Crunch time for MPs to commit to carers

HRH The Princess Royal and Care Services Minister Phil Hope

HRH THe Princess Royal joined MPs from the three main parties at the roundtable event

You cannot change the quality of care in this country without respecting carers and improving the support they receive. This was the simple message delivered to the three political parties at yesterday’s conference on carers. The response we were seeking was what each party would pledge to do for carers in the next Parliament…

Care Services Minister Phil Hope focussed more on what the Government had done in this Parliament to increase support for carers, and there have been improvements: £25m training and employment support for carers; recent £1m investment in young carers’ services; new credit scheme to help carers build up pensions; and a national helpline and website for carers.

But the big moment came when he put himself on the line in response to our report “No Breaks for Carers” on PCTs not supporting carers – “I will personally hold PCTs to account for the carers’ money they will receive but do not spend on carers and will keep going until they do spend the money on carers” (read the full story here).

It’s not often that politicians make a personal pledge like this. Eyes darted around the room to see reactions.

Shadow Health Minister Stephen O’Brien did not give detail but pinpointed two issues that he wants to tackle: carers losing Carer’s Allowance when earning over £100p/w and when they begin receiving a State Pension. O’Brien restated that the Conservatives would retain Attendance Allowance and Disability Living Allowance and that indeed his parent’s in law rely on AA. He also said that the Conservatives would announce a policy to improve care in the home to accompany their residential care policy, and that they wanted to extend flexible working for carers.

Liberal Democrat Chief Whip Paul Burstow

Under Lib Dem plans carers would be able to receive a personal budget and choose what to spend it on

Liberal Democrat Chief Whip Paul Burstow expanded on his party’s pledge to commit £500m p/a to carers. Carers would be able to receive a personal budget, for example of £510, and could choose what to spend it on. Lib Dems would act upon the Work & Pensions Commons Select Committee report (August 2008) which recommended increasing Carer’s Allowance.

Burstow also agreed with a carer who spoke later that carers must be a higher priority for the NHS – not a Tier 3 lowest priority giving the NHS the option to support carers or not; carers have to be a “must do” for the NHS. He finished by praising his local Sutton Carers’ Centre which he said had “educated him” about wide range of carers’ needs and issues.

Two carers spoke and gave their recommendations which included making GPs improve their identification of carers, and the RCGP representative agreed they would continue to raise the profile of carers amongst GPs. Tory MP carers campaigner in Parliament, Tony Baldry, suggested that a voluntary register of carers would prompt all professionals to ask if people had caring roles and then people could have an annual review to ensure they were receiving support.

What found universal agreement was an approach that saw everybody in health and social care informing, advising and supporting carers as part of their role. This responsibility cannot be passed to a few appointed individuals within organisations or there will still be too many carers ignored, isolated and in danger of failing health themselves.

We presented questions from carers, including a one asking the MPs if they would like to be a carer for the day. The MPs declined, which goes to show how much harder we have to work to improve the lives of carers.

Take care,



March 10, 2010 Posted by | Building Society to Care roundtable | , , , , , | 3 Comments

Big Care Debate = Big Government Confusion

By nature, I’m an optimistic kind of person that likes to believe the best in people. Sometimes, it works out for the best, but you can also be left shaking your head in disbelief. Which is what I’m doing regarding disability benefits and the Green Paper. To the many carers who have commented on this, I apologise.

The links below show that the Secretary of State and a Minister in the Lords appeared to be avoiding ruling out rolling a number of benefits into social care budgets. This is despite Phil Hope MP and senior civil servants telling people (including me) directly that it was only Attendance Allowance that was being considered.

Now, they may only be seriously considering AA, but mixed messages on such a sensitive subject are alarming. They give the impression of a power struggle between government departments. They are a huge distraction from what should be a once in a generation chance to transform social care.

Arguably, the government should have separated out discussion about benefits from the Green Paper, to avoid the rest of the proposals (some of which we think are really good) getting lost. But now that benefits are included, ministers should be crystal clear about the scope of the discussion they want to have. The Green Paper seems to say it’s just AA being considered. If they are really thinking about rolling DLA and even Carers Allowance into social services budgets as well, we need to know. They can rest assured that carers will not be shy about giving their opinions on that.

Take care,


PS. You can now read Phil Hope’s responses to carers from our online Q&A

October 16, 2009 Posted by | Social Care | , , , , | 6 Comments

The Labour Conference and the Big Care Debate

The final Labour Conference before the election; would the tone be going out with all guns blazing a la Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or one mired by infighting and every man for himself? In the ornate lobby of The Grand Hotel, it felt more like the Titanic with people denying the reality of a sinking ship.

At a meeting with Labour Ministers Phil Hope, Gillian Merron and Mike O’Brien, we were asked to imagine a world in which we had to deal with a Conservative Government. The Tories would listen and respond to us less we were told.

Phil Hope and Andy Burnham (Minister for Care Services & Secretary of State for Health) also spoke at a Big Care Debate event where it was repeated again that moving finances for Disability Living Allowance into social care budgets will not happen. However, it is clear that because of the ambiguity (see previous blog) in the Green Paper, the Big Care Debate has turned into a series of denials on a single part of the proposals.

Actual debate on other issues does not seem to be widespread, which is harming the chances of changing the social care system for the better. Millions of lives are affected by our social care system and millions more will be, but we as a general population are not engaging with this debate. Is it because we do not care, or is it because of a lack of knowledge?

I accept that whole family assessments does not make sexy news, but for families with multiple care needs this could be key to getting the support that is best for everybody and not just an individual (Phil Hope was very interested in this idea by the way). Perhaps most people have not considered whether there should be a single national assessment process or variable local ones, but surely this is highly relevant in a world where people move around more. Some may not know that you have to pay for social care and others may believe that they will never need it, but we should still be debating whether we should all pay regardless of whether we use social care or not.

Labour say the Tories won’t listen, but what are they meant to be listening to? I guess that is up to us all.

One thing we do want Labour to listen to is that PCTs are not using the £50m allocated to provide breaks for carers for that purpose. This is partly because of a lack of information given to PCTs by the Government. Secretary of State for Health Andy Burnham has said that he will listen and we are to set something up after the conference. However, listening is only one part, we want action. You can help by signing the carers breaks petition

Take Care


September 28, 2009 Posted by | Labour, Party Conferences | , , , , , | 8 Comments

Disability benefits: Where does the Care and Support Green Paper stand?

So going back to the meeting that I was discussing in my previous blog, I will expand on what they were saying about moving the finance that funds disability benefits into the budget that funds social care.

Phil Hope wanted to be clear that it was only Attendance Allowance (AA) and not Disability Living Allowance (DLA) that was included in the proposal, and seemed a little mystified that people may have thought otherwise.

Of course, the reason why was that the Green Paper was not explicit (my italics below):

“We think we should consider integrating some elements of disability benefits, for example Attendance Allowance, to create a new offer for individuals with care and support needs.” (p 15)

“There might be a case for integrating some disability benefits such as Attendance Allowance into the care and support system.” (p 103)

It was explained that the reasoning for this proposal is related to resources. Attendance Allowance is a non-means tested benefit meaning rich and poor get it alike and their proposal is to use the money that funds Attendance Allowance to target social care support for those of less means. It is what they described as a “trade-off” (see previous blog, I fear this term could become ubiquitous jargon) where some lose and others win; a universal cash benefit is lost to enable greater free social care support for those eligible.

A colleague asked whether all of the money used to fund AA would be transferred to social care budgets, or whether a saving would be made by only transferring some of it. The reply was that all of the money would be transferred.

There appears two main objections: Firstly, at the same time as the Government says it wants to give individuals more choice and control, they take away a cash benefit free to use as the individual thinks best so that government/local authorities can disburse as a personal budget or direct service. So does this restrict individual choice and control?

Secondly, the Green Paper says that while people currently receiving AA will continue to receive the same level of support after any change, the same could not be said for those after the change who would have been eligible for AA. This is clearly linked to the “trade-off” described above.

Our briefing contains more details on this and there is a survey as well. There are also discussion forums running on this and other Green Paper issues.

Take Care, and in the spirit of my last blog’s sign off, Take Part


September 11, 2009 Posted by | Social Care | , , , , | 11 Comments