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Party conference season in Scotland

Alongside my colleagues in England and Wales, I’ve been attending party conferences in order to speak to politicians and policy makers about carers and how they can support them. I am writing this on a very crowded train home from Aberdeen, where the Scottish National Party have been meeting, and over the past couple of days I have been to some really interesting discussions on human rights, health and care, and the future of charities. Continue reading

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October 27, 2015 Posted by | Party Conferences | Leave a comment

Getting the message to MPs

Over the next two weeks, representatives from Carers Trust will be heading to the Labour and Conservative Party Conferences to meet with MPs and tell them what they can do to support carers.

But it won’t be just us putting the case to politicians. You’ll be there with us too.

Because, in the last month we’ve been asking Carers Trust supporters to send us a message that we can pass on to politicians. Continue reading

September 25, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Labour, Party Conferences | 1 Comment

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

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

Children shouldn’t be responsible for filling gaps in care

This week I’m in up in Manchester at the Labour Party conference. To kick off my Monday, I’ve been at a meeting in a carer with her mumManchester City Hall organised by Action for Children , looking at the impact the current economic situation is having on children and families  and what Labour should do if it’s elected next time. There was a great turn out and real support from MPs, including Lisa Nandy MP one of the shadow education ministers. My table was chaired by Pat Glass, MP for North West Durham, whose commitment to education issues is second to none.

Each group had case studies to discuss, and as it turns out, 3 of the tables were discussing a young carers issue. Whilst all were supportive of young carers, I was a bit worried by the feedback, which suggests to me that all of us working to support young carers need to get our messages out more clearly.

In the case study, the young carer involved was facing cuts in her local young carers service. It became clear in the room that many people don’t really have the full picture on what young carer services do. I think there’s still a perception that young carers services just provide fun activities for young people.  Some participants  were saying, well young carers services are all very well, but actually all sort of other services should be intervening to help the child, like education.

Of course, this is exactly what most young carers services do, using a whole family approach, pulling together all the organisations and professionals to make sure that the outcomes for that child and that family are as positive as possible. Sometimes the young carers worker is the only person looking at the family as a whole. They also work with schools, doing outreach work and supporting schools to identify and support young carers. Our schools resource encourages schools to put the policies and practice in place which we know can really make a difference.

However the other thing which was a bit worrying was that the people in the room didn’t seem to be asking the question of why the young person was in a caring role in the first place, and what impact that was having on them. We need to challenge the assumption that it’s OK to rely on a child or young person to provide care. Whilst most young carers want to help, and the caring they  are doing may be fine for them at the moment, this should never be at the expense of their own childhood. If the kinds or extent of caring tasks they are carrying out is having a negative impact, then this needs to be addressed urgently. It’s right that families should all pitch in to support each other, but children have a right to be children, first and foremost.

One of the problems we face is that where local authority care budgets are cut, then if someone has care needs, that care still has to be provided by someone- and it inevitably falls to friends and family to provide it. This is hard enough for adults, and we know many are struggling to cope with cuts in services and family finances. We need to make the point crystal clear that it is never acceptable to expect a child to fill the gap in care which is left when services are cut.

Note:

79% of young carers were worried about reaching 18 as there were no services to support them through that transition period while continuing to care between childhood and adulthood. Help us support young adult carers by voting for us as Co-operative’s Charity of the Year.

October 1, 2012 Posted by | Education, Employment, Health, Labour, Party Conferences, Young carers | | 3 Comments

Did they really say that?

Typically at this time of year, not much is happening policy-wise with Parliament in recess. This seems even more the case this year as everyone seems to have vacated London for the duration.

With this time to take stock I’ve been thinking about the top things politicians have said to me in the last two years whilst I’ve worked here which have left me aghast.  We think we’ve got the message across, and then I’m left with my mouth hanging open in a meeting  thinking – “Did they really say that?”

Here are my top five jaw droppers .  You can rest assured, all of these got suitably robust responses, if appropriately polite for the circumstances.

1.       Carers have a duty to look after their relatives. If they don’t want to do it, that’s just tough.

I’m afraid I had to take issue. Whilst many carers may well feel it’s their duty,  actually we  are free individuals who should be able to make our own choices. No-one is saying the state should interfere in families’ business, but it should provide support to help families achieve the best outcomes for all. Although sadly many people do feel trapped in a caring role, this isn’t how it should be.

2.       Young carers, aren’t they just children who do some chores?

This particular meeting  started off inauspiciously with this perplexing statement, and ended up with us conducting  a hasty carer awareness  session, which resulted in the MP actually understanding something about the issue and speaking positively about young carers later in the House of Commons. So despite the difficult start, a real result! Nice to know that some days we make a difference.

3.       People with disabilities don’t need DLA unless they’re the most severely disabled  people.

Somehow there’s an idea amongst some MPs that we should spend all the benefits money on the people with the most severe levels of need. The thing is, that living with a  disability  – pretty much any disability – costs more.  If we don’t spend a bit of money on people with moderate levels of need, they get worse and worse , and their lives get more and more miserable until they end up being the people in most need.  We all know about the need for prevention  and that this saves money in the long run- why can’t they see it?

4.       Carers don’t actually live on Carers Allowance.

If I had a sticky bun for every time someone in a decision making role told me that no-one actually lives on Carers Allowance, like it’s just a bit of pin money, then I could open a bakers shop. So again and again we say – Carers Allowance may not be a king’s ransom but it’s desperately needed income which helps  families survive.  We need Carers Allowance to work better for carers and to actually be a decent amount of money. That’s a key thing we need to get the Government to sort out, once and for all.

5.       We don’t actually need to put money into supporting carers – they’d do it anyway.

This is perhaps the saddest things I hear – and it’s hard because I know from the people I meet that thousands of carers do go on, year after year, supporting people even though their own health deteriorates to the point of collapse. The thought that it’s not worth putting a bit of money in to help people care for longer, with a bit of quality  of life for themselves, just makes my blood boil.

So, those are my jaw droppers – what are yours?  Share the worst ones!

August 16, 2012 Posted by | Carer's Allowance, Carers Strategy, Law, Party Conferences, Social Care, Young carers | , , | 7 Comments

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

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

Social care must be a priority for Labour

The big announcement from the Labour party conference was by Ed Balls regarding a commitment not to reverse the cuts of the current Government. What this actually means for future spending are not wholly clear, but probably means Labour will present a similar overall spending plan to the Tories at the next election.

Balls’ message disappointed some, but as I’ve argued a few times, there is still plenty of Government spending – £680bn p/a – so reprioritising what we invest in is a real option. And Labour seem to be indicating that they are prepared to do so.

As I heard from shadow Ministers John Healey MP, Emily Thornberry MP (both Health) and Barbara Keeley MP (Communities and Local Government), Labour would implement the Dilnot recommendations if they were in power. Furthermore, Labour are keen to work with the current Government to do so now.

Funding Dilnot’s recommendations for improving social care, must not come from further cuts to existing local government and communities spending. Indeed, we would want to see funding for communities and local government increase. I find it strange that Cameron professes it to be his number one priority yet spending on communities and local government received a larger cut than anybody else. The message I heard from some people at the Labour conference was that such funding is essential for councils and council funded groups to help isolated people engage with their community.

Conservative MP, Stephen Dorrell was also at the conference in a lively debate regarding current health care reforms with Labour shadow Minister, John Healey MP. Healey thinks the reforms could mean competition rules would hamper collaboration between providers of services harming patient care. Dorrell, while agreeing with Healey on many things, disagrees on this believing that competition law would not apply and that even if it did you could still have joined-up services. The example he gave was of supermarkets all offering joined up services (all those different types of clothes, food, white products etc) whilst operating under competition law.

Interestingly, Healey also said that Andrew Lansley has got his priorities wrong. He said it was not health care that needs reform but social care and that this should have been the priority. Emily Thornberry MP repeated this theme telling us that the health reforms were distracting focus from where changes did need to be made.

If the Government have got their priorities wrong, Labour must show what they would do to put it right.

Take care

Gordon

PS: Vote to help Crossroads Care Chorley & South Ribble win £6000 http://communityforce.natwest.com/project/1818

September 28, 2011 Posted by | Health, Labour, Social Care | , | Leave a comment

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

Government Does Good by Not Scrapping Carer’s Allowance

A couple of weeks ago, the Government asked to meet us to discuss Carer’s Allowance and whether it should be Carer and caree laughingmerged with the proposed Universal Credit or not. We said not.

If you care for somebody for more than 35 hours p/w and that person receives the mid/high rate care component of Disability Living Allowance, then you can get the Carer’s Allowance of £53.90 p/w. However, you don’t get it if you receive another higher benefit such as Income Support or State Pension, or are in education or training for more than 20 hours p/w.

Considering this, it’s no surprise that many carers strongly believe that Carer’s Allowance is not enough and too many carers can’t get it.

The Government wants to merge numerous benefits such as Jobseeker’s Allowance into one single benefit called Universal Credit to simplify the system. However, there are two reasons why carers opposed moving Carer’s Allowance into Universal Credit.

The recognition that receiving a benefit specific to carers is important to them. It shows that the Government understands that they are not like other people receiving benefits – they are actually having to make a valuable contribution to qualify for that benefit. They want to know that the Government appreciates this.

Also Universal Credit will be a means tested benefit that will take into account savings and earnings of others in the household. Carer’s Allowance is not means tested. A change would have meant that carers could still be caring for more than 35 hours p/w but would have received a Universal Credit amount even lower than £53.90 because of savings they may have (which may be needed to pay for care).

The Government has an understandable aim of targeting benefits at those with most financial need, but withdrawing Carer’s Allowance from some would only make carers feel even more unappreciated and taken advantage of. The health and social care system is terrible at recognising carers and for many carers Carer’s Allowance is the only recognition they receive for what they do.

Taking Carer’s Allowance away from those who give so much would have been simply wrong. This is the message we gave Government. We are glad they listened.

Gordon

February 17, 2011 Posted by | Benefits, Carer's Allowance, Carers Strategy, Conservatives, David Cameron, Liberal Democrats | , , , , , | 23 Comments