The Cost of Caring

The Guardian published an article this week about the germination of a New Deal for Carers and the results of the consultations that they ran over a period of a couple of months.

I hadn’t known this had been going on so thought I’d look at some of the interim findings regarding the challenges faced by carers.

  1. Poor Information. There seemed to be a kind of dichotomy between people being bombarded with not-necessarily-relevant information (I presume, bundles of pre-printed leaflets and telephone numbers) and not being given enough or feeling that they had to ask specific questions in order to get the ‘results’.
  2. Postcode Lottery – Without centrally provided or determined resources (and even with – to a certain extent) services will always have a different kind of provision in different areas. I’ve also found it can change very much from worker to worker – not necessarily the actual provision but the quality of service definitely. I know some people are more forthright in offering Carers Assessments than others (who might carry out their statutory duties by offering them but sometimes without explanations of their benefits).
  3. Inconsistencies of Care. I think this is an issue across the board and not restricted to carers solely. The report offers the existence of a body similar to CSCI to monitor care workers but as most agencies are inspected by them anyway, I’m not sure that would make a difference.
  4. Cohesion between services. Carers have a perception that ‘services are centred around the needs of professionals’. Services are not necessarily well-coordinated. I wonder who the professionals are that are creating this perception of inflexibility and inertia. I think carers services (particularly with carers direct payments) have a lot of scope to be extremely creative but it takes time – like everything. Services really do need to set priorities.
  5. Delay in the provision of services. This, I’ve seen, and been a part of many times. Sometimes the wheels can and should move into place earlier. Everytime something is attempted that is a bit ‘different’ or more personalised, it seems to take longer to set up or to get approval for. There is no logical reason that this should happen.
  6. Bureaucracy. It’s everywhere and is inescapable. Forms and pieces of paper flow like a stream from every source. I think, in a way, targets are not as helpful as management imagine them to be.
  7. Recognition of carer status. I think clearly this is something that potentially can change immediately and should be happening for the most part, in that carers’ are the experts on care for the cared for person and should be approached as such by professionals. It doesn’t always happen but it is something that can definitely be provided more concretely.
  8. Attitudes of others. This is linked, I think, to the recognition of status. Sometimes it is ignorance that makes people dismissive of carers or just the knowledge that the familial ties make it more awkward to ask directly for help.
  9. Lack of opportunities. An understanding employer can make a big difference but only to a point. I think there needs to be more motivation – forcible if necessary, which will point people in the ‘right’ direction.
  10. Financial impact. Carers Allowance is laughable and an embarrassment to the government in my opinion. I am almost ashamed to mention it except that I believe it is an absolute entitlement. There are so many completely illogical aspects of the benefit system that seem to work against some sections of people but the treatment of carers is one of the most glaring omissions.

So out of these, some things that I think can change immediately

  • – Professional attitudes to carers as experts
  • – Information being personalised rather than just pushing leaflets and telephone numbers to people
  • – Promoting more flexible means of providing support (Carer’s Direct Payments, Holiday Funds).
  • – Building work with carers into the ‘targets’. Currently, where I work any time spent on carer support isn’t ‘logged’ as work completed. It sounds idiotic but each ‘piece of work’ is monitored so if carer support work isn’t monitored, it is definitely not prioritised.

Future possibilities:

  • – Benefit reform – it has to come. It is a pathetic excuse for a benefit that benefits very few and many many more should be entitled to more money.
  • – Carer Key Worker – not necessarily the same worker who is allocated to the person being cared for. Sometimes needs can overlap when they need to be separated.
  • – One point of contact – for professionals as well as carers! Sometimes it can be incredibly difficult to set up what should be a basic service because of additional hoops to jump through.
  • – Acknowledgement, support and assistance for carers who might be marginalised by mainstream support services. Support must be provided on an outreach basis as I know many carers who are more or less restricted to their own home. Sometimes some of the ethos of assertive outreach can be applied to carers who might be ashamed or embarrassed to ask for help.
  • – Clearer expectations on a national level. There will always be some differences in provision between local authorities but there must be a minimum standard expected.