Note: This post is from our guest blogger Tony Baldry MP who is Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Carers. Tony Baldry MP made a speech at the meeting of The Princess Royal Trust for Carers held in the House of Commons on Wednesday, 28th July 2010.
Last week, the Prime Minister repeated his commitment to the Big Society making it clear that its’ success will depend “on the daily decisions of millions of people – on them giving their time, effort, even money, to causes around them”. My whole political life has been predated on this same principle.
However, I am concerned at a potential and unintended conflict between the Coalition Government’s very understandable desire on the one hand to promote the Big Society and the need to cut the budget deficit.
In my constituency in Banbury we have the North and West Oxfordshire Carers’ Centre, member of The Princess Royal Trust for Carers and has been successfully running now for nearly two decades.
Such has been the dedication and commitment of the volunteers that the centre has won the Queen’s Award – one of very few such awards in Oxfordshire. The Banbury Carers’ Centre like the Oxford and South Oxfordshire Carers’ Centres are comprised of a mixture of experienced volunteers and some paid staff, enjoying the financial support of the local community.
They help train carers. They provide outreach services for carers. They provide a place where carers and different types of carers can come and meet, share experiences, unwind and support each other.
As we all know, carers come in many kinds from young carers to very elderly spouses still looking after a much loved husband or wife.
In undertaking this valuable work, for many years the Banbury Carers’ Centre has received funds from Oxfordshire County Council to deliver specific agreed services to carers. The reasons the County Council was procuring these services from Carers’ Centres are exactly the reasons set out by the Prime Minister in support of “the Big Society”; Carers’ Centres and their volunteers are exactly the people who are making a difference, are in contact with other carers and are in the best position to understand, articulate and meet carers’ needs. They are full of people who come together and work together to affect social change and to improve life for carers.
As far as I am aware there has never been a suggestion that the Banbury Carers’ Centre or the other Oxfordshire carers’ centres have failed to meet the objectives with which they have agreed with the County Council. However, the Council has to make savings in their budget.
They are proposing withdrawing their funding from the carers’ centres in Oxfordshire and replacing that service by a telephone call centre, almost certainly run from outside of the county to which carers will be able to call.
Part of the justification of this move, in addition to the need to save money, is an assertion that it will help them reach more carers. However, there doesn’t appear to have been any or any real discussion with the existing Carers’ Centres as to the number of carers that they are already reaching.
I would suggest the issue here is that many people who are carers simply don’t recognise themselves as being carers and if they don’t recognise themselves as being carers, they are not likely to ring a carers’ telephone hotline.
We need a collective effort to help carers voluntarily register themselves as carers so that they are recognised as being carers by GPs or by schools if they are young carers. This requires a sustained campaign in GPs surgeries, in the schools, and in the media to make people ask the question “are you a carer?”
I suspect that for many years GPs haven’t been asking the question of whether someone is a carer, because there has been very little that they could do to support them. However, now that PCTs have funds to support respite care, GPs are in a position to refer carers for respite care and short holiday breaks and for that reason alone, one would hope that every GP practice would know which of their registered patients are also carers.
I think the reality is that for many years central government has used local government to support a whole range of social interventions. Money for carers’ breaks is given in part to PCTs and given in part to local Councils. However, if local government is obliged to save money, they understandably start by reducing funding for those organisations for which they have no immediate responsibility.
However, there are a very large number of active citizens undertaking constructive voluntary work within our community who to a certain extent depend on some funding from local government. An alternative, of course is to allow organisations such as the Banbury Carers’ Centre to bid direct to central government to provide carers’ services.
Here we appear to be bedevilled that Oxfordshire County Council has decided to bundle up all its carers’ contracts into a single contract, thus bringing it within the parameters of the EU procurement directives and requiring compulsory tendering. This makes it much more difficult for local voluntary organisations to bid and appears to run completely counter to the desire for localism and the Big Society.
I think we all have to accept that these are particularly difficult and unusual times. No peace time government has had to tackle a similar financial deficit. We need to develop the Big Society. We need to see how we can best reconcile these two policy objectives. However, to start with we have to recognise and acknowledge that there are some real tensions that need to be worked through.
Tony Baldry MP
House of Commons
It’s the waiting that’s the worst. So say civil servants, local authorities and the NHS as they wait to find out exactly what the Government plans are. Carers are maybe more used to waiting.
They wait months for a hoist that will help lift a disabled husband out of bed. They wait for information and basic training to care for a daughter dying of cancer. They wait for a break from caring 24/7 for elderly parents who live with them.
Words are spoken and strategies published but for too many, the waiting continues.
I don’t think anybody should underestimate the scale of what new Government ministers have to learn and comprehend in a very short space of time. There are also lots of competing priorities to order but next week is Carers Week and it is time for carers to wait no longer.
I met Paul Burstow MP (new Minister for social care) on Monday. He told me that they made a firm pledge to increase access to respite care and they would deliver on it. Carers now need to know how this will be achieved and when.
I also met the new Labour shadow Minister for social care – Barbara Keeley MP. She has consistently campaigned for carers locally and in Parliament and worked on carers’ issues before entering Parliament. I also met her fellow shadow Minister for Health, Diana Johnson MP who has supported local carers and carers’ organisations.
The appointments of Burstow and Keeley are positive but this will not mean that all the policy changes carers need will happen instantly – or at all. But, I do believe we have two people who regularly meet, listen to and understand carers. The election is passed, new ministers are appointed and the waiting must end – it’s time for change.
Devolution in Scotland has caused some in England to look enviously northwards and ask why is it that they’re getting stuff that people in England are not.
I was at a Mark Thomas comedy gig the other night where a radical suggestion was for eye tests to be free, until I pointed out that they already are in Scotland. Then of course, there is ‘free’ personal care in Scotland, which isn’t actually free but people aged 65+ do receive contributions towards nursing/residential care costs or care at home.
What is not reported is that to fund these policies, the Scottish Government has to find savings in other areas – they have to re-order their priorities.
The Lib Dems announced a re-ordering of their priorities this week, which has meant a focus on fair taxes, extra investment in schools and improving transport and energy production. A loser in this re-ordering has been their commitment to provide a Scottish style system of personal care funding, which has been put on hold until it “becomes affordable again”.
The Conservative Party have also made some policy announcements publishing their draft health manifesto (does this mean it could change?) this week:
– £10 million a year funding beyond 2011 to support hospices in their work with children
– preserve disability living allowance and attendance allowance and allow a single budget for individuals combining health and social care funding
– provide separate public health funding to local authorities, which will be accountable for–and paid according to–how successful they are in improving their local communities’ health.
It also included their previously announced social care policy of people paying £8000 on retirement to receive free residential care, but there’s no announcement yet on their domiciliary care policy…
Politics is all about choices; the choices politicians make and the choices the electorate makes. There may be some issues on which you agree with one party, but on a different issue it is another party you agree with. So we have to make a choice about what our priorities are when voting.
Politicians know this so focus on issues that they think voters care about. “It’s the economy, stupid” is meant to illustrate that the economy is the priority for voters. British politicians often believe the NHS is, while Blair and now the Lib Dems think education is a priority for voters.
What is clear is that for social care to be considered a priority by politicians, we must first make it a priority in how we vote. Folks, it is time to consider our priorities.
PS. There are Parliamentary outreach events on 26th January in Birmingham, Manchester and Norwich advising how people can effectively engage with Parliament, and understand its inner workings. If you’re interested you can find the details here.