For the 10,466 carers in my constituency getting the right support is crucial. Caring for an older or disabled relative or friend can take a serious toll on carers' mental and physical health, their relationships and family finances. Without support this can lead to carers being overwhelmed by stress and anxiety, and at worst this can bring about exhaustion, suffering a physical injury and needing care for themselves.
The 28th November is national Carers Rights Day - an important initiative bringing organisations across the UK together to ensure carers in local community know their rights and where to locate the help and support to which they are entitled.
Having the right information makes a huge difference
Every year millions of pounds worth of benefits go unclaimed by carers unaware of their entitlement. Many who attend my advice surgeries are surprised to hear that they may get some support in their own right.
So it's terrific that organisations like the Sheffield Young Carers, based in my constituency, are having their own 'Twitter takeover' to raise awareness about the rights of young carers. Groups up and down the country will be launching similar initiatives to help carers navigate the maze of services they could access.
However the need to set aside a day aimed at signposting carers to support shows that as a society we do not do enough all year round. We should be championing the thousands of family and friends who selflessly assist people with crucial needs - medication, washing and going to the toilet, preparing meals and providing human warmth and companionship.
The Coalition Government can claim to have somewhat improved support for carers. The Care Act has strengthened the requirements on local authorities to assess a carer's need for support and help. Young carers will now have similar rights to assessment as other carers.
There is a commitment to support through the Better Care Fund with £130 million pledged including funding for breaks for carers, as well as money to implement the new duties in the Care Act. An increase to Carers Allowance and an extension of the right to request flexible working will also benefit carers. However as the Better Care Fund is money taken from existing health and social care budgets this support will be at the cost of services.
Carers are being pushed to breaking point
Research from Carers UK earlier this year highlights that in 6 out of 10 cases carers have been pushed to breaking point, and a quarter of these needed medical treatment as a result. This is not surprising as Government cuts to social care funding have reached £3.53 billion in just four years. At the same time the number of people providing full-time care to family and friends has risen to over 1.4 million.
The government has vastly underestimated the costs that key parts of the Care Act will place on local authorities. The Department of Health's most recent impact assessment estimated that total costs of extending carers' rights in the Act will be £69.4 million across England in 2015-16. An analysis by London Councils found that councils in London alone estimate a bill of £53.9 million in 2015-16 - more than three-quarters (78%) of the estimate of the total cost nationally.
Similarly, the government has misled the public with its pitch for the Better Care Fund which supports integration of NHS and social care services. Despite pledging an extra £69.4 million for 2015-16, rising to £192.6 million by 2020 for local authorities to implement the Care Act, there is no new money. The Better Care Fund, for all its ambitions, is a pooling of existing budgets. The National Audit Office has described the plans as based on "optimism rather than evidence".
This cannot continue. Unless government acts to place social care funding on a sustainable footing the Care Act will fail carers.
A holistic approach to eligibility
Last month the government published the statutory regulations and guidance which accompany the Care Act. These outline how the Act will work in practice including the threshold at which carers and those with care needs will be eligible for support.
As one of the MPs on the Care Bill committee earlier in the year I pressed the government to take a holistic approach to the eligibility criteria - allowing carers to access support for low level care needs (such as shopping and cleaning), where they were doing the high level care for a family member. However the final national eligibility threshold only covers 'substantial' or 'critical' care needs.
This approach is disappointing and risks undermining the whole purpose of the Act. The final regulations will likely leave many carers ineligible for support. At the same time the government expects these informal carers to provide essential services and support. Without a holistic approach to eligibility, thousands will continue to struggle without the basic support they need.
Carers left unsupported
Estimates suggest that the number of people needing support will outstrip the number of working age family members able to provide it as early as 2017. Many family members and friends willingly take on the care and want to continue to do so for as long as possible. But without small amounts of regular help and support they will be overwhelmed, leading to the need for more state provided care and crucially a negative experience for many elderly and disabled people.
It's time to recognise just how valuable carers are and back this up with action. Important steps have been taken but I want to see more now: new, sustainable funding for health and social care, improved access to information and advice, good quality, flexible and affordable care, carers' benefits rising in line with inflation and rights to paid care leave.
Carers Rights Day is a great initiative and I am delighted to be supporting it, but there is much more work to be done.