The Blog

Giving Carers the Recognition They Deserve

As we mark Carers Week, it is worth recalling that the word "carer" applies to two groups of people.

As we mark Carers Week, it is worth recalling that the word "carer" applies to two groups of people.

Firstly, there are the approximately 1 ¼ million carers who spend more than 50 hours each week caring for family members who cannot look after themselves.

These carers are of every age.

My father, for example, well into his 90's, is carer for my mother.

But many young people act as carers for a parent.

These carers are not a static group. Every year hundreds of thousands of people become carers for the first time as a loved one becomes sick, has a stroke or develops age-related dementia.

Similarly, each year, hundreds of thousands of people cease to be carers, as a consequence of the person that they have been caring for, getting better, able to look after themselves unaided, or because the person that they have lovingly cared for for some time has died.

Then there are those people who are also called "carers" who give professional help and support to people either living at home, or resident in care homes, who can no longer look after themselves. If living at home, they may well have the support of a family member as a carer, but also need the regular support and assistance of a professional carer, paid for either by themselves or by their local council.

Responsibility for supporting both groups of carers at present falls between Primary Care Trusts and Upper Tier Local Authority Social Service providers.

As from next year, responsibility for looking after both types of carers will fall between the new Clinical Care Commissioning Groups - which will replace Primary Care Trusts, and Upper Tier Local Authorities as Social Service providers, and these two coming together to form statutory Health and Wellbeing Boards - all overseen by newly formed "HealthWatch" committees which will be supposed to look after the interests of local people and local patients.

Shortly - I would hope in the next couple of weeks - the Government is going to publish the long-awaited White Paper on "Social Care".

I suspect that most of the immediate press attention will focus on nursing home provision and nursing home fees in particular.

However, the White Paper will also hopefully contain good news for carers.

In a recent interview, Paul Burstow, the Minister in the Department of Health responsible for care services, admitted that "carers are treated as second-class citizens compared to those whom they support. Yet if we don't provide them with the right support they are unable to carry on with their caring responsibilities."

It is shocking, and should be of concern to us all, that even Government Ministers consider that at present carers are treated effectively as second-class citizens.

That should not be the case.

Quite rightly, Ministers want to significantly enhance the rights of carers. That carers' rights should be much clearer and more certain.

Over the years, there have been a number of Acts of Parliament relating to carers - almost all Private Member's Bills, introduced by MPs concerned to enhance the status of carers.

However, whilst those Bills for example now mean that local councils are obliged to assess the needs of carers, there is no requirement on local councils to provide services to help them.

This has to change.

A recent report from the Law Commission recommended that carers should receive new legal rights to services and improved carers assessments.

Hopefully, these new rights for carers will be clearly set out in the forthcoming "Social Care" White Paper.

Under the Law Commission's plans, councils will have a duty to consider whether a carer wishes to work or to udnertake education, training or leisure activities. In other words, there will be an obligation on Local Authorities to give carers practical and real support.

Hopefully carers and disabled people will be assessed for their health and wellbeing, and local councils will have a new statutory responsibility and duty to provide carers services.

Of course, to be effective, new carers services will need more funding.

There is no point in giving carers greater rights if there isn't the money to underpin and sustain those new rights for carers.

In particular, for many carers and their wellbeing, what they welcome - Carers Breaks - whether a holiday for a week once in a while, or a three day break, or even to support a carer to take the person they care for out for a day.

What is important here is giving a carer a break, rather than simply picking up the pieces if and when a carer can no longer manage.

However, whilst it would be very good new if the "Social Care" White Paper contains new rights for carers, that is only the start of the task. I think that those of us concerned about carers, are going to have to take a number of initiatives.

Firstly, I think that on each of the new Clinical Commissioning Groups, i.e. the bodies replacing Primary Care Trusts, the NHS organisations that will be commissioning local healthcare, that we should seek to ensure that there is a member of the Board who is a carers champion, who has the responsibility for regularly trying to ensure that their Clinical Commissioning Group is doing all that they reasonably can to assist, support and help carers.

Likewise, on the new Health and Wellbeing Boards and new local HealthWatches, again, we need to do everything possible to encourage carers champions.

There needs to be a lead member of the Health and Wellbeing Board , whether an elected councillor or official - either way a person who has clearly seen, understood and known as being the carers champion on that Health and Wellbeing Board.

Likewise, every HealthWatch should have amongst their members someone who is responsible for taking the lead on carers issues.

Then I suspect that for many carers, one of their needs is training.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people become carers for the first time.

No two instances are exactly the same, but almost certainly they will not necessarily have had any experience previously of being a carer.

There are all sorts of issues - practical, legal, from how to secure help and support, to accessing respite care - which they will suddenly be having to cope with and I would hope that Health and Wellbeing Boards would see the value of encouraging the provision of training course.

Then I suspect that there is more that needs to be done to support and recognise the status of professional carers, i.e. those people working in care homes, acting and working as domiciliary care workers.

Often, not always, they will have NVQ qualifications as carers, but at present there is no way of recognising a professional care assistant who has reached a level of professionalism.

We are going to need many more professional carers, particularly if we are seeking to try and ensure that people can stay at home as long as possible, rather than going into residential care. They are only going to be able to do that if they have proper professional, external, support.

So there is a huge agenda here for the All Party Group for Carers, for MPs generally, who are concerned to improve support for carers.

A huge agenda for the excellent national organisations dedicated to supporting carers and for very large numbers of people in health and social care.