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Carers’ issues a hot topic in Scottish election

Note: This is a joint blog from Lynn Williams, Fiona Collie and Claire Cairns who have been leading the National Carer Organisation Election Campaign in Scotland

We are moving into the final days of the election campaign in Scotland and the issues affecting carers and young carers have become a hot topic. Over the last few weeks carers’ organisations have worked hard to ensure that carers and young carers alike have had a chance to question candidates and influence parties’ thinking. Through the press, through on line media and face to face with candidates, carers and young carers have been heard loud and clear on what matters most to them and to their families.

This election marks a turning point for carers; every party has in some form or another directly recognised their contribution with a string of manifesto pledges made which seek to improve carers’ and young carers lives.

Claire Cairns, Fiona Collie and Lynn Williams

Launching the Carers Manifesto at the Scottish Parliament

We very much welcome specific pledges which seek to involve carers and young carers at the very heart of Government in Scotland. These commitments include Scottish Labour’s pledge to install a Cabinet level Carers’ Champion who can lead and work across all policy areas in Government. The party is also pledging to set up a Carers’ Summit to enable a Scottish Labour Government (or coalition administration involving Labour) to shape policies and decisions affecting carers’ lives (link to Labour party pledges to follow).

The SNP have pledged to deliver an annual Carers’ Parliament to give carers and young carers a direct say in the work of the Government and the Scottish Parliament. http://manifesto.votesnp.com/carers.

If realised, any one of these commitments will give carers and young carers a voice in shaping decisions that affect their lives at the highest levels of Government.

Other parties such as the Scottish Lib Dems are looking to extend the rights that carers have and improve local service delivery. http://www.scotlibdems.org.uk/files/SLD2011manifesto.pdf.

Labour join the Lib Dems in pledging to investigate a right to respite for carers. http://www.scottishlabour.org.uk/uploads/938e3455-1814-0b84-e115-8ddec3a327b5.pdf

Meanwhile, the Scottish Conservatives have costed a substantial investment in additional respite and many of the smaller parties have made a range of commitments to carers. http://www.scottishconservatives.com/downloads/scottish-conservative-manifesto-2011.pdf

Carers’ issues are indeed one of this election’s hot topics. But one commentator in the press recently said that manifestos are not worth the paper they are written on – and that might well be the case.

But as part of Scotland’s Carers Organisations we are making our own pledge to you – that we will work together tirelessly to bring parties to account whether in Government or opposition on the pledges they have made. We will continue to work directly with Ministers and MSPs in opposition to build on what has already been achieved for Scotland’s carers; we are also already planning for the Scottish Local Elections next year – service delivery locally is a key concern.

So there is much to look forward to and much still to do. Please continue to work with us to help make the lives of Scotland’s carers and young carers the best that they can be – to ensure that their contribution is truly recognised. Our Scottish Carers’ Manifesto – shaped by carers and young carers – will continue to be the basis for our campaigning work at national and local level. You can also continue to have your say on our ‘Carers Votes Count’ Facebook pages.

To the 5th May and beyond!!

Lynn, Claire and Fiona On behalf of Scotland’s National Carer Organisations

May 2, 2011 Posted by | General Election, Scotland | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Education without Compromise: Doing the right thing for young carers in school

As a student of both politics and history at school and university I remember being fascinated by coalition governments, the opportunities and challenges that faced them and hoped that a coalition government might happen in my lifetime.

Young carer helping his brother

We want a coalition government that takes a shared and joint responsibility for meeting young carers' needs


I hear a good friend reminding me: “Danni, be careful what you wish for”.

The optimist in me sees a political landscape filled with consensus-seeking, compromise and opportunity. The pessimist suspects a series of stalemates and dead ends and (at least) two sets of opinions, views (and egos!) that make change difficult to achieve.

I, like many others, wonder how it’s all going to pan out but more importantly what this will mean for carers and young carers throughout the UK.

One of our election asks was that there should be more support for young carers in school. We know that for many children and young people, being a carer has a detrimental impact on their education and experience of school life, and this is evidenced by the results of our recent survey of young carers aged 6-18.

700 young carers took part and the findings make grim reading:

  • Nearly half of the young carers who took part in the study said there was not a single teacher at their school who knew they were a young carer.
  • 60% said that they do not think their teacher would understand what life was like for them
  • 70% agreed with the statement that “being a young carer has made their life more difficult”
  • More than two thirds reported being bullied at school

What is The Trust doing about this? Firstly, in partnership with The Children’s Society (politicians take note: it can be done), The Trust has developed a new information pack ‘Supporting Young Carers: a resource for schools’ to help staff identify and support young carers more effectively, free to download from www.carers.org/professionals from May 2010.

Secondly, and crucially, the Trust will work quickly to get to grips with new ministerial teams, policies and personalities. Both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats have school reform on their agenda, and the Prime Minister spoke on Wednesday of “rebuilding family, rebuilding community, above all, rebuilding responsibility in our country”. The Trust will be asking the new administration to take a long, hard look at these statistics and use their powers to ensure that young carers are supported in their school and community, and that where there is illness or disability in a family, the whole family is supported. We want a coalition government that takes a shared and joint responsibility for meeting young carers’ needs, whoever they are and wherever they live.

Take care,

Danni

Danni Manzi, Policy and Development Manager for Young Carers (England and Wales) at The Princess Royal Trust for Carers, is guest blogger this week

May 17, 2010 Posted by | Education, Young carers | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Does focus on services for the carer detract from a whole-family approach?

Margaret Thatcher and Gordon Brown outside Downing Street

I've been thinking about what's changed

I’m coming to the end of 10 years in the carer’s movement so I’ve been thinking about what’s changed.

Every campaign and movement for change starts by carving out its identity. It has to be clear about who it’s for and who it’s not, so that, in our case, the government and the public understand who carers are and why their needs matter.

I think the carer’s movement has done that pretty well. People still say “carer” when they mean “paid care-worker”, but you only had to look at the three party leaders competing to sing the praises of unpaid family carers to realise that understanding of carers has hit the mainstream. I can’t imagine Thatcher, Kinnock and Steel/Owen having that conversation.

That necessary focus on carving out a space in public policy for carers has had some downsides, though. In fighting against being lumped together with services for people with long term conditions, we haven’t always had enough of a focus on whole-family solutions. Nine times out of ten, carers come to Carers’ Centres with a crisis in the life of the person they are caring for, which has in turn become a crisis for them. It is usually some time before the Centre can help that person to begin to reconnect with themselves as an individual, rather than seeing themselves solely as their relative or friend’s carer. In the messages we give to government, I think we are still finding the right balance between promoting the need for independent services which are first and foremost for the carer, and helping policy makers to understand that decisions made about people’s health and social care support are decisions that affect whole families.

Getting this right will become ever more important, because councils and the NHS are about to come under huge pressure to cut and amalgamate services and because we have seen the personalisation reforms (personal budgets, direct payments etc) have both good and bad effects on the people who continue to provide the bulk of many support packages: the unpaid carers.

We are all inter-connected and interdependent. Both those who give and those who receive care and support can be excluded from ordinary life chances such as employment, community life and full participation in family relationships.. The state can barely afford health and social care as it is. Without a whole-family approach that feels joined up and supportive to unpaid carers, as well as to the people they support, that funding gap will widen and we will again see the NHS and social services teeter on the brink of collapse.

But if over the next ten years, the carer’s movement can help to make it self-evident to every council and local NHS trust that carers are both fundamental to delivering services, and also individuals in their own right, the rewards unlocked for families and for the state will be huge.

While I’m moving on to a new job, I have been thinking about the many carers for whom caring is life-long. Working with carers has, I hope, left an indelible mark upon my life. I’m grateful for that and for the thousands of contributions of time, expertise and experiences The Trust receives from carers: there would be no change without you.

Alex

Alex Fox, guest blogger this week, is Director of Policy and Communications at The Princess Royal Trust for Carers

May 11, 2010 Posted by | Carers movement, Health, Social Care | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Carers, voting and.. spiders

Thursday 6 May

The Election is an opportunity to move support for carers another step forward


I was asked last night where in Scotland I’m from and what it’s famous for. The most notable thing about Perth is that it used to be the capital of Scotland and Robert the Bruce was crowned there.

The legend of Robert the Bruce (Braveheart was not accurate by the way…) is that he was inspired to fight again by watching a spider successfully, after many attempts, making its web connect from one part of a cave’s roof to another. Some credit Bruce with the maxim “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”.

Speaking to carers, they often feel dispirited and hopeless. They feel as though they have to fight for everything and often get nowhere. They too can feel left alone having to fight an immoveable object.

And yet, sometimes, the irresistible force does move the immoveable object. We probably will never meet every need of every carer, but we can move things forward improving lives bit by bit and sometimes there are even larger triumphs.

In an earlier blog I related the treatment of carers to the support for Queens Park – the only amateur football club in Britain still playing in the top leagues. The good news is that since that blog Queens Park have risen up the league and tonight play Arbroath in a play off for promotion.

And the nickname of Queens Park? The Spiders.

The Election does provide an opportunity to move support for carers another step forward. None of the parties – Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem, Green, SNP, Plaid Cymru, UKIP or BNP have all of the answers. But some of them may have a few.

Tomorrow is another opportunity. We must try, try again.

Some commentary on the policies of the 3 main parties:

Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/apr/20/social-policies-general-election-2010

Kings Fund: http://www.kingsfund.org.uk/general_election_2010/index.html

And my earlier blog from the roundtable covers carers’ issues of the main parties

Take care, Gordon

May 5, 2010 Posted by | General Election | | Leave a comment

We should make it easier for carers and the people they care for to vote

Someone posting an envelope into a post box.

Postal voting makes it easier for disabled people and their carers to vote

What did I do today? I voted.

Don’t worry, you haven’t been asleep for 8 days and missed the election; I’ve submitted a postal vote.

I have to admit that it’s not quite the same as walking to the local community centre with family, meeting neighbours and canvassers, getting my name ticked off and then going into the booth with the tiny little pencil. Doing that feels like you are taking part in democracy and are part of something bigger than yourself. Doing it by post is akin to …well I’m not sure actually, as everything is done online or by e-mail nowadays.

I think the best way to describe the feeling is solitude. You don’t get that sense of participation that you do by “going to vote”.

With turnouts declining, people have been talking about making it easier to vote. Ballot boxes in supermarkets is the answer. No, we should all do it by text messaging like a Saturday night TV talent show. The internet is the future dummie, online is where we should be.

Am I being nostalgic (at 30!!!) to think that we would lose that sense of communal participation if we all just tapped a button on a keyboard in our homes one night? Would it actually distance us from the point of voting which is people coming together to decide how we live together?

But then as a colleague pointed out, some people such as those who are seriously ill or disabled and their carers find it hard to get out to vote, so we should be making it easier for everyone to vote. We should not ignore the needs of a sizeable proportion of our population.

Maybe I am being needlessly sentimental, but I’m going to miss not going to the ballot box on 6th May. To those who can, make the most of it. It’s a special feeling that should be treasured. You’ve just voted in a democracy.

Take care,

Gordon

April 29, 2010 Posted by | General Election | , | Leave a comment

Carers issues feature in leaders debate for a second time

Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg

The Liberal Democrats plan to give a week of respite to those who care for 50 hours or more per week

Watching the Leaders’ Debate on Sky News last night, the needs of carers again featured strongly – as well as issues which impact on carers’ lives like pensions which obviously effect the financial well being of older carers.

And again respite breaks were discussed. We’re all aware that having a break from caring is one of the key needs expressed by Scotland’s unpaid carers. Indeed it is a key recommendation in Care 21.

As a carer myself, I appreciate the need to ‘get away’ from caring – that might mean having a couple of hours of ‘me time’ with a friend, being at the hairdressers – it doesn’t always mean having a week away – or indeed the person you care for having time away from the home environment.

A short break can be so many things – something which I think political parties have missed in the ongoing debate around carers as we move towards this exciting General Election.

There is still a real need – and gap – in terms of social services and other key professionals involving carers in planning services for those they care for. For carers, a Carers’ Assessment does not always lead to them getting the support they need, at the time they need it – and that includes having access to a short break. A break can range from simply being able to leave the house to do things which others take for granted, right through to a full holiday.

The needs of unpaid carers are featuring in this election – and leaders are listening. We welcome developments such as the commitment by the Liberal Democrats to give a week of respite to those who care for 50 hours or more per week.

But my plea to Nick Clegg, Gordon Brown, David Cameron – and Alex Salmond – is please listen harder. Work with The Princess Royal Trust for Carers, with the network of Carers’ Centres and organisations such as Shared Care Scotland to create and develop new and responsive opportunities to have a break from caring – with carers as equal partners in this process.

And above all, please keep asking questions of your local candidates – find out where they stand on these issues. The voice of carers needs to be loud and clear.

Take care,

Lynn

April 23, 2010 Posted by | General Election | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Party leaders call carers “unsung heroes”, but that’s just the start…

Carers – the nations’ unsung heroes. That was the message given out to the country last night by the three party leaders during their televised debate. The last five minutes focused on social care, and carers in particular, with the Lib Dems taking the opportunity to highlight their £500m commitment to provide breaks for carers. The party leaders should be congratulated for bringing carers into the national debate.

the leaders debate on ITV

Let's not kid ourselves that singing carers' praises will solve the huge issues we face

My mobile went berserk immediately as people recognised that such a high profile debate was great news for carers. However, media coverage and political debate will only be worth something if carers’ lives are improved as a result.

In my first ever blog I said how it was wrong to think that there was one single magic bullet that would solve all of the problems carers experience. Most carers desperately need a break; others need financial support; some would like to combine work with caring; many cry out for emotional support; whilst training carers in first aid and handling medications will make lives a lot easier for some.

We are changing as a society. Life expectancy is increasing, families are smaller and more geographically dispersed, and it’s likely that both parents now work. This means an increasing need to care for relatives with a decreasing ability to do so.

At the moment we do not enable people to care, we expect them to do so. Taking carers for granted translates into a lack of support which causes carers to suffer mental or physical breakdowns. But given the issues noted above, it is imperative that we get help to families and friends who want to care.

How we do that is bigger than just a five minute debate. It is not just the responsibility of politicians, or even carers to lead this. It is something that will affect all of us and our families. We have a duty to them to sort this now before it’s too late.

Carers – the nations’ unsung heroes? Yep, but let’s not kid ourselves that singing their praises will solve the huge issues we face. You can read a statement from The Princess Royal Trust for Carers Chief Executive, Carole Cochrane, here.

Take care,

Gordon

April 16, 2010 Posted by | General Election, Uncategorized | , , , | 9 Comments

What does the General Election mean for carers in Scotland?

Map of Scotland showing which party holds each constituency

What will the election mean for Scotland’s 657,000 carers and 100,000 young carers?

Well the starter pistol was sounded by Gordon Brown on Tuesday and we’ve begun the race to the the General Election on 6th May.

Never before have carer issues been so central to an election – with the three main parties and media picking up on funding for social care and respite issues in recent months.

But what does this all mean for Scotland’s 657,000 carers and 100,000 young carers.

First, whilst many of the issues you will hear being discussed may not seem to directly impact on Scotland, funding for things like social care and health come to Scotland via the Treasury’s funding.

Second, any future cuts to public spending will impact on Scotland through the Barnett Formula and this will impact on what the Scottish Government has to spend, and in turn, what local authorities will have in their coffers from next year onwards. The Concordat between Scottish and local government has changed how money is allocated to local authorities and how local authorities then spend this.

This all means that we need to make sure that the needs of unpaid carers remain high on the campaign agenda both during and after this General Election. Whichever political party wins, we can expect unpaid carers in Scotland to be affected by the work of the new UK Government both directly, through any proposed changes to welfare benefits for example, and indirectly via the Treasury’s settlement for the Scottish Budget.

Contact your local party representative to ask what they will do to ensure unpaid carers are supported in their role and have a life outside of caring. Ask them to explain their party’s plans for social care and health. Ask them to campaign for increases to Carers’ Allowance and to ensure that Cold Weather and Winter Fuel payments take account of unpaid carers.

In Scotland, we will continue to work with all political parties to ensure unpaid carers are a high political priority and that this is reflected as the Scottish Government moves to set its budget for 2011 onwards.

And use your vote! If you can’t get out of the house, you can get a postal vote. Like Gordon said in March, your vote matters and your vote as a carer means that the voice of carers in Scotland is heard loud and clear during the election.

As a carer myself, I will certainly be at my local polling station first thing on 6th May…

Take care,

Lynn

PS, The BBC have put together a really handy map that lets you explore all 650 UK constituencies that are up for grabs in May.

April 9, 2010 Posted by | General Election | , , | Leave a comment

Our five election asks for carers

a number five on the side of a house

We must also take the opportunity to tell candidates what we want from them

Politicians may think that the election campaign is their chance to speak to the country, but I think it really should be a time for us to speak to them…

I explained in a previous blog that it’s important to vote or we risk carers’ issues being neglected. But before voting we must also take the opportunity to tell candidates what we want from them.

These are our five asks for carers. If a candidate knocks on your door, put them on the spot, ask them if they will pledge to make these a reality for carers:

1. The National Carers’ Strategy must be implemented

The 10 year Carers’ Strategy to improve carers’ lives has only just begun. £255m was committed to deliver the improvements needed up to 2011, but we need parties to commit to continuing this.

2. Don’t cut the Carers Grant

Local authorities will receive £256m (England) in April 2010 to support carers. Carers need to know that this Carers Grant to local authorities will continue throughout the next Parliament. Not every area has specialist carers’ services providing information, training, advice, emotional support and respite. We need to keep the Carers Grant to support carers everywhere.

3. No carer in poverty

Too many carers scrape by on a Carer’s Allowance of £53.90 p/w. One third of carers cut back on food or struggle to pay essential fuel bills. Financial worries harm their health and ability to care. Flexible working and more respite care need to be available allowing carers to combine work and care. Benefits should be higher for those unable to work.

4. Help young adult carers in further education

Carers lose their Carer’s Allowance if they are enrolled in a full-time course or are doing more than 21 hours of training per week. This leaves many carers hoping to go to college or university with a terrible choice if their family depends on Carer’s Allowance.

5. Support young carers in school

Many young carers remain hidden from services and lose their childhood and chance to do well at school. Every school should have a young carer’s policy and lead member of staff to help staff identify and support pupils who are young carers.

Make sure your voice is heard. And let me know what your election asks are in comments section below.

Take care,

Gordon

April 6, 2010 Posted by | General Election | , , , | 8 Comments

Carers must show politicians they matter by voting

Vote!

The General Election is expected to take place on Thursday 6th May

Barack Obama yesterday signed a new Health Care Bill extending healthcare to an extra 32 million Americans. But already the fear is that in November’s mid-term election Democrats will lose votes because the 32 million Americans who are going to benefit from the Bill are generally poorer people and are, generally, less likely to vote. Rich people already have healthcare cover and are more likely to vote and are more likely to oppose expanding healthcare cover.

I find it strange that the very people who have most to gain from a change in Government policies are often the people who are least likely to vote. The result of this is that political parties ignore their needs and concentrate on pleasing the people who do vote.

For example, many of you might be surprised to learn that over 90% of estates are not subject to Inheritance Tax but it is such a prominent issue. Stamp duty is another big issue (new policy in today’s budget) although it only affects a small minority. And of course we’ve already heard about politicians trying to win the ‘grey’ vote.

This creates a vicious circle where people feel powerless, disillusioned, unrepresented, and as a result they decide not to vote. But this isn’t the answer.

Carers will have a lot to consider when deciding who to vote for, some unrelated to health or social care. Look at what each political party is offering you and decide who deserves your vote. My message is that not voting makes it less likely you will be listened to. So whatever you do, vote!

And be realistic, there might not be any party that offers to solve all your problems or even comes close – I guess we have to recognise that they juggle competing priorities. But if we stop shouting, carers may not even be a “juggled” priority at all. So show them you matter by voting (you can register here).

I’ll be in the Carers.org chatroom from 7pm onwards tonight. If you’re a carer and you want more information about what the parties are offering you, come along.

And if you’re feeling in the mood for protesting but are unable to take to the streets, Carers UK have an excellent virtual protest blog. You just need to send them a photo of you and your message for the politicians and they’ll post it up for you.

Take care,

Gordon

March 24, 2010 Posted by | General Election | , , , , | 2 Comments