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