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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

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

Looking Back at the Year 2010

My first highlight of 2010 actually started in December 2009. I got a call from somebody at the Lib Dems asking if I could produce various proposals regarding carers for their manifesto. Fast forward to February 2010, and the Lib Dems announce their election manifesto will include £500m to support carers.

March saw a roundtable discussion with HRH The Princess Royal, carers and Ministerial representation from the three main parties – Phil Hope, Stephen O’Brien, and Paul Burstow. A year after we started warning the Government that their £150m to the NHS for carers wasn’t being spent on carers, Phil Hope belatedly pledged that Labour would act.

But he never got the chance to act as an election was called and for the first time, the three leaders debated live on TV. And these produced in public awareness terms, the moment of the year.

It was near the end and there was a question about caring for an elderly population and Clegg answered that this means we must support carers. But more importantly, Brown and Cameron felt that they had to speak about carers – it had become an issue that party leaders had to talk about. And they did again during the second TV debate.

Now you may say talk is cheap and often leads to nothing, but in May when the new Coalition’s Programme for Government was published, proposals to increase support for carers was in there when other issues that were not. That Clegg and Cameron had made public pledges about carers helped to make this happen.

It was this Coalition pledge that led in November to £400m over four years being announced to increase support for carers. Importantly, the Government have instructed the NHS to work with local carers’ organisations to publish policies, plans and budgets of how they will support carers. This could make sure the money is spent on carers as it should be.

The last highlight was in the NHS Outcomes Framework, published 20th Dec in time for Christmas. The NHS will be measured for their ability to help carers enjoy a quality of life that we all expect to have. Finally, the NHS will have to take an interest in the millions of friends and relatives who take on caring roles after discharge from hospital.

These are my highlights from 2010, but I know that despite progress there will be carers whose situations will be untouched by pledges and improvements. 2011 will be a challenging year and we’ll be working hard to make sure we keep moving forward and that more carers get the support they need and deserve.

I hope you all have a good Christmas and New Year, and that Santa is good to you of course. Thank you for all of the comments on the various posts this year; the discussions are useful for us and I hope interesting for readers. Probably more so than my blog!

Take care all

Gordon

December 23, 2010 Posted by | Budget, Carers Strategy, Conservatives, David Cameron, General Election, Labour, Liberal Democrats | | 6 Comments

Local authority spending: Cuts are unacceptable to carers

The Comprehensive Spending Review was the start, now the game has got real. This week, Government announced how much each local authority and primary care trust (PCT) will receive in 2011/12 and it is now up to them to decide how to spend the cash.

So far, charities and the sector have given grave portent of councils being forced into swinging cuts and services being lost. But we are wrong to continue this hands up in horror approach.

Firstly, the average cut for each council is 4.4%. Now, when you are talking about council budgets of £200m, then this is a lot of money – £8.8m. But think about it, 4.4% does not require whole services cut or individual funding packages ravaged as we have been hearing.

Inflation does mean the real term reduction is more and similar cuts will be made in 2012/13, but councils will also be able to find savings without cutting services. By playing up the funding reduction, we give councils cover for cuts to social services that they don’t need to make.

Indeed, you could argue that there should be no cut to social services.

The Department of Health gives grants to councils for adult social care and this forms part of the total grant to local authorities. These grants, such as the Carers’ Grant, have previously been an identifiable amount within the total grant although not ring-fenced.

For 2011/12, these grants will continue and INCREASE in line with inflation. The only difference is that they are no longer identified within the total grant given to each council.

So, we’ve done it instead. Take the Carers’ Grant for each council in 2010/11 and increase it by 3% (current inflation is 3.3%) and you have the indicative amount for each council’s share of the Carers’ Grant in 2011/12.

With the additional £100m given to PCTs for 2011/12 to spend on carers, which is meant to be pooled with council’s budgets, there is no excuse to cut support for carers. No excuse at all.

The NHS Operating Framework, published along with each PCT’s budget, says every PCT must work with carers’ organisations and councils to publish policies, plans and budgets to support carers. This Government and Paul Burstow should be applauded for this instruction.

The reality is councils have no excuse to cut carers’ services and PCTs are to discuss with us and councils how their extra money is to be used. Folks, we’re here ready to talk. And not about cuts, but about the extra support that carers need and deserve.

Take care,

Gordon

Note:                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Read in detail on the local authority spending for 2011-2012

December 17, 2010 Posted by | Benefits, Carers Strategy, Conservatives, David Cameron, Liberal Democrats | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“NHS, give us our money”

There is a scene in ‘Yes, Prime Minister’ when Humphrey the civil servant shows how changing the way things are phrased can either lead somebody into thinking that national service is what we need to instil discipline or that national service is like giving guns to thugs and showing how to use them.

I see the same tricks being used when it comes to local government making decisions. It’s either local people having control in their own communities or something that leads to postcode lotteries where people living across the street can get treated differently.

Would you want a bureaucrat stuck in a London office deciding what happens in your rural community or would you like a dedicated public servant who has spent years working in different communities and has gathered information about what works best from all over the country and internationally? The two can be the same.

Most people I have spoken with favour local people deciding what happens in their local communities but don’t want postcode lotteries. Most seem to want policy based on evidence and learning from what has been tried and tested, but abhor the employment of any ‘bureaucrat’ to do this.

So what do people think about the Government’s decision to give the NHS £400m over four years without ring-fencing to supporting carers? They probably think that Labour tried this with £150m over 2 years and our research showed that only 25% of it was used to increase support for carers. So what’s different this time? Hopefully a couple of things which will help.

  • Primary Care Trusts (and then GP commissioning consortia from 2012/13) will know how much of the annual £100m their share is, allowing local people to know exactly how much they have received to spend on carers.
  • PCTs will be monitored on their performance regarding support for carers

These didn’t happen before and I hope that they will lead to more than 25% of the £400m being used to increase support for carers, but certainly not all of it will. Some will say that Government shouldn’t announce £400m for carers when the NHS can spend the money on anything it chooses. I understand this, but I can also understand that there would be an outcry if Paul Burstow said that he as Minister for Care Services was not going to do anything to support carers – that it is a matter for local government.

We look to national government because that is who we elect to govern for us. And yet we then want local control but without the variation that inevitably brings. Our opinion on this probably changes according to the particular issue; it depends on where you are sitting at the time. One thing I know is that where carers are sitting at the moment is a place full of overburden, isolation and turmoil, which makes the right call unequivocal: “NHS, give us our money.”

December 1, 2010 Posted by | Budget, Carers Strategy, Conservatives, David Cameron, Liberal Democrats, Young carers | , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Carers in the News

Blogs are good when you’ve got newsworthy things to talk about. The problem is that if carers’ issues are in the media, then it generally means I’ve got no time to write a blog. So, the blog I was going to write after Andrew Marr was asking Iain Duncan Smith about what he will do for carers two Sundays ago was superseded by the young carers’ story the Tuesday after. Which, was combined with the Government announcing £400m breaks for carers.

Then there was the Government’s new Vision for Adult Social Care and what it means for carers, but before I could write anything, I was at events with carers two days in a row and wanted to speak about those. Then the Carers’ Strategy was published on Thursday and the Government announced £6m to improve GP support of carers.

Every time I went to write something, it was yesterday’s news. I always get told that blogs have to be current to be read by people, although I’m not sure how many readers I have to lose!

However, if you will permit me I will do a rapid succession of blogs covering all of these immediately after this blog. And anyway taking time to look back at things is healthy…

But all of this activity has made me ask whether this is a sign that carers as an issue is becoming ever more central to political and social discourse.

When everything is being cut, £400m extra is being announced for carers. When the Equality Act came into force, it was the benefits for carers that was highlighted (good job Carers UK). When the Coalition Government published its Programme for Government, there were specific commitments made to carers, when other issues were ignored. The party leaders discussed carers’ issues live on TV twice during the election and specific pledges were made.

I know it will not feel like it for many if not most carers, but as a movement, this could be our time to make great strides forward. The Law Commission and the Commission on the Funding of Care and Support will make recommendations next year which could fundamentally change the legal rights and level of support carers can expect. This is our time that we must make the most of.

The one thing I have learnt in these two weeks is that attention can be fleeting, moving onto something else very quickly. Before you know it, a royal has got engaged and the whole world goes gaga meaning carers’ issues drop back down. We can’t let that happen, not now.

Take care

Gordon

November 29, 2010 Posted by | Benefits, breaks for carers, Budget, Carers movement, Carers Strategy, Conservatives, David Cameron, Individual Budgets, Liberal Democrats | , , , , | 9 Comments

Scottish Party Conferences and Carers

Note: The following post has been contributed by Lynn Williams, the Policy Officer for Scotland at The Princess Royal Trust for Carers

***

After the Conferences…Well, the Scottish Party Conference season is over (a big ‘phew’ from me!!) and we take our first steps on the road to the Scottish Budget and Election 2011.

So what happened and how did carers fare?

The answer is not very well…so far.  Political parties in Scotland are only beginning to make policy announcements.   Carers were mentioned by the Scottish Labour Party.

Tasneem and Brenda – two carers from Glasgow who spoke at the recent Cross Party Group

The Scottish Lib Dems have included a commitment to carers in their pre manifesto document and we are continuing to work with their manifesto team to ensure that carers are fully recognised.

The SNP did not make any policy commitments about carers at their conference but a recent meeting with the SNP manifesto team generated some interesting ideas to benefit unpaid carers and young carers.  This includes looking at ways in which carers might be better supported in employment.  Also, a meeting with the Scottish Conservative shadow health team last month was productive and positive.

It’s too early to say at this stage if and how carers will be recognised in each party’s manifesto, but we continue to work with all the parties to ensure this happens.

So we look ahead to the budget and beyond to next May’s election….

A National Care Service?

Influencing party manifestos is all well and good, but it is what happens beyond the election that matters. 

If Labour gets into power next year, the new government will seek to introduce a National Care Service within the lifetime of the next Parliament (2011 – 2015). The aim in doing so would be to end the postcode lottery of social care provision, bringing together health and social care so that “no-one falls through the gaps” and that the focus is “on the person needing care.”

Did I miss the word carer in there somewhere?  Yes, I think I did.

Whilst no one would argue against the laudable aim of tackling the complicated infrastructure of support and the disconnect that exists between health and social care, is a NATIONAL service the way to do it?

As I lie awake at 4am in the morning (something which I do quite often) I have been thinking about this proposal:

  • Will it tackle the existing gaps and overlaps in existing provision?
  • Will it offer more effective recognition and support of carers?
  • Would the service lead to more effective working between the NHS and social care provision in Scotland.

Scotland is a small enough country to enable a national service to work; but, it’s hard to say anything concrete about this proposal without any more detail. And whatever form it takes, it cannot work without placing unpaid carers and young carers at its heart.  I think there is a missing link here….

Another point to make – “national” is not always better. It can be less quick to respond and the needs of the individual can be lost; it can be bureaucratic; it can also be more costly as layers of delivery and management develop over time. 

The last thing that concerns me is timescale – Mr. Gray and Ms. Baillie committed to delivering the new service during the lifetime of the next Parliament.  Whatever the benefits, opportunities – and challenges – of this proposal, the creation of a National Care Service won’t happen quickly enough to help carers now as they experience local cuts to services and changing eligibility criteria for respite and short breaks. It won’t happen quickly enough for local Carers’ Centres who are already struggling to meet massively increased demand on standstill budgets.

Another issue relates to social care procurement and plans within Greater Glasgow and Clyde Valley local authorities to look at merging specific functions such as social care.  Should this go ahead, there would be substantial impact on a significant number of carers and their families.  But bigger still, the national care service would, I guess, have a significant procurement role.  Would the focus be on quality or cost?  How would that benefits the lives of carers in Scotland? 

The Budget, Elections and Beyond….

So we move towards publication of the Scottish Budget later this month.  This will determine the public sector landscape and how services will be delivered both nationally and locally – no matter which party wins power next year.

We intend to put out a final ‘plea’ to MSPs prior to ensure that they support recognition of carers and young carers within the budget, and to ask them to put pressure on the Minister and Mr Swinney to continue Carer Information Strategy funds continue beyond 2011.  We will also ask that the existing Government places a requirement on health boards to work with carer organisations to take any future funding forward and that Centres benefit directly from this – they are best place to deliver services which benefit carers and young carers.

Even if this funding stream continues (and that would be extremely welcome) it does not guarantee sustainable funding for carer support and Carers’ Centres from 2011. The early stage plans to merge social care provision and other functions across a number of local authorities in the west of Scotland would likely have an impact on funding for Carers Centres.

So, now, more than ever, Carers Centres and the carers they support need to be vocal and visible and demonstrate the economic and social impact of reducing or stopping funding for carer support.  An example has been set – a Conservative controlled local authority in Greater London has recently awarded the local Carers Centre a seven year contract to deliver services because of its unique and effective offering.  That should be the model we aspire to.  If a Conservative local authority can do it, so can others.

All political parties in Scotland say they are committed to unpaid carers and young carers.  No doubt, each party’s manifesto will make a commitment to support them. Warm words at this point.  Carers who spoke at the recent Cross Party Group highlighted the continuing challenges they face for recognition.  We launched the Scottish Carers Manifesto at that event and its banner says ‘No more talk…. Action now”. That is the message we want every MSP and prospective parliamentary candidate to take to heart. There are tens of thousands of carers in your constituency and regions – that’s a lot of votes. In what is likely to be the tightest election since devolution, carers and first time voters who are young carers could help you win your constituency or regional seat.

Next time…

There is more happening at a national level around closer working between health and social care. This relates to the “Reshaping Care for the Elderly” agenda. Once we have more detail we will keep you posted.

For now, take care and please let me know what is happening with social care provision in your area.  Have cuts started to affect you?  Please contact me or use our Facebook pages to let us know the types of issues that you would like us to raise with MSPs.

Lynn

November 10, 2010 Posted by | Benefits, Budget, Carers Strategy, Conservatives, David Cameron, Health, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Party Conferences, Scotland, Social Care, Young carers | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is Government Considering Credits for Carers?

It’s Saturday morning and I’ve just read on the BBC News website that the Government is considering giving credits to people who provide care. These credits could then be redeemed against that person’s own future or current social care costs. The article then says the Government is praising the Japanese system Fureai Kippu.

Rather stupidly, my immediate thought was “the Government is stealing my ideas!!!”, as if this wasn’t exactly the point of my job.

Last year, I proposed these ideas in Crediting Carers and have also pushed them during the Government’s consultation on refreshing the Carers’ Strategy. I actually recently repeated the idea of redeeming credits against future social care costs in my blog on “Considering Insurance Scheme for Care Needs” as well. So, all very interesting.

Then I get a call from the BBC who want to interview me for their TV news programmes. Interesting becomes quite exciting but quickly turns to puzzlement. The BBC phone back to say the Government are now denying they are considering the idea although it is interesting, so the story is going dead and no interview is needed. The news article is changed to its current format.

So did the Government change their mind? And if so what caused it?

Well, if they did, it could have been because of slightly negative reaction from some people, including the National Council for Voluntary Organisations as quoted in the BBC article. Their criticism is that it won’t motivate people to volunteer, as suggested in the original article, that people who volunteer shouldn’t be rewarded and the statement of a belief that care is and should be provided by the State and not family or friends.

What they completely ignore is that there are already 6 million people providing care that the State otherwise would have to, and that people currently do and will ever more so in the future pay for social care. I’m not sure if those making quick responses actually understand the proposals in detail.

The idea of credits for caring is the only way to ensure that an insurance based system, which is highly likely to be created (see my earlier blog mentioned above), is fair to people who provide care that would otherwise have to be paid for. Ivan Lewis MP at the Labour conference said it was obvious that crediting carers would have to be part of the future system.

Quite simply, if the Government isn’t considering this, then it should be. And if it was considering it but is now more hesitant, the Government must stand up and explain why these changes are necessary and right.

Gordon

October 30, 2010 Posted by | Carers Strategy, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats | , , | 9 Comments

The Future of Health Care in England

I have changed Andrew Lansley’s mind on the NHS White Paper; single-handedly and with only one simple question. Devastating.

You may be asking how you have not read about this in the papers or heard it on the news, when this is obviously such mammoth news. Well, what I changed his mind on may not actually be so mammoth.

Andrew LansleyLansley proposes in the White Paper that local authorities will be able to commission Health Watch to provide information, advice and advocacy for patients regarding health care. Health Watch will replace Local Involvement Networks (LINks). No mention was made of local authorities being able to commission other organisations to do this.

I think that local authorities should be able to commission whoever they want and it may be other organisations are better placed in the community, and it may be more effective to fund more than one organisation to provide these services. So, this is what I asked him at a conference in July.

He said it was a good question and one he hadn’t thought about so he would.

At the Conservative conference, Andrew Lansley was at a reception we jointly hosted and I ended up speaking to him briefly. So I recounted our exchange in July and wondered if he had come to any thoughts on this. He said that yes and that they would be advising local authorities to commission whoever they thought was best placed to deliver information, advice and advocacy and that funding more than one organisations would give patients choice.

So, that was that – I had changed Government policy on the future of health care in England. I don’t think it’s one that will make Newsnight, but if it means that carers can get good information and advice because our Carers’ Centres and local Crossroads Care can get funding to provide this, then it will hopefully be at least a small positive.

Enjoy it while you can I guess

Gordon

October 29, 2010 Posted by | Carers Strategy, Conservatives, Health, Liberal Democrats, Party Conferences, Uncategorized | , , , , , | 1 Comment