Tag Archives: independent commission

Carers need a life of their own

Isolated, lonely, marginalised; that is how the majority of carers feel, according to a survey published to coincide with this week’s Carers Week.

The survey, which took in the views of more than 3,200 carers across the UK – the majority of which care for more than 50 hours per week – paints a fairly bleak picture of a carer’s life.

For example, 76% said they feel like they have no life of their own outside of their caring role, with a similar percentage saying they have lost touch with family and friends as a result of being a carer. Many feel they have no time to socialise, for romantic relationships or even to have children.

Being a carer also adversely impacts on many financially – 4 out of 5 report being worse off, with more than half having to give up work to devote more time to their role. This also exacerbates many carers’ sense of isolation, with work often a vital means of social interaction.

It makes for depressing reading. What makes it worse is that the survey also reveals what many carers feel they need to make their lives better – and they are relatively modest demands. The 4 main needs are:

  • Access to relevant and practical information, to help them with their caring role
  • The opportunity to take a break when they need it
  • Support at times of crisis
  • Financial support.

To my mind, there is nothing in that list that cannot be achieved, if the political willingness is there.

There is the possibility that some of it may be realised in the relatively short-term. The government has said it is committed to providing a week’s respite for carers, although I believe this is only for carers of severely disabled children (please correct me if I’m wrong) and I haven’t yet seen a timescale for when this might be implemented.

Putting mechanisms in place to provide better information for carers and more support at times of crisis are also achievable at a local level through better working with local authority social services and independent social care providers.

The only demand that may not see any action is that of financial support. Current media speculation about the forthcoming cuts to public spending in next week’s Budgets predicts cuts in benefits so any significant rise to the Carer’s Allowance would seem unlikely. I don’t agree with that, but that’s just the way I think it will go.

These demands really need to be taken into account in the forthcoming independent commission on the future of social care.

Indeed, one of the criticisms of last year’s Big Care Debate and subsequent White Paper – now consigned to the dustbin, of course – was that carers seemed to be largely ignored in it. This always seemed like a huge oversight – not only are carers a vital part of the system, they are often the people who know the most about caring and what service users need.

Hopefully the new commission will take more notice of their opinions and needs and surveys like this will not make such troubling reading in the future.

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Back to the future for social care

I had a peculiar sense of déjà vu reading new care services minister Paul Burstow’s interview in the Daily Telegraph the other day. While spoke about his hopes – and the need – for reform of adult social care, I had the funniest sense I’d heard it somewhere before.

Maybe because I have; about the time the green paper on adult social care was first mooted by the old Labour government a few years back. And a various points since then, up to and including the run-up to last month’s election (Doesn’t it seem a long time ago now?).

In the Telegraph interview, Burstow – who has a decent reputation within the sector – spoke of the need to find “a sustainable funding settlement for social care” and to reform a system that will soon become “not fit for purpose”.

Nothing new there. Many commentators – as well as service users and workers in the sector – have been saying this for years, to no avail.

There is also nothing new in his outline for the funding options that will be discussed by the upcoming independent commission; a voluntary scheme, a partnership scheme where state and individuals contribute, and a compulsory levy after death – yep, Labour’s much-derided ‘Death Tax’.

This is something of a turnaround for the government, which only referred to the partnership and voluntary models in its coalition document, released just a couple of weeks ago.

But what is new is a little detail on the timescale for reform. Those of us who thought that the coalition’s plans kicked the issue into the long grass now know how far; Burstow wants the soon-to-be-formed independent commission report back on funding options within a year, with a White Paper ready by autumn 2011.

He admits this is ambitious, but necessary as the Baby Boomers hit old age.

Nevertheless, it is good to see a timescale being laid out, even if it isn’t the one most people involved in the sector would have liked – in an ideal world reform would already have been carried out.

Also, carrying on with the positives, Burstow does seem to have a good handle on what needs to be done – saying it would be wrong to fixate on the problem of older people having to sell their homes to pay for residential care, something that the last consultation seemed to, almost with an eye on the upcoming election – and is willing to consider a range of options.

But what the independent commission comes up with remains to be seen – as does how different it will be to what came out of last year’s Big Care Debate – although the rumoured presence of economists on it suggests that it may be geared towards saving money.

Again, it feels like we’ve been here before. So while this could easily be a false dawn – and there have been enough of those over the years – at the moment, it is probably best to give the benefit of the doubt to the government, while all the time reminding them of what is needed and why, and to call them to account if they let the sector down.

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Filed under adult social care, Social care funding