Over the last few years, the carer's movement has focused their key message on the fact that carers save the government money with Carers UK 'estimating' that 6.5 million carers save the government £87bn a year! While it can be argue family members do provide support that could be provided by paid care workers, especially in a husband and wife relationship, I do not believe the 'savings' are what people are led to believe.
While a family member may feel they are looking after someone 24 hours a day, the reality is many activities of so-called care are a normal part of family life, like preparing meals, laundry and going shopping. It is therefore important to examine the additional support provided to a usual relationship, and ensure it is actually required. Carers can often provide too much support for someone who could do things for themselves, but the carer prefers or needs to take control.
I think when we look at the parents who see themselves as carers of disabled children, they often describe their 'hardship' of having a disabled child, without comparing it to people's experiences of bringing up a non-disabled child, which can be similarly stressful. While parents may talk about providing relentless 24 hour care, by the time you factored in school, after-school activities, the respite care often provided and so on, the child may in reality have very little quality time with their parents.
And what is the purpose of saying carers save the government money? Is this an idle threat to give up looking after their 'burdens' on mass if they do not get their own way? Any parent could do that by not putting their child in care and I could say I save money by not finding ways to end up in hospital every week. When people talk about 'their loved ones' in the same sentence of putting a price of their head, there is a hypocrisy I find uncomfortable.
I feel the recent social reconstruction of families as carers and 'loved ones', there is no official term of their burdens in this relationship, has very damaging psychological and sociological consequences, since it is driving a wedge between the interdependency of family units. Not only is it causing a destructive power shift in favour of carers, and causing people with impairments and illnesses requiring support to become politically invisible, but it is also destroying marriages and other loving relationships.
I believe it is time to end the carer rhetoric and reclaim families as families. Social policy and social care should support the interdependent relationships within families, which may include providing additional or different support. It is about supporting every member of the family to stay well and take up their responsibilities within the family and the wider community. It may be about providing information and advice on how to effectively care for each other in a manner that is safe and positive, more than just automatically providing external support, although external support must always be available to those who need it.
I also feel passionately we should not accept the existence of young carers who have to think on behalf of a parent, above their responsibilities as a family member. A side effect of people with alcohol or drug addictions, as well as uncontrollable obesity, who refuse treatments and personal responsibility for their situation, is they often rely on their children to look after them, treating them as slaves. While the liberal media shouts blue murder to 'protect' the rights of people who do not look after themselves, who is standing up for the children who are suffering as a result? Simply referring to them as young carers, and providing them with a medal and a holiday once a year is not good enough!
The carers movement's message that they save money has worked because carers have more rights and respect than ever before, but at what cost? In the name of carers, sick and disabled people have lost parents, partners, siblings and children to politics.