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 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.
If you hear me saying “I’m going green” you may think I have fallen in line with my girlfriend’s environmental leanings. However, until the Government’s consultation ends on 13th November, it means that I’m off to a meeting about the Green Paper on reforming social care. Today was my first “going green” day.
Minister for Care Services, Phil Hope and Director General of Social Care, David Behan led a meeting to discuss the various proposals in the Green Paper. After a brief summary of the Green Paper they asked for questions. I am usually polite and don’t make a Usain Bolt like dash for the microphone but in this instance it was within arms reach so how could I not?
On page 114 of the Green Paper, it is suggested that in a Comprehensive Model, where everybody aged 65+ has to make a financial contribution, couples could be asked to pay less. The Green Paper gives two reasons for this:
• The costs to a couple having to use savings to pay two contributions could be very high
• Couples often provide mutual care and support, therefore saving the social care system money
I am not convinced by the first reason given that it is increasingly common for both adults to be working, but I do see the logic of the second. It is fair that we value in-kind contributions that carers give to the system by reducing the financial contribution we ask them to pay.
My question was whether they would be prepared to extend the proposal to all carers as there are lots of carers who are not caring for a partner but should be equally valued. It would appear strange if only carers with a romantic interest would qualify, although it might hasten the return of Blind Date to help match people up.
Their answer was that if this was a case that the carers’ movement wanted to make, then we should make it and the Department of Health would listen. There are various issues within the Green Paper that will affect us all but this is one of the only issues that is specific to carers and it demands our attention.
Carers provide the majority of care and support, and without them the social care system would collapse. These in-kind contributions are as important to the future sustainability of social care as any model of raising extra funding for it is. And it should be treated as such. What carers give should be valued by the State giving something back in return. It is fair, it is right and we should make sure that the Government, Parliament, councillors and even the man down the road know this.
However, we cannot win the argument alone. For carers to pay less, others will have to pay more and it is their support that we need. We need them to accept that this is a fair “trade-off” (a new Dept of Health buzzword going by today) and support our campaign on this. We have a briefing on this issue and will be running a poll on it later this month. Please take part in it and encourage others to do so. If we’re going green, then it’s time to move.
Take care, and take action
PS. Despite my clarion call to support Queens Park (aka The Spiders) last week, they unfortunately fell to a 1-0 defeat to Berwick Rangers at the weekend. 519 hardy fans paid money to watch it.
Well we certainly stretched Carers Week out as much as possible. The first event (Thames Walk) was before it even started and the last media interview took place at 11pm last night. The lucky person who got to stay up late on a Sunday night for the Five Live interview was my esteemed colleague Danni Manzi. Danni heads the development of young carers support work in England and Wales for The Princess Royal Trust for Carers.
I’m going to have to take some tips from Danni who managed to remember our website address and telephone number during the interview, which was something that I failed to do with Quay Radio (Portsmouth) last Thursday.
Last Thursday was a busy one with me attending a question time type event at our Southwark Carers’ Centre. I do fear these events in case everybody realises that the carers in the audience know more than me sitting on the panel. Thankfully, I wasn’t heckled or booed and the event showed how poor the level of discourse on the real Question Time can be.
Two fellow panellists were councillors who admitted to me beforehand that had learnt so much in preparation for the event. This honesty meant that they actually listened and even agreed to meet with carers to discuss how carers’ policies could be included in their local party manifesto for council elections. Genuine working together can hopefully bring greater understanding of the pressure on both sides.
Sadly, this will have to be done without Allan Johnstone, who was enjoying his last day as Chief Executive of the centre. He will be missed but will still be working to support carers – so all is not lost. Centre managers often put huge amounts of their lives into supporting carers and I am generally in awe of what they manage to do on a shoestring.
Doing this did mean that I missed the short debate on carers in the House of Commons. However, I did manage to read the debate online.
It was good to see that Dr Andrew Murrison spoke. He was one of the MPs who dropped in to our information service last week who had never previously been involved.
There was much focus on Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) not providing breaks for carers, which I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs. MPs Paul Burstow, Greg Mulholland and Stephen O’Brien all asked Phil Hope MP (Minister for Care Services) how the Government was tracking whether PCTs were spending the £50m given to them (£100m next year) to provide breaks for carers. Mr Hope didn’t give the wholly truthful answer of “we’re not” but chose to absolve himself of responsibility instead placing it on MPs and carers themselves:
“Part of his responsibilities as a local MP, along with those of carers, might be to ensure that the local primary care trust understands the needs of carers, does the job that it should be doing to assess people’s needs and ensures that it allocates from its budget the money that the Government have allocated to it to support carers in the area.”
I would love to find out how much Northamptonshire NHS, which covers Phil Hope’s constituency, is spending on carers.
The truth is the Ministers gave the money then washed their hands of it. Little guidance was given to PCTs and PCTs were not even told how much of the £50m each was receiving. We have been gathering information over recent months and the feedback shows that only four out of the 70 PCTs we have information on are spending all of their allocation (we worked these out) on carers’ services. The majority do not seem to be spending any of it on carers.
Anne McGuire MP also asked the Government to consider not defining Carer’s Allowance as an income replacement benefit, which would allow a carer to receive a State Pension and a Carer’s Allowance at the same time. Many carers dream of such a scenario.
Young carers also received some focus and the debate does show that there are MPs who care. However, if a new speaker does reform anything, it should be making MPs answer the questions put to them in Parliament. It’s a shame that local councillors find it easier to be open and honest than national Parliamentarians do.