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



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

Do not let funding cuts affect services for young carers

Note: Danni Manzi, guest blogger this week, is young carers’ lead at The Princess Royal Trust for Carers and Chair of the National Young Carers Coalition.

Young carers are hitting the headlines today. The BBC has found that 700,000 young people identified themselves as young carers – four times as many as the last set of official statistics.

Young carer helping his brother

We’re urging local and national governments not to cut funding to services that support young carers

The 2001 census identified 175,000 young carers which we always knew was a vast underestimation. It asked parents to complete the survey on behalf of their child – many either don’t recognise the caring role their child has, or they don’t want to disclose it for fear of intervention from services. Also the census only asked about physical disability, it didn’t refer to mental health, substance misuse or HIV/AIDS so it missed out on a significant number of young people that provide care for parents in these situations.

The new BBC figures are just a start. In our experience, we know just how hard it is for young carers to recognise themselves as such and to come forward for the help they need. So it’s very likely that there are many more young carers than the 700,000 identified by the BBC, especially when there is stigma (perceived or real) surrounding the condition of the person they care for.

It’s important that young carers feel able to come forward and tell people they are carers. Schools have a vital part to play in the identification and support of young carers. Social care does too. Often just a small amount of help, put into place early enough, can really reduce the caring a young person does and help them to cope. But our worry is that with cuts in funding, services will be less able to support young carers and their families; it’s likely that now, only when a caring role has caused damage to a young carer’s health and well-being, will services be able to help.

We’re urging local and national governments to not cut funding to services that support young carers, including funding for dedicated young carers’ services that do so much for so many young carers across the UK.

At The Trust, we work really hard every day to raise awareness of young carers needs’. Sometimes it feels like we’re getting nowhere and then out of the blue we’re handed a golden ticket. Today might just be one of those days.

Let’s hope that everybody is listening!

Danni Manzi

Further info:

Young carers can find online support on

If you are working with young carers you can access info and resources on

November 16, 2010 Posted by | Big Society, Education, Uncategorized, Young carers | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How Much to Give Back to Carers?

This is the final blog of a series of three. It may help to read the previous two to understand what the heck I’m talking about.. I previously outlined why families and the State should have responsibilities to provide care, and that the Commission on Funding Care and Support must consider how care provided by families can be valued in terms of giving something back to families.

The final question to be addressed is how do you work out how much should be given back?

My report nine months ago outlined a method to do this.

Step 1: A person would be assessed to work out how much care they need and the cost of this care (or value of personal budget).

Step 2: A carer agrees how much of the care needed will be provided by them, which results in a reduction in value of the personal budget or care package provided by the State.

Step 3. A % of the value of care provided by the family is given back to the carer

My report outlined projections based on percentages of 15%, 20% and 25%. I found it strange that none of the positive or negative comments on the report were about the percentages that I chose. Just to reiterate, I was saying that Carer A provides X value of care that would otherwise be provided by the State, and that they should get 25% of that value back.

One person did comment that if you started at 25%, what would stop people asking for 40%, or 60% or 80% or right up to 100%? And some may say, if I’m providing care that would otherwise have to be provided by the State, then why should I not receive 100% of that value?

The answer to this goes back to my first blog in this mini-series; care should not be the sole responsibility of the State. In fact, the responsibility of the State is to support families to care, and provide care where families cannot or are unable to meet all needs. So, the starting point is not that families are doing the State’s job, rather the State is adding to or replacing what families do.

Giving carers 100% would be equal to paying families to provide care as you would a care agency. This appears to contradict the responsibility that families have and implies that my wife would only care for me if she were paid to.

So, is 25% correct? Honestly, who knows. There is no definite answer or mathematical proof that can work out exactly what it should be. It would be a judgement call dependent on circumstances at the time. So I’m afraid at the end of these three blogs, I don’t have the final answer but I think I know the direction we have to go in.

Finally, I realise that this blog strongly argues that families have responsibility to provide care. However, individuals also have rights, and individuals should not feel forced into giving up their own life to provide care. The State has a responsibility to help individuals enjoy their own rights to work, leisure and a quality of life while helping them to provide care.

That is the aim.

Take care


August 23, 2010 Posted by | Big Society, Carers Strategy, David Cameron, Individual Budgets | , , , | 6 Comments

Considering Insurance Scheme for Care Needs

This is part 2 of the previous blog, so read that now if you haven’t. We established that individuals and Government have a responsibility to provide care.

The Coalition Government have created a commission to look at the funding of care and support in England. A chief consideration will be creating either a mandatory or voluntary insurance scheme whereby you pay in advance of having care needs and the policy will cover the costs of your support needs that are not met by the Government’s contribution.

So, I pay £20 p/m and then when I’m 75 and need support to live at home or residential care, my insurance company will cover the costs (let’s assume reasonable insurance companies for this blog’s purpose). Sounds simple.

But what if my wife (this isn’t a public proposal Mum) decides that she would like to care for me and doesn’t care that the insurance wouldn’t pay her to do it? We’ve just paid all that money for no reason. This could lead to two things:

1. Fewer people provide care because they feel as though the insurance company, or Government if it is publicly run, should pay for all care

2. People don’t pay for insurance because they expect to receive family provided care

Let’s start with the first scenario. Fewer people caring increases demand on paid care, pushing up costs of the system. This is bad news for a Commission that is trying to create a more sustainable system because of projected funding gaps. If carers currently provide £87bn worth of care, the system could very quickly become completely unsustainable if families stop caring.

But the second scenario doesn’t look good either. This would increase the demands on families to provide care when we already know there is too much pressure on them currently.

The solution to overcome these problems must encourage and account for families who are providing care.

There is no way of knowing how much informal care you will receive whilst paying your insurance, which is generally before you have support needs. So the only way to recognise the caring contribution is by giving rebates to families when they are providing care.

Does this solve the problem? Not quite. How much do you decide to give them?

It’s another ‘to be continued’ as the next blog will look at this question.

Till next time, take care


August 16, 2010 Posted by | Big Society, Carers Strategy, David Cameron | , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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 | , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments