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

Consensus on social care? Not yet…

This week we have seen social care everywhere in the news.

Our Chief Exec, Carole Cochrane, attended the much publicised care conference today, called by Secretary of State for Health, Andy Burnham, and attended by Lib Dem Shadow Health Minister, Norman Lamb, but boycotted by Conservative Shadow Health Minister, Andrew Lansley.

With all the major charities represented, the conference sounds like it was a much more sensible and thoughtful discussion than some of the stand up rows the politicians have been having recently.

Andrew Lansley in front of a poster of David Cameron

The Tories have specifically ruled out a compulsory levy

The view of the majority of those represented at the conference is likely to add further fuel to the flames, however, because there appears to have been a consensus that some kind of universal (read: compulsory) insurance system was the best solution, or perhaps the least worst option would be more accurate.

This won’t go down well with the Conservatives who are favouring an opt-in solution and have specifically ruled out a compulsory levy, particularly one that you pay in inheritance tax after you die (the so-called “death tax”).

Neither option is perfect. People don’t really like compulsory systems – most of us keep our fingers crossed that we’ll never need to give or receive care, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Optional systems give more choice, but are much more expensive to buy into, because the risks are spread across a smaller group.

Our view is that whichever option is chosen (and let’s hope that, whoever wins this argument and the election, we do at least get one of these options in place, however imperfect), most care will continue to be provided by unpaid family carers.

Today’s conference agreed with us that, whichever option is chosen, as well as being able to pay to participate, the unpaid caring that you provide should also count, in lieu of a cash contribution. After all, people who care full time for years simply don’t have the same opportunities to build up income and savings.

It’s time that the political parties stopped focusing all of their energies on criticising each other’s ideas and instead came up with a decent offer to the UK’s six million carers.

Our sources tell us that one of the parties might be going to do just that on Monday…watch this space.

Take care,


Alex Fox, Director of Policy and Communications at The Princess Royal Trust for Carers, is standing in for Gordon on his blog this week.

Alex has written an article in Society Guardian this week on the “need for a clear emphasis on unpaid carers”.

February 19, 2010 Posted by | General Election | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Personal budgets: carers must have a real choice

Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary, Norman Lamb, speaking at The Trust's fringe event

Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary, Norman Lamb, speaking at The Trust's fringe event

They came in their droves. 10 minutes before the start of our event at the Lib Dem conference, we had already run out of seats and indeed people were having to stand outside. It seemed that personalising health and social care was a popular topic.

Tim Luckhurst chaired our event with Norman Lamb MP representing the Liberal Democrats. Tim recently lost his father to Motor Neurone Disease and praised the help his family received from their Carers’ Centre, so was a very able advocate. We also saw a video of a carer explaining the benefits and problems with having a budget to choose the care you receive rather than being given a care package.

It became clear that many delegates felt that the type of information, advocacy and brokerage that Carers’ Centres could provide are wholly necessary if people are able to manage their own care support. Choice is not real choice if it is not informed.

It was also made clear that carers must have a choice; the burden of managing a budget and organising care should not be dumped on the carer. Don, the carer in the video, explained how he was able to buy respite but then spent it doing paperwork!

And finally, people must have the choice to say no. Some people do not want to manage their own care and would rather social services provided them with a package. This is also linked to local authorities and health bodies ensuring that there is a range of services available for people to choose from.

Norman Lamb was quick to agree that for the Lib Dems personal budgets can give people more choice but that real choice meant informed choice and the choice of saying no. An important point was also made by two of his fellow Lib Dem MPs that services finding and identifying carers cannot be lost, or they won’t even get the chance to make any choices.

Take Care

September 23, 2009 Posted by | Liberal Democrats, Party Conferences | , , , , | 3 Comments

National vs. local: What’s best for carers?

We held our first ever event at a Liberal Democract conference today. It was a joint meeting with the College of Occupational Therapists and proposed greater support for carers and occupational therapists if we are to help people live healthier longer and for people who receive care to live a more independent life.

Sandra Gidley MP (Health Minister) and Paul Burstow MP (Chief Whip and Chairman of All Party Parliamentary Group for Older People) were there with a few other invited guests. It was agreed that greater identification of carers was crucial and that GPs had a large role to play in this. Evidence was given where GP surgeries that have contact with their local Carers Centre identify many more carers than those with less or no contact. We hope that our recently published guide for GPs will increase GPs’ support for carers.

The Green Paper was also discussed with general disappointment at its lack of detail and depth and this was repeated at a meeting I attended with the whole Lib Dem health team and other health organisations. The Lib Dem position on social care is being reviewed but currently could be described as broadly supporting the Scottish model where everybody receives a contribution to their care costs regardless of income, but some may have to top up this contribution with their own funds.

Their policy would inject a further £2bn into social care funding but I think they are looking at finances to see where they could get this £2bn from, given current Government deficits. I spoke to Greg Mulholland MP at the end who agreed to do a web chat about social care when Parliament returns so we’ll keep you posted about that.

Both meetings also discussed the need for commissioners to listen to their communities, service users, carers and professionals about the range of services that are needed. This gave me a perfect opportunity to plug a new guide on Commissioning for Carers that we helped write, which I duly grabbed.

However, the big story at the conference was the speech given by Norman Lamb MP, shadow Secretary of State for Health. He announced that they would scrap Strategic Health Authorities and improve local autonomy of health bodies. I got to discuss this issue of local control with the Lib Dem health team in the context of Primary Care Trusts (your local NHS body) and providing breaks for carers.

My previous blogs have detailed that the Government announced in a National Carers’ Strategy that they would give PCTs £150m to provide breaks for carers. Then it turns out that the Government were just giving PCTs £150m to spend on whatever they wanted, would not tell PCTs how much each was getting of the £150m nor ask them to report on how they spent it. So the Government makes the proclamation then washes its hands of delivering what they announced.

The Government have defended this saying that local NHS bodies know their local areas best, so it should be up to them how to spend the money with local people holding them to account. However, PCTs boards are not elected and it is very hard to hold people to account when you do not know how much they have received or what they have spent it on. You cannot have accountability without transparency.

We are currently stuck in no mans land where national government abdicates responsibility to those who we have no control over. We either move to a system where national politicians take more control and responsibility for delivery, or where local bodies are more accountable to local people who are given greater support to getting involved. The Lib Dems prefer the second option, do you?

Take Care

September 21, 2009 Posted by | Liberal Democrats, Party Conferences | , , , , , | 4 Comments