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.
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.
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.
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.
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.