THE BLOG

The Care Bill for Carers - The Job's Not Done

11/03/2014 12:19 GMT | Updated 10/05/2014 10:59 BST

The Care Bill aims to put carers on an equal legal footing to those they care for. This is great news for carers. Now that the stages in Parliament are all but over, we start to look at what this all means in practice. Developing the right regulations is a complex job but vital if we want the new law to mean real change for carers.

In February, Carers Trust and GovToday brought together a panel from across local government, parliamentarians, academics, carers and carers organisations to think this through. Norman Lamb, minister for Care and Support, launched the debate by setting out the Government's commitment to carers. You can see this here.

Clearly local authorities are going to struggle to find the funds for any new support. Many are doing their best to be creative but if there's no money there's a limit to how far creativity can take you. The Better Care Fund means no-one can wriggle out of making plans for carers, but what this means in practice remains to be seen. The perennial tough nut of social care funding remains in need of cracking. You can find out about the panel's views here with interesting discussions about prioritisation and integration, understanding need and providing preventative support.

Information, advice and advocacy for carers is crucial - many carers say they just can't get the information they need particularly when they're trying to arrange residential care. There will be a new duty on local authorities to provide this but we need to make sure this isn't just a factsheet or a page on a website. Carers need face to face relationships - people they can come to trust and rely on so that they can come back time and time again if they need to.

The mantra is choice - choice in services and support, choice in your own life. But there is no choice in services if there's nothing of high quality to choose from. Carers simply won't allow people they don't trust to look after the person they care for, meaning they don't get a break. Quality doesn't come cheap but choice and quality must always go hand in hand. One cannot exist without the other. In this film, the panel consider how extraordinarily hard it is to find relevant services at a time of crisis.

The thorny issue of charging and eligibility is also raising its head. Although carers can currently be charged for their own support by local authorities, few are. However, in straitened times, will local authorities see this as a way of reducing costs? In which case, does it mean some carers will find themselves ineligible for support, leaving them to deteriorate into crisis? What would this mean for the person they care for? Will we end up with a national set of eligibility criteria which in effect is delivered through a post code lottery due to the differing funding arrangements and cut backs across different local authority areas? These are serious issues. The regulations must be clear that carer support is preventative and saves money in the long run. Charging carers for their own support is counterproductive and local authorities must not see this as a soft target for savings.

Finally we need to rethink how carers assessments work - too often they are cursory tick box exercises. If done properly, a good assessment can ensure a carer has their voice heard and feels valued and can be the gateway to wider support. But there are others who may never come into contact with social care systems (a carer for someone with cancer for example who comes into contact with health systems but not social care). So identification is needed first, and an assessment as a gateway to services as a follow up. Those undertaking them need to be trained and there needs to be an outcome. As this film discusses, carers need to feel fully involved in assessments, not fobbed off.

There are lots of fine intentions in the Care Bill but intentions on their own don't make people' lives better. If the Government gets the regulations right, there could be a real positive impact on carers' lives. We need to make this opportunity count for carers.

See the whole debate here http://youtu.be/uXp2Z0loIK4