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Further cuts to welfare benefits are an outrage

Last week saw the Carers Trust policy team wending our weary way back from Birmingham at the close of Conservative Party conference, after 3 weeks of trying to get our message across to local and national politicians and party members.

As members of the Care and Support Alliance, Carers Trust has been lobbying hard to make sure that the new Care and Support Bill promotes the rights of carers, and the draft Bill does make significant progress towards this (although there are some issues with how it affects young carers).  There were positive noises from all three parties and their three main leaders on these issues – Andy Burnham for Labour as well as Norman Lamb for the Lib Dems  and Jeremy Hunt the new Secretary of State – that this is an important issue. They all said a great deal about the importance of integrating health and social care – the holy grail we’ve been pursuing for years  – although I’m not sure any of them came up with anything which makes me confident this will be achieved.  All three said we need a cross-party approach to the future funding of social care, whether this is through  what Andrew Dilnot proposed or otherwise.  It’s too important an issue to play politics with, and I hope they will follow through with what they say.

The three conferences had very different feels to them. The Liberal Democrats, in the howling gales and rain of blustery Brighton felt a bit lost and  despondent. Labour felt more positive and confident than they have done in the last couple of years – perhaps reflecting a feeling that they are beginning to find themselves again. The Conservative feel was quite strident and very much felt like they meant to push forward.

Conservative conference for me, and anything positive that was said about how we can get services to work better for carers, was totally overshadowed by George Osborne’s speech, where  he stated the Tories’ intention to cut further swathes  of the order of £10 billion off the benefits budget.  Cameron  backed him up, and tried to make us feel like he’s just  an ordinary bloke – “There is nothing complicated about me” he said, “ I believe in working hard, caring for my family and serving my country.”

Well other people believe that too, but sometimes they can’t  work because they’re caring, or because they’re disabled, or because there aren’t any jobs. For carers,  family and friends come first, often way before their own needs. Often they can’t work because they’re putting someone else first, saving the country billions in care costs. Carers are not, as George Osborne suggested, lying in bed doing nothing expecting others to pay their way for them. It’s an insult to suggest it. 

Carers can’t live on nothing. There’s only so far you can stretch a budget, and with costs increasing the Government are even talking about not increasing benefits in line with inflation. Many people are living right at the margins already.

This is no way to treat people. Further cuts to benefits for carers and disabled people are an outrage.  

Find out more about the hardest Hit campaign against welfare benefit cuts here: http://thehardesthit.wordpress.com/

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October 17, 2012 Posted by | Benefits | , , , , , | 2 Comments

With the Games nearly over, the politics begin..

The Games are nearly over and the politics begin  – but who are carers’ parliamentary champions now?

The sun may be shining but make no mistake – the summer is over. This week saw the expected Cabinet shuffle. No surprise to anyone really that Andrew Lansley moved on – his bruising over the Health and Social Care Act meant his time had come.  We were taking bets in the office on who his successor might be, but no-one predicted the outcome . Jeremy Hunt, I’m sure he would admit himself, has not at any time in his career been notably visible at the helm of campaigns to improve either health or care.

Jeremy Hunt, Boris Johnson and Sebastian Coe at the Olympics Media Centre

From Olympics to Health Secretary – a tall order for Jeremy Hunt

He has been brought in to persuade us all that the health reforms are all good and will work a treat. Where I am sitting, what I see now is local health professionals and managers, as well as carers, patients and the organisations which support them, entirely unclear how large chunks of this is going to work. Carers Trust and carers’ organisations have spent years working with PCTs so that they begin to understand carers and the kind of support needed, and much of that may now be lost in the transition from one set of decision makers to another. Or alternatively, we may find that little changes except logos, offices and headed paper, with the huge superstructure of the NHS Commissioning Board providing even more bureaucracy than was there before.

So a tall order indeed. Good luck, Mr Hunt. I think you may need it.

In other reshuffle news, here in carer policy land we’re all a bit sad to see Paul Burstow return to the back benches . He was of course, fully involved with the health reforms I’ve just spent half a blog criticising, so he too will have to reflect in five years’ time whether it was all worth it. However what you can say is that no Health Minister, probably  ever, has pushed carers’ issues as far as he has in terms of recognition.  We now have a draft Care and Support Bill with carers written all over it – not perfect, but you can’t miss the carer theme.   He personally took the initiative to put pressure on PCTs to spend money on carers and was supportive of Carers Trust and our campaigns on this. It hasn’t solved everything, and it was never going to in such a short time, but it has made an impact. We’ll miss his role as government champion for carers.  I hope Norman Lamb will take a leaf out of his book, in this respect at least.

And finally, today we have the second reading debate on  the Social Care (Local Sufficiency) and Identification of Carers Bill. Barbara Keeley MP – an incredible advocate for carers – has used her Private Members Bill slot to promote the ways in which carers can be supported and increase the duties on a range of organisations to identify carers. Watch this space for an update on the debate early next week. Good luck Barbara, and thank you – we’re all behind you.

September 7, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Carers high on the agenda for the Care and Support Bill, but this still won’t stop people’s care needs getting worse

On Wednesday,  the biggest unkept secrets of the year finally emerged – the long awaited White Paper and draft Bill on social care.

Let’s start on the positive side. The one thing you can say is that carers have well and truly arrived. From a  quick count, carers get more than 100 mentions in the White Paper, and more than 200 in the draft Bill itself. This may not mean that the proposals solve all carers problems, of course,  but no-one could say that carers’ issues have been overlooked this time.

However, I’m concerned about whether the proposals overall  will push us towards  a system  which meets needs more effectively, or not. With pressure on services, only people with the most serious needs ever get anything. This means that people who start off with low level needs get worse and worse until they reach crisis point. This is not a good way to run a care system.

So where is the prevention approach in social care? Well, the Government would argue that the support for carers, and the duty to provide information they’re introducing are preventative . I agree we need both of these.

Provision of information is crucial but it’s no good just bunging something on a website or giving someone a leaflet. People need different information at different times and out experience is that nothing beats local face to face information and advice. I hope local authorities  ill take this duty seriously and back it up with the resources needed to do it properly .

The proposals should give carers enhanced rights to assessment, and local authorities will have a duty to meet assessed needs  although they  will be able to charge for these if you have more assets than the limit allowed, which takes the shine off it somewhat. It seems a bit of a cheek to have a carer’s assessment, be told you need a break, and then be told that you’re going to have to pay for it yourself. If it were me, I would be thinking, so what was the point of that then?

Information and advice and support for carers, crucial as they are, can only be part of the prevention agenda. In a climate where the basic community based services which people use to prevent isolation and get support – lunch clubs, libraries, social groups – are closing their doors, then it’s hard to see how  this gap will be plugged.  I don’t see this legislation meeting the preventative social care needs of vulnerable people within our communities, meaning a continuation of the intolerable position where you have to be in dire straits before any support is available at all, unless you can pay for it of course.

Also, the elephant in the room is that  there’s no resolution of the money issue. You’ll perhaps have heard us banging on about the Dilnot proposals – the cap on the amount people will have to pay for care, and so on. Well, the Government has broadly accepted the principles  –  definitely a step forward, but it falls short of actually grabbing the bull by the horns and doing it. Wait, it says, until the next Spending Review and we’ll deal with it then. That’s all we’ve heard for years – wait, wait wait. Well, we’re still waiting.

July 13, 2012 Posted by | Carers Strategy, Social Care | , , | Leave a comment