Recognising and supporting carers
At the East End Community Carers Centre in Glasgow, a group of older carers and friends are catching up over tea and scones. As they chew over the week’s events, it is clear they draw enormous comfort and strength from each other. One is consoled as she lists the plethora of emotions she experienced as she helped her granddaughter move into supported care that week. She had been caring for her since her own daughter died five years ago, but when her husband died six months ago, she knew she needed to put a plan for the future in place. Another shares her anger at the impact staffing cuts are already having on her niece’s care and the additional stress it has heaped upon her as she struggles to plug the gaps; while another talks of her loved one’s dismay at the loss of befriending services and the treasured contact with his ‘chums’.
They are a feisty bunch whose battle stories demonstrate they have not been shy in fighting to get the support they need. But anxiety bubbles over in their conversation as they swap tales of valued services under threat, and their concern as older carers of what will happen to their loved ones when they are no longer there to fight for them.
Regrettably, these concerns are not unique, with four out of five of Scotland’s unpaid carers fearing the consequences of cuts to care services. The new research, which will be published today to mark Carers Week, also found that almost half, 46 per cent, don’t know how they will cope as the axe falls on some of the vital support they rely on.
The theme of this year’s Carers Week is ‘The True Face of Carers,’ and will see calls for greater recognition and support for the diverse range of people who are carers. It will also highlight the incredible economic contribution unpaid carers make, as research from Carers UK and the University of Leeds will show that unpaid carers save the UK economy £119bn each year by relieving pressure on health and social services.
For its part, the Scottish Government has been seeking to reassure carers in recent months that it has heard their concerns and recognises their “hugely significant” contribution to their families, communities and society. The SNP’s manifesto contained several pledges of financial support for carers, such as funding to maintain its commitment to an extra 10,000 weeks’ respite provision per year and a promise to ensure that from 2012-13, at least 20 per cent of the £70m Change Fund established to smooth the integration of health and social care will be dedicated to supporting carers to continue to care. It also promised to work to treat carers as equal partners and ensure their knowledge and experience is fully taken into account to improve treatment for those cared for.
In his victory speech at Prestonfield House in Edinburgh, First Minister Alex Salmond also expressed his gratitude to carers, announcing that, ‘Team Scotland’ – the job creators, the carers, the nurses, the small businesses, the ambitious and the aspirational – were the true winners of the election. Later, as he set out to Parliament his re-elected government’s plans for taking Scotland forward, he pledged: “For our unpaid carers, men and women, young and old, who give so much of their lives to look after the people they love, we will work to ensure that they are true partners in the delivery of care and that their very special role is fully recognised.”
This recognition matters a great deal to carers, says Florence Burke, Director for Scotland of The Princess Royal Trust for Carers.
“The fact that the First Minister in his acceptance speech mentioned carers, everybody picked up on that. We had carers coming back to us saying, ‘Did you hear…?’”
The warm tones in which the SNP Government has been speaking about unpaid carers were undoubtedly influenced by carers who met with party officials during the campaign and shared their experiences, says Burke.
“People say you can’t ask a leaflet a question. We can all talk about what people have said. We can talk about anecdotes. There are people who work in this organisation who are carers but they are not here to talk about their own caring situation. What you can do with carers is hear first hand what is happening with policies, that is where you can quite clearly and quickly identify the law of unintended consequences.
“It is hearing that experience from individuals, whether it is a young carer or an adult carer on, ‘What does it actually mean for me,’ and, ‘I will tell you what the policy is in practice because this is the impact it has on me.’ And that is not all negative, some have positive things to say about the support they have received and the difference that things like short breaks have made and the critical importance of that to them.”
However, there are as many stories as there are carers, and so it is important this vital feedback continues to be sought. As part of this, the Scottish Government has proposed holding an annual Carers’ Parliament so as to allow politicians and civil servants to hear first hand the real-life experiences of carers from all walks of life.
Burke is cautiously optimistic about the creation of a Carers’ Parliament, saying, “all of the blocks are there”, but adds the detail remains to be seen.
In the longer term, however, she says she would also like to see the creation of a carers’ champion within the Cabinet.
“To have that as a voice and a link, because carers cross so many policy strands and ministerial briefs – there is housing, there is education, there is health, there is welfare, employment – a whole range of issues, so to have a voice for carers within the Cabinet so that issues are cutting across all those ministerial briefs would certainly be useful.”
The Scottish Government has also already declared its intention to continue to take forward its Carers and Young Carers strategies, which were published last summer. Again, Burke says she is “optimistic” about progress so far, and says the implementation and monitoring group will ensure the strategy, “isn’t something that is static that sits on the shelf.”
This, she says, is hugely important to carers.
“It does have a life and for carers involved in that, that is all really positive,” she adds.
However, while Dave Clark, centre manager, Glasgow East End Community Carers, says it is difficult to argue with the sentiments expressed by the Government; he urges them to make the rhetoric reality.
“In my experience, the elected members all say the right things. It is difficult to argue with anything they have in the carers’ strategy or the young carers’ strategy.
“But the reality is that making that strategy a reality needs resource and the resources don’t, in my experience, get to the front line. And that is a real constant worry for us.”
In the East End of Glasgow where the centre is based there are around 12,000 unpaid carers, Clark says, and there is a high demand for support and advice.
“Of the 12,000 carers, we have about 1,000 who have at some point been supported by the centre and on an ongoing basis, we are probably supporting something like, including young carers, 180; which is a bit of a case load for two and a half support staff posts.”
To avoid letting these individuals down, Clark says government must be clear about the services they want to be provided, adding that there is no point in making promises to carers if it is not possible to meet them with the funds made available.
However, he stresses this is a message for all of the political parties in Scotland.
“No matter what colour of government has been in Holyrood, carers’ strategies and the commitments from government of all complexions and the policies they’ve put in place have been impossible to argue with. But it is about controlling the resource. Very often the council will say we don’t have enough funding to provide that service and then our lobbyists go to the Government and they say, ‘No, we gave the councils sufficient money,’ and it is about tracking where the resource goes. And they are not very good at that, I think.”
This is a historic issue, he adds. “Even when you had a Labour administration in Glasgow and a Labour administration in Holyrood, they still would argue so it is not a party political thing. But that is, for me, fairly basic that they have to be clear about what you want to give carers and make sure the resources are there, that lets people like us provide the services that carers need.”
While concerns evidently remain about the future, Burke says it is nevertheless a “thrilling” time to be working with carers and they are determined to make the most of the current mood of government.
“There is so much happening but the thrill is seeing if it makes a difference because I think we are all aware that we can be active doing things – we can be active responding to consultations, we can be active going to meetings – but the end result has to be what is the outcome for the carers and the best part for us is when you see the difference it has actually made.
“…So there is lots going on and there are so many opportunities, we just need to make sure we seize those opportunities and make a real difference.”