This week is Carers Week, and with many events planned across the country in support of this, it will hopefully raise the profile of this largely ignored, but vitally important group.
Since the election, reform of social care has again been back on the agenda, with another commission to be formed to investigate its future, and various pledges to not cut frontline services, but measures to help carers have been conspicuous by their absence.
To trot out the oft-quoted statistic, there are about 6 million carers in the UK, who save the economy £87 billion per year. With those numbers, it constantly surprises me that carers aren’t a higher priority for politicians – after all, they make up more than 10% of the electorate.
But they seem to be constantly sidelined. Indeed, since the election various organisations, such as Carerwatch (www.carerwatch.com) and the National Pensioners Convention (www.npcuk.org), have complained about the lack of attention carers have received and how the political agenda has ignored them.
Indeed, from what I have read, the only real commitment specifically to carers has been the pledge to give an extra £20 million to pay for 8,000 week-long respite breaks for people caring for severely disabled children. Which is great, but doesn’t help those who care for severely disabled adults.
Elsewhere, there are also commitments to roll out more direct payments to carers, which could give them more choice and control over their role.
Other bits of legislation could help, such as extending the right to request flexible working to all employees – which could help more carers to remain in work.
This is important because there has been no mention of increasing carers benefit from it’s currently – pitiful – level of £53.10. When you consider that many carers work more than 50 hours a week – it is a disgrace that it is still at this level.
Indeed, with welfare benefits reform on the horizon, it is important that any changes take account of carers and their circumstances. There seems to be a general thrust of getting people back into work and ending benefit dependency in the UK, but for many carers caring is a full-time job in itself and this needs to be remembered.
With government looking to make billions of cuts in the coming years, carers are an invaluable resource and for a relatively small investment in them, the savings that could be brought about – if they are able to continue caring, rather than see their loved one go into residential care, for example – would more than cover the initial outlay.
Let’s hope the government recognises this.