by Heléna Herklots, who recently stepped down as chief executive of Carers UK and takes on the post of Older People’s Commissioner for Wales later this month.
There is growing awareness of the crucial role carers play – now it’s time they received the rights they so desperately need.
From taking a partner with an illness to hospital appointments, to helping a disabled sibling with washing and dressing, or caring full-time for an elderly parent, people in the UK are providing more informal care than ever before.
During my six-and-a-half years as chief executive of Carers UK, more than 12 million people in the UK are estimated to have taken on a caring role for a relative or friend. The care they provide is valued at £132bn each year – close to spending on the NHS across the UK – but there’s still some way to go before this contribution is centre stage in policymaking and debate.
- New legislation across the UK that puts the rights of carers on a par with those of the people they care for.
- A growing awareness among employers of the need to support the one in nine people in the workforce juggling their paid job with unpaid caring.
- More interest from the media, other charities and policy influencers in the issue of caring.
- The NHS Commitment to Carers, which is driving work in NHS England to ensure that carers are treated as partners in the care of those they support and that they receive the support they need to look after their own health.
- Most recently, the publication of a new cross-government Action Plan on Carers. Though not all we wanted it to be, at a time when we are told there is no political bandwidth for anything but Brexit, it is welcome evidence that carers are rising up the agenda.
There have also been frustrations. I remain angered by the impact of measures such as the bedroom tax, at the state of social care and the way care – paid or unpaid – remains undervalued in our society.
Though carers and social care have had some great champions in government and across all political parties, there has been a lack of continuity – eight different care ministers during my time as chief executive of Carers UK. The failure of successive governments to do the right thing on care funding has had an enormously detrimental impact on families. It has meant families stepping in as social care support dwindles, often at significant personal cost as carers struggle to stay in work and maintain important relationships as they see their own health suffer.
I’m also increasingly concerned about the lack of understanding among policymakers of people’s lived experience.
Though progress has been made, the fact that so many carers still feel alone, invisible and unsupported saddens me most of all.
Cuts to public services have without doubt increased the pressure on charities and we face increasing demand for our support. We’ve also had to work hard to protect the rights of carers and their families against moves to diminish them or ignore them, such as stopping a freeze on carers’ and disability benefits. Leading a charity comes with pressures but it has been an enormous privilege to be in a role where I have been able to play my part in advancing the carers’ cause.
As I move on from Carers UK, the growing public and political profile of carers leaves me with many reasons to be cheerful. It’s now a question of when, not if, carers will get new rights to paid time off work to care and for systematic recognition and support from the NHS.
The continuing sense of a carers movement in the UK and internationally is heartening; Carers UK will remain at the centre of building momentum. With carers’ experience, expertise and persistence, we will realise our vision of a society that respects, values and support them. I hope to continue to play my part in achieving this.
Shared from The Guardian.