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
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.