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Carer Votes Count in Scotland

Note: The following blog post has been written by Lynn Williams, the Policy Officer (Scotland) for The Princess Royal Trust for Carers.

So a few weeks into the election campaign in Scotland and already the issues affecting Scotland’s 657,000 unpaid

MSPs pledging support for carers

carers have featured in most party manifestos as well as in the press. The BBC “Big Debate” on Living Longer had carers in the audience – Caroline gave a very moving insight into her journey as a carer for her parents.  The launch of specific manifesto pledges for unpaid carers by the SNP at the Glasgow South East Carer Centre also picked up some coverage.

Before looking at what parties are committing to (and we know that a commitment doesn’t necessarily mean that something will actually happen!) it’s important to review where we are first.

Over the last four years, political parties have delivered a lot of warm words about the contribution of unpaid carers – and young carers.  There have been some policy gains in the last four years around additional investment in respite, funding which has benefitted the work of carers’ organisations, and the publication of the new Carers and Young Carers’ Strategies in Scotland. So, some good news.

What is becoming increasingly clear however – from contacts on Facebook (See our Carers Votes Count Facebook pages;  from feedback from Carers Centres who are on the frontline and from colleagues in other carers’ organisations is that unpaid carers and their families and are at the hard end of local cuts. The campaign pages for Scotland ACT Now for Autism provide stories from across the country and parent- carers open their hearts about the daily fights they endure for their children.

This is before we even get to the impact of the welfare reform agenda coming from Westminster to a town or city near you. So from the perspective of Scotland’s carers and from the perspective of The Princess Royal Trust for Carers – warm words are fine; promises are fine – but it’s now time for action.

So what are the parties actually saying? We have published summaries of the four main Scottish parties’ manifestos and the pledges that they have made.

So what does this all mean?

The answer is – not a lot. But manifestos give some indication of the level of commitment to unpaid carer and young carers. They can also help carers to decide who to vote for especially if they remain undecided.

What happens after the election is more important – what commitments actually become reality and do they make any REAL difference to the lives of carers such as Clare Lally, Sandra Webster, Teresa Catto Smith and others who are regularly posting on our election Facebook pages – Carers Votes Count.  Their stories tell us that the political parties still have a long way to go.

A number of carers have told us that they remain undecided as to how to vote and that they want to see specific pledges which will help improve their lives.  There may well indeed be up to 657,000 votes up for grabs! Therefore, until the next election blog, please continue to lobby your candidates, attend any local hustings events and please contact us here or via Facebook with the issues that affect you as carers or young carers in Scotland.

Lynn

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April 19, 2011 Posted by | Benefits, breaks for carers, Budget, Carers movement, Carers Strategy, General Election, Scotland | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Scottish Party Conferences and Carers

Note: The following post has been contributed by Lynn Williams, the Policy Officer for Scotland at The Princess Royal Trust for Carers

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After the Conferences…Well, the Scottish Party Conference season is over (a big ‘phew’ from me!!) and we take our first steps on the road to the Scottish Budget and Election 2011.

So what happened and how did carers fare?

The answer is not very well…so far.  Political parties in Scotland are only beginning to make policy announcements.   Carers were mentioned by the Scottish Labour Party.

Tasneem and Brenda – two carers from Glasgow who spoke at the recent Cross Party Group

The Scottish Lib Dems have included a commitment to carers in their pre manifesto document and we are continuing to work with their manifesto team to ensure that carers are fully recognised.

The SNP did not make any policy commitments about carers at their conference but a recent meeting with the SNP manifesto team generated some interesting ideas to benefit unpaid carers and young carers.  This includes looking at ways in which carers might be better supported in employment.  Also, a meeting with the Scottish Conservative shadow health team last month was productive and positive.

It’s too early to say at this stage if and how carers will be recognised in each party’s manifesto, but we continue to work with all the parties to ensure this happens.

So we look ahead to the budget and beyond to next May’s election….

A National Care Service?

Influencing party manifestos is all well and good, but it is what happens beyond the election that matters. 

If Labour gets into power next year, the new government will seek to introduce a National Care Service within the lifetime of the next Parliament (2011 – 2015). The aim in doing so would be to end the postcode lottery of social care provision, bringing together health and social care so that “no-one falls through the gaps” and that the focus is “on the person needing care.”

Did I miss the word carer in there somewhere?  Yes, I think I did.

Whilst no one would argue against the laudable aim of tackling the complicated infrastructure of support and the disconnect that exists between health and social care, is a NATIONAL service the way to do it?

As I lie awake at 4am in the morning (something which I do quite often) I have been thinking about this proposal:

  • Will it tackle the existing gaps and overlaps in existing provision?
  • Will it offer more effective recognition and support of carers?
  • Would the service lead to more effective working between the NHS and social care provision in Scotland.

Scotland is a small enough country to enable a national service to work; but, it’s hard to say anything concrete about this proposal without any more detail. And whatever form it takes, it cannot work without placing unpaid carers and young carers at its heart.  I think there is a missing link here….

Another point to make – “national” is not always better. It can be less quick to respond and the needs of the individual can be lost; it can be bureaucratic; it can also be more costly as layers of delivery and management develop over time. 

The last thing that concerns me is timescale – Mr. Gray and Ms. Baillie committed to delivering the new service during the lifetime of the next Parliament.  Whatever the benefits, opportunities – and challenges – of this proposal, the creation of a National Care Service won’t happen quickly enough to help carers now as they experience local cuts to services and changing eligibility criteria for respite and short breaks. It won’t happen quickly enough for local Carers’ Centres who are already struggling to meet massively increased demand on standstill budgets.

Another issue relates to social care procurement and plans within Greater Glasgow and Clyde Valley local authorities to look at merging specific functions such as social care.  Should this go ahead, there would be substantial impact on a significant number of carers and their families.  But bigger still, the national care service would, I guess, have a significant procurement role.  Would the focus be on quality or cost?  How would that benefits the lives of carers in Scotland? 

The Budget, Elections and Beyond….

So we move towards publication of the Scottish Budget later this month.  This will determine the public sector landscape and how services will be delivered both nationally and locally – no matter which party wins power next year.

We intend to put out a final ‘plea’ to MSPs prior to ensure that they support recognition of carers and young carers within the budget, and to ask them to put pressure on the Minister and Mr Swinney to continue Carer Information Strategy funds continue beyond 2011.  We will also ask that the existing Government places a requirement on health boards to work with carer organisations to take any future funding forward and that Centres benefit directly from this – they are best place to deliver services which benefit carers and young carers.

Even if this funding stream continues (and that would be extremely welcome) it does not guarantee sustainable funding for carer support and Carers’ Centres from 2011. The early stage plans to merge social care provision and other functions across a number of local authorities in the west of Scotland would likely have an impact on funding for Carers Centres.

So, now, more than ever, Carers Centres and the carers they support need to be vocal and visible and demonstrate the economic and social impact of reducing or stopping funding for carer support.  An example has been set – a Conservative controlled local authority in Greater London has recently awarded the local Carers Centre a seven year contract to deliver services because of its unique and effective offering.  That should be the model we aspire to.  If a Conservative local authority can do it, so can others.

All political parties in Scotland say they are committed to unpaid carers and young carers.  No doubt, each party’s manifesto will make a commitment to support them. Warm words at this point.  Carers who spoke at the recent Cross Party Group highlighted the continuing challenges they face for recognition.  We launched the Scottish Carers Manifesto at that event and its banner says ‘No more talk…. Action now”. That is the message we want every MSP and prospective parliamentary candidate to take to heart. There are tens of thousands of carers in your constituency and regions – that’s a lot of votes. In what is likely to be the tightest election since devolution, carers and first time voters who are young carers could help you win your constituency or regional seat.

Next time…

There is more happening at a national level around closer working between health and social care. This relates to the “Reshaping Care for the Elderly” agenda. Once we have more detail we will keep you posted.

For now, take care and please let me know what is happening with social care provision in your area.  Have cuts started to affect you?  Please contact me or use our Facebook pages to let us know the types of issues that you would like us to raise with MSPs.

Lynn

November 10, 2010 Posted by | Benefits, Budget, Carers Strategy, Conservatives, David Cameron, Health, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Party Conferences, Scotland, Social Care, Young carers | , , , , , | Leave a comment