It has been widely reported that the main tenet of the strategy published – as far as I could tell from the reporting of it as I haven’t actually had time to read it yet, was a Government pledge to increase spending on
Respite care (£150m)
Support for return to work and training and general work/life balancing health checks(£38m)
Training for GPs to raise awareness of Carers’ Health and Input from Voluntary Organisations (£61m)
Focus of young carers (£6m)
Which adds up to the total £255m injection into carers’ services in total.
More money is better than no money. A recent survey, carried out to coincide with Carers’ Week suggests that
‘ a large majority of carers admit to feeling ill, anxious or exhausted, with a staggering 95% of those questioned said they regularly cover up or disguise the fact that their health was suffering in order to continue with their caring responsibilities. Worryingly, one-fifth (19%) of these carers said they ignored feeling ill “all the time”.
Almost 1 in 4 (24%) of carers say they frequently felt unable to cope with their day-to-day duties due to the physical and emotional stresses of their caring role, and a further 64% said they were occasionally unable to cope.’
So pushing finance into a focus on Carers’ own health is a positive step.
Flexible working patterns are, as well, important. I know that some employers are more sympathetic than others to time being taken for caring duties and some kind of statutory guidance that would provide more protection to Carers would be helpful.
Alison Benjamin on The Guardian website sums up some of the responses from the main voluntary organisations which work in the field.
She writes about a scheme of ‘Caring Vouchers’ which has been advocated by leading charities and some larger employers to work in a similar way to childcare vouchers – allowing for services relating to care, podiatry is given as an example, to be purchased with these vouchers.
But these are some of the elements missing from the strategy.
‘What does £15 pounds buy you?’
Noting that dividing the £150m set aside for ‘Respite’ breaks by the amount of carers in the UK doesn’t exactly make for extensive holiday breaks.
But it won’t be £15 each because some people will never claim holidays or respite they are entitled. My difficulty at work has been more trying to desperately convince people to take those breaks that they are entitled to and that they can access money for.
Where I work, there is a fairly substantial pot of money which has been put aside specifically for carers breaks. It is consistently used by the same groups of people which isn’t a problem because there is always some money in the pot as others are so reluctant to consider using it.
Strangely, the existence of money to go away isn’t the issue – it is persuading people to access it.
I work primarily with older people and older carers so I can’t speak more generally, but often, regardless of the amount of stress, time and health concerns, they do not want to leave their partner in a residential home for a week while they go away.
I hope there is more access to creative options for respite such as allowing (paying) for someone to come and allow respite in the home. But the costs of that would, I fear, skyrocket far past £150m.
The other major criticism of the strategy drawn out by Alison Benjamin is the lack of any revised approach to Carers Allowance.
‘The most glaring omission from the government’s strategy is any proposal to increase the carers’ allowance or provide additional financial assistance to carers who are struggling to make ends meet. Although their role is estimated to save the state £87bn a year, many are living on just over £50 a week, plus other meagre benefits.’
And it is an embarrassing and humiliating attempt at piecing together a so-called ‘benefit’. Perhaps some more money for carers directly, rather than vouchers or health checks or training of GPs would have a more immediate effect quickly.
Of course, throwing money at problems is hardly the most creative approach but the Carers Allowance, is one of the worst examples of a poorly thought out benefits system that is insulting to those who jump through enough hoops to be able to claim it.
My own fear, and granted this is a result of reading the press rather than the actual strategy itself, is that the focus will be on those, again, who can ask for help and who shout for it when necessary. Those who are the ‘silent carers’, who need more time, money and outreach may be missed in the floods of additional funding trickling through the system. But I’m hoping to be proved wrong!