. And they would be supported by Labour if they implemented these recommendations.

George Osborne and David Cameron

“…the next time we read about carers breaking down because they receive no support, we will blame you”

But the person we need to convince is George Osborne, Chancellor and the man who manages Conservative political strategy. Implementing the changes would cost £1.7bn p/a which is a lot of money but equal to only 0.25% of total current Government spending.

When the Government can find £1.05bn from nowhere for bins and council tax freezes then we cannot allow Osborne to use the excuse that there is no money to pay for this. Make social care a priority and find the cash George.

The message we need to give George Osborne, David Cameron and other MPs is this. If you do not implement these recommendations, then the next time we read about carers breaking down because they receive no support, we will blame you. The next time we read about people receiving shockingly poor levels of care, then we will blame you. The next time we hear of councils cutting vital services because they have no cash, we will blame you.

With power comes responsibility. Osborne and Cameron have the power and the opportunity to improve the lives of millions, they must take responsibility for doing so.

But we each have a role to play. Whether you need social care support now or not, at some point you or your family will. We have a responsibility to our friends and family to make sure we grab this chance for change.

We’re organising a mass lobby of MPs on 6th March. People from all over the country will have the chance to meet their MP in Parliament and lobby for better social care support in England.

Get involved and make change happen. http://carelobby2012.org.uk/

Take action

Gordon

January 17, 2012 Posted by | Conservatives, David Cameron, Labour, Social Care, Uncategorized | , | 2 Comments

David Cameron requests investigation into NHS support for carers

The Prime Minister, David Cameron has written to the Department of Health asking them to investigate how the money

David Cameron on GMTV

David Cameron has been talking about establishing a right to respite for carers

committed to providing breaks for carers is being allocated and used by Primary Care Trusts. He has advised that this is an “issue of personal importance to me” and that “we must support carers who do the most valuable work often at great personal cost to themselves. We must ensure that carers are provided with the support they need.”

Cameron’s intervention came about after a letter from Theresa Villiers MP, who attended our Give Carers a Break campaign launch earlier this year. It also comes after previous Department of Health action on this issue and we await the Department of Health’s response to this request.

Previously, the Department of Health did act after our report detailed the failure of PCTs to develop plans and budgets to support carers with local carers’ charities, as Government requested. They requested that all PCTs advise by 2nd September if they had published plans and budgets to support carers. It was expected that PCTs missed this date only in exceptional circumstances.

Government is now clarifying some of the information returned, and we have also started our review of whether PCTs have published plans and budgets and how much is being allocated.

Government have also said that they will release guidance next month giving clear expectations of how Primary Care Trusts (and Clinical Commissioning Groups, successors to PCTs) should support carers in the next financial year 2012/13.

I hope these are steps forward to real change.

Take care

Gordon

October 10, 2011 Posted by | breaks for carers, David Cameron | , , , | 4 Comments

Bins and council tax trump social care for Tories

Whereas Labour are still deciding their priorities, the Conservatives appear to have nailed theirs to the mast. And social care isn’t there.

Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government began their conference by announcing that

Eric Pickles MP with David Cameron

Eric Pickles MP with David Cameron

£250m had been found which would be given to councils for weekly bin collections. Funding for social care comes from councils, and funding for local authorities comes from the Department of Communities and Local Government. So rather than giving this money to councils to spend on social care, the Government are saying it has to be spent on bin collections.

This Government, and Pickles in particular, has been adamant that decisions must be made at the local level, and councils given freedom to decide. Yet, Pickles is not making this £250m available for whatever councils think it could best be spent on; it is only available for councils who want to move to weekly bin collections.

Of course, some councils already run weekly bin collections, and a couple of councillors at the Conservative conference were left wondering whether they should stop that so that they can claim some of the £250m to reintroduce what they are already doing.

This was followed by George Osborne’s announcement that Government had found an extra £800m to give to councils who committed to freeze their council tax rates. Again, this newly found money is not available for councils to spend as they see best but can only be used to compensate councils who do not increase council tax rates.

Compare this focus on bins and council tax to social care. I asked Lord Freud (DWP Minister) and Greg Hands MP (Parliamentary assistant to George Osborne) about how important it was to implement the Dilnot Commission’s recommendations on social care but received no answers. I asked Maria Miller MP (Minister for Disabled People), who said meeting the challenge of our population’s changing demographics was one of our biggest, but instead of discussing Dilnot’s report, focussed on how introducing the right to request flexible working for all will help carers trying to juggle work and care.

Andrew Lansley in his speech did mention the £400m given to the NHS to support carers, but there was no mention of social care or Dilnot. When asked about it, no firm commitments were forthcoming. Understandably, Lansley is focussed on getting his Health Bill through Parliament but we must get the Conservatives to see social care as a priority.

Instead of commitment to reforming social care, there is a reticence emanating from Conservatives. It usually starts with talk of implementing Dilnot being very expensive and a lot of work still to be done. Implementing Dilnot is £1.7bn per annum; the Tories have just found, out of nowhere, £1.05bn for bins and council tax.

Take care

Gordon

October 5, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Conservatives, David Cameron, Labour, Social Care | , , , , , | 7 Comments

Cameron, Clegg and Milliband agree to social care reform talks

Trekkies love it when Captain Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) orders in a commanding, deep voice “make it so” and in an instant his crew set to work. Mistakenly, we often think that politicians have similar power.

Paul Burstow MP, Health Minister, honestly wants the NHS to do more to support carers. He thought providing additional money (£400m) and requesting the NHS to work with carers’ organisations on plans and budgets would provide this. Of course,  our report showed that this has not happened. Burstow told us at the Lib Dem conference that he was upset at this, was trying to improve the situation and will give even stronger guidance that the NHS has to prioritise carers.

But he cannot make the NHS do this because they have local decision making powers and no one person can control everything that happens in an organisation as large as the NHS.

The Government is actually structured so that power is shared amongst many people – Prime Minister, the Cabinet, MPs, Lords and other advisers. Some hold more than others, but each have some power with nobody having absolute power. And they all have their own priorities fighting to be the one Government acts upon.

This is why Burstow has appealed for disabled people, carers and charities to get angry and make a racket of noise regarding social care reform following the Dilnot and Law Commissions’ recommendations. He wants reform and says that he will be angry if the Lib Dems does not make this a priority.

Norman Lamb MP, chief adviser to Nick Clegg, said he wants social care reform in this Parliament and that any reform must mean more money for social care. However, his message was that it will only happen if politicians keep hearing from the public that reform must happen. Otherwise it will slip down the list of priorities.

Cameron, Clegg and Miliband have agreed to cross party talks on social care reform. This is a good start but only a start. The Government have announced another listening exercise for the reform of social care. This can either be used to build consensus on future reform or delay the need for a decision pushing reform further down the list of priorities.

Burstow and Lamb understand the urgent need to reform social care but not everybody does. I was left aghast when John Hemming MP (Lib Dem) said he did not see the connection between reforming social care and helping workplace productivity and employment, despite having just heard from John Lewis Partnership that more and more people are struggling to combine work with caring because support from social services is lacking.

We have to realise that for some, social care reform is not an issue or a priority. We need to change that. We need to make sure leaders and MPs from all parties hear how important it is to millions of people. It’s time to make some noise.

Gordon

September 21, 2011 Posted by | Carers Strategy, Conservatives, David Cameron, Liberal Democrats, Party Conferences, Social Care | , , | 10 Comments

The Alternative Vote (AV) and Carers

I nearly did a PhD in politics once. I was going to study why people don’t vote, with one of the potential reasons being that people who don’t vote feel a lack of influence over their representatives and how they act when elected.

Proponents of the Alternative Vote (AV) system, being voted on in the referendum, say it would partly address this. They say that because some people may feel demotivated to vote in constituencies where there is only one or two likely winners if their preference is for somebody very unlikely to win. They have also been arguing that because AV increases competition, it motivates MPs to pay greater regard to their constituents when elected as their re-election will be less likely guaranteed.

The third argument is they offer is that currently some people feel forced to vote for one candidate to keep another out, even though their preference is for a third candidate. AV should enable that person to vote as they truly believe, for the people they want in Government and as the argument goes finding out people truly think may lead to a more representative government and Parliament.

There has also been a vigorous no campaign which has been arguing that the system would be more complicated because people can rank up to three candidates (you could still just put your first preference only if you wanted).

They also point out that it may make coalition governments more likely as parties other than Labour and Conservatives could win seats making it harder for one party to win an overall majority in Parliament.

Important questions, and the real shame will be if few people vote.

Fewer people vote in local elections than in national elections too, thought to be due to people thinking they are less important. Yet, when localism is the order of the day and local government assumes more responsibility for decision making, who you vote for will have a large, and growing, effect on your lives.

The shame is that even those who do vote often vote according to their view of national politics and political parties, when the local policies and people can be quite different. The UK Government has focussed its cuts disproportionately on funding to local government in England, and because of this we have come to realise what a large role local government has in providing services that we value and need in our lives every day.

National politicians seem to believe that the population want local solutions to local problems. This may be correct and I hear this from people quite often. However, if it is true and we do want local solutions to local problems, then we must take on our democratic responsibility to get involved in this and vote for those people who will be making those decisions on our behalf.

And if you don’t then you may find that the school you send your kids to, the library you get books from or pool you go to, the roads you drive on, the shops you buy from, the recycling bins you use, and yes, even the Carers’ Centre or Crossroads Care you get support from may not be there anymore.

Take care to vote
Gordon

May 5, 2011 Posted by | David Cameron | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Number 10 Experience

Note: The following blog post has been written by Moira Fraser, Director of Policy at The Princess Royal Trust for Carers

“The Prime Minister requests the pleasure of your company…” came the invitation. What an opportunity to get carers Number 10issues noticed right at the top. So on Wednesday morning, determined to give it my best shot, I walked up Downing Street, said good morning to the policeman and  rang the brass doorbell. The door swung open ominously….

Around twenty charities were  invited to give their views on NHS reform. Some big household names, some tiny – a real mix, but few others with a real carer focus. Lansley opened the debate, later joined by Cameron and Clegg.

The Coalition Government is clearly in trouble with its health reforms, and I have to say I can’t see what’s in it for carers. They say it’s not about privatisation, but unless more thought goes in, the competition it will allow will end up with a focus on price rather than quality. You can’t provide decent carer’s services on tuppence ha’penny. It also means charities end up competing against each other – exactly what we want to avoid. And changing the boundaries of health consortia and making these different from local authorities will make it a lot more difficult to join up all the different services which are needed to support young carers and families with complex needs.

About an hour into the meeting, I took my chance.  I caught Andrew Lansley’s eye – he looked at me and nodded. Gulp. In what felt like slow motion, Cameron and Clegg turned and looked at me. Carers have been absent from the debate so far, I said, and you need to remember our vital role. With some notable exceptions, GPs often forget all about carers  and carers organisations. We need joined up working, and services which work together to support families  to make sure vulnerable people don’t  fall through the cracks. The Bill needs to help this happen, not hinder this.

They nodded and asked more about GP practices working with the voluntary sector. The GP present agreed that primary care sometimes forgets anyone else exists. They agreed the Bill needs changes to give more indication of how local arrangements should work but didn’t agree that consortia boundaries will make things difficult. As he left, the Prime Minister, said we will all need to work to make health and wellbeing boards effective, “to do things like making sure carers get the right kind of support”.

I think there are real problems with the Bill. I think there is a massive risk of carers being forgotten about in decision making processes. There may be opportunities for the voluntary sector, but if it comes down to price we will all lose out. I said my piece. They said they were listening. But did they hear?

April 15, 2011 Posted by | Carers movement, Carers Strategy, David Cameron, Social Care | , , | 6 Comments

Can volunteers be equal to professionals?

Along with various other charities, I was at a meeting with the Department of Health to discuss the Government’s

Carer pushing wheelchair

upcoming vision for volunteering in health and social care.

One of the first things raised as being most important was that we should treat volunteers like professionals. They should not be viewed as being of lower standard and they and the roles they do should be treated seriously. We all say aye.

Later, and separately, it was pointed out that many people are put off volunteering for organisations because of processes they have to go through. They may have to complete forms about their interests, skills, employment history or go through a Criminal Record Bureau (CRB) check. Some charities will ask for references.

Some said that potential volunteers can be put off by this, maybe even offended that so many questions are being asked of them, when all they want to do is help out a couple of hours a week. Ah yes we all said, this is definitely a problem.

But is this not treating them and the role they will do as equal to paid staff and their roles?

The Princess Royal Trust for Carers and Crossroads Care have campaigned for carers to be treated as equals to health and social care professionals. What they do can be highly skilled and requires training and experience. Again, aye to that.

But we also campaign for friends, relatives, neighbours or volunteers to help carers (if the family want it) because carers can often be struggling alone without any help. This seems reasonable to most.

But by saying you have to be trained and skilled to provide care, are we discouraging people from volunteering to help? Do we encourage the thinking amongst people that there is nothing that they can do?

Now the following facts may be not be caused by such contradictions highlighted above, but they are surely related.

In the Household Survey of Carers 2009/10, 66% of carers said they would need a friend or relative to look after the person they care for if they wanted a break overnight. Of these carers 42% had not actually ever managed a break of two days since they started caring and 16% of carers said that they had nobody they could turn to who would help them take a break.

Now some will say that friends or family or volunteers shouldn’t be the ones providing help, we should be using paid care workers, but that only highlights the hypocrisy of saying that volunteers should be treated equal to professionals. To me, these statistics show there is a need, but I’m not sure how well we’re helping carers to meet that need.

Take care

Gordon

March 18, 2011 Posted by | Big Society, Relationships, Social Care | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Recognise and prioritise the role of carers

This blog was written by Carole Cochrane, Chief Executive at The Princess Royal Trust for Carers

Today is the first day of my last month as Chief Executive of The Princess Royal Trust for Carers. I have worked with and for The Trust for over 17 years so it is with a real mixture of feelings that I am writing this blog.

Mother and son outside Carers' Centre

You cannot do a job like this and just walk away

When I started back in 1994 it was to establish one of the first Princess Royal Trust Carers’ Centres. Those were such exciting times filled with hope and aspirations.

In 1995 we had the Carers (Recognition & Services) Act.  This was the first piece of legislation that really recognised the role of carers, their needs and the benefits of ensuring they have support in their own right.

Malcolm Wicks MP did a great job pushing the bill through and I remember so well the feeling of elation that we now had something on the statute books about and for carers. I also remember a feeling of frustration that no money came with the Act. Good local authorities were already looking at ways to support carers!

I remember working with the head of the local social work team to train all their staff on the contents of the Act. This proved to be a brilliant opportunity to form real lasting relationships between the Carers’ Centre and the social work team, and between social workers and the carers who helped with the training.

I was extremely proud that following this training the Carers’ Centre was no longer seen as a place to avoid, but rather a place for social workers to turn to for information, advice and support. The Trust was able to grow and between us we delivered some real ground breaking support.

There have been a few significant pieces of legislation passed since then, including the Carers and Disabled Children Act 2000 and The Carers (Equal Opportunities) Act 2004, and I am sure there will be further development to ensure carers’ rights regarding access to accurate and timely information, emotional and practical support, and respite breaks.

Some things have changed for the better since 1994 but some have not.  My fear as I leave is that in these austere times the much needed support for carers may get watered down and what I still to this day believe is a fantastic model of local carers support services will be diluted.

Having witnessed first-hand the difference our network of local carer services can make to the lives of carers and those they care for I truly hope that this is not the case.

Last year in the run up to the elections  we saw all of the main party leaders speak about the need to support carers and of the fantastic work that carers do. Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg, remember your words and stay true to ensuring carers do have the support they need to fulfil their caring roles and be able to be full citizens of the UK.

Leaders of parties in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland must also prioritise carers and I know colleagues are working to push this in preparations for upcoming elections there.

So as I reach my final weeks with The Trust what will I miss?  When my children were young and when I cared for my husband, work had to be around these very important roles so lots of part-time, evening and night working.

For the past three years I have spent most of my working week travelling and being away from home, and I know I won’t miss that.  But I will really miss the camaraderie of colleagues, network members, and carers’ organisations that I have worked alongside to try to improve the lives of carers.

I will miss the engagement with carers.  Meeting carers whether at Pontin’s when we did the carers breaks there; at Carers’ Centres or conferences and other events has always kept me both grounded and focused.

I will miss working with our President HRH The Princess Royal who I have found to be extremely supportive and knowledgeable about the cause, and incredibly hard working.

You cannot do a job like this and just walk away. Although I am not sure how, when or where, I do know that I will continue to watch what is happening and continue to do whatever I can to influence better support services for carers.

March 1, 2011 Posted by | Big Society, Carers movement, General Election, Law, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales | , , , | 5 Comments

The Emperor’s New Big Society?

Note: The following blog post has been written by Moira Fraser, Director of Policy at The Princess Royal Trust for Carers

You’ll probably have heard the story of the Emperor’s new clothes. An old tale whereEmperor's New Clothes two weavers promise an Emperor a new suit which is invisible to anyone who is incompetent or stupid. The Emperor proudly dons his suit and parades about for all to see and all the courtiers say “My goodness your Highness, how handsome you look and where did you get the beautiful suit?” Eventually a small child, oblivious to the peer pressure around him, giggles and says “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!” The aforementioned Emperor scuttles off in embarrassment, rapidly covering up his nether regions.

Maybe this is just about where we are with the Big Society. I’m all for communities doing more. And carers could certainly do with more help (in the right ways of course) from communities, neighbours, local groups. But it annoys me when people trot out the line that carers ARE the Big Society. I don’t think that’s true. Most carers I meet care because they have to, because otherwise the right quality of care for their friend of family member simply will not be provided.

Many get help from Carers’ Centres and other local charities, and many do get help from other family and friends, and anything that boosts that will be welcome. But for many carers, isolated and struggling, it can feel like a very Small Society indeed. The intellectual underpinning of the Big Society has always been a bit wobbly. Not just about volunteering, but about us all taking more responsibility for our communities and institutions. Carers do take responsibility – too much sometimes. We face possible decimation of our local support services and family incomes, and carers again will just have to cope. So, will the Big Society turn rapidly from rhetoric to resources? Does that beautiful Big Society Saville Row suit exist, or is David Cameron not really wearing anything at all?

February 23, 2011 Posted by | Big Society, David Cameron | , , , | 8 Comments