Society's debt to carers

Friday, 29 June, 2012

How far does one go for a family member?


I mean really put yourself out to support a loved one?


I’m talking total self-sacrifice. That is what I have been asking people in Bury St Edmunds the past week.


That’s because it’s been National Carers’ Week. A week designed to draw attention to the sacrifices carers make on a daily basis, often for years on end.


One in 10 people in the UK are unpaid carers in the UK - that’s almost six million people who dedicate their time, energy, sometimes their whole lives, to care for a loved one who could not cope without their help.


Carers can be young or old. Friend or family. Their caring can be anything from shopping and cooking to being responsible for the physically wellbeing of someone who is ill, frail, disabled or has mental health or addiction problems. It can mean administering medicine. Or with the vulnerable, just checking they have not hurt

themselves – sometimes constantly.


I know what it involves. My mother was a full-time carer for my grandfather, who lived with us when I was a small child in the mid-1960s. He was blind and partially deaf. He was an elderly, retired vicar and, to put it bluntly, there weren’t many local or state services or grants to help out over 40 years ago.


These days my mother’s role of carer would be called “challenging”. A frail, elderly

father requiring constant minding – as well as a husband and small young child (me) to look after. Getting a paid, full-time or part-time job was impossible for her.


But she didn’t complain or seem self-pitying – though she would have been entitled

to feel those emotions. Why? Because whilst caring is absolutely about the virtues

of love and a proper sense of duty, it is still tough. Hard, even. Many of my constituents face very similar struggles.


Without carers the additional cost of care on the state is estimated to be a massive £119billion. Put another way: the equivalent of the UK’s current deficit!


It is clear that, without their hard (and sometimes thankless) devotion, the state

would struggle to cope in meeting need.


So doesn’t the taxpayer owe carers a debt of gratitude? Can’t we do more for carers

themselves? Each year in West Suffolk, Crossroads Care East Anglia provides

around 30,000 hours of one-to one care for adults and children to give their own

carers respite.


Carer Support Workers literally step into the carers’ shoes for short periods,

providing support and companionship for the person with care needs. Staff are

trained to be able to carry out daily duties.


The respite help for carers involves facilities for adults with physical and sensory disabilities. There is also a Saturday club for children and young people with

particular needs. This is all done with the help of Suffolk Family Carers, the Alzheimers Society, Age UK, the Parkinsons Society and the MS Society who identify carers who are in need of support themselves.


Shockingly, across the country there are 175,000 young carers. And 13,000 of

them are caring for more than 50 hours a week.


So the services that charities like Crossroads provide means that these young people have the opportunity to go out and live their own lives without anxiety taking over about the impact this may have on their dependants.


More than a third of carers are over the age of 65.


The social care system must change as the ageing population rises inexorably in the future. The publication of the Government’s recommendations for change is expected very soon. Ministers say they will put more control and choice in the hands of people with care needs. We must be careful to make sure that the transition

doesn’t let carers slip through the net. Organisations like Crossroads in Suffolk face a tough time as it is. Due to the vital need to cut the Government deficit, its grant

income was reduced by 30% in 2011/2012.


Fortunately, through structural changes and the recent Transition Funding from the Government, dire effects have been avoided for the time being.


Suffolk Council and Suffolk Primary Care Trust must work more closely with carers’ charities. The council must be clear on how to commission services, to make sure the small specialist providers, who know the needs in their community, are supported.


Supporting carers must be a priority in the coming reform of social care. The number of people needing support is going up year on year. By 2017 we will reach a tipping-point in care where demand will outstrip what family carers are able to provide.


Politicians must tell the truth about our ageing population. Eleven million people alive today will live to be 100. The population of over 65s is projected to grow by 50% by 2030.


I urge you to look around and see where the carers in your community are. To understand the dedication they show; the example they set; the values of duty, love,

personal responsibility and self sacrifice they display.


To think about how, perhaps, you may be able to help a carer. Caring is a social issue.


The Government can’t do everything that needs to be done to support carers. Is

there anything you can do, do you think?