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Carers Week 2016 in Parliament

13 June 2016

Kayleigh McGrath, 

Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer, Carers UK

With the hundreds of competing issues landing in MPs inboxes every day, Carers Week provides us with the opportunity to ensure MPs are made aware of the issues and challenges that caring brings for the 10,000 or so carers in their constituency. It also provides us with an opportunity to educate and inform MPs about carers and their contribution.

The Carers Week carer “speednetworking” event on Tuesday gave carers from each of the supporter charities an opportunity to tell MPs about the reality of caring, from the financial pressures of struggling on Carer’s Allowance to difficulty in getting the right care package for the person they support. Nearly 70 MPs attended the event, and many stayed for a significant amount of time to listen to carers experiences. Paul Bates, a carer to his son and wife, and one of the 20 carers who attended the event, has blogged about the day here.

CWroomphoto

On Wednesday, the Carers Week charities and carer Ann Brosnan, met with the Care Minister Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP to discuss what more could be done to make our communities more Carer Friendly.

This year, Carers Week also sought a debate on carers in the House of Commons. The debate took place on Friday, led by Mims Davies MP for Eastleigh. In her opening speech, Mims asked MPs to imagine what would happen if the UK’s 6.5 million unpaid carers didn’t turn up for the day.

“How many vulnerable people would go unbathed and unfed? How many would be unable to get out of bed to go to the loo? There would be no pills, no jabs, no dressings administered and no GP appointments attended…"

Mims shared her own experience caring full-time for her dad; describing juggling appointments, care and childcare; how she was on first name terms with the local ambulance staff; and the struggle to find suitable respite care for her dad. She also spoke about the huge personal impact caring can have:

“You lose friends. You lose leisure time. You also lose your freedom. Relationships between husbands and wives change. You become a carer rather than a lover or a friend.”

Mims also spoke about how much she valued her role as a carer, despite the difficulties, and the precious time she spent with her dad at the end of his life.

Corri Wilson MP also shared her personal experience of caring for her dad. Corri listed some of the tasks carers undertake, describing how the word ’carer’ seems “tiny and inconsequential in contrast to the reality of being a carer”.

 “A carer is a personal assistant, undertaking duties such as washing and dressing, morning and night. A carer is a medic, administering medication, assessing health needs and determining whether to seek medical assistance. A carer is a cleaner, dealing with multiple changes of clothes throughout the day and cleaning up accidental spillages. A carer is a risk assessor, carrying out health and safety checks ….”

The list continued although Corri highlighted that it was in no way exhaustive.

The financial impact of caring was picked up by a number of MPs, with the low level of Carer’s Allowance a significant point. Sue Hayman MP said it was “shameful” that carers and their families are pushed into poverty, while Gavin Newlands MP highlighted the Scottish Government's commitment to raise the benefit to at least match the level of Jobseeker’s Allowance – something we’d very much like to see promised for the rest of the UK. The fact that many carers are forced to give up work to care was also discussed, with Shadow Carers Minister Barbara Keeley MP highlighting the need for more supportive polices from employers, including the introduction of a period of paid care leave.

Dr Philippa Whitford MP spoke about the role that the health service must play in helping to identify carers, stating, “If a doctor diagnoses someone with advanced cancer or dementia, or a child with disability, they should ask, “Who are the carers here?”. A duty for the NHS to identify carers was something Huw Merriman MP also lent his support to, with Barbara Keeley MP in agreement stating that, “the NHS is nearly always the first point of contact for carers as they begin caring, and so is best placed to identify them”.

Across all speeches, MPs highlighted the huge contribution that carers make and put on record their appreciation and gratitude for carers across the country. 

The Care Minister Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP responded to the debate, saying that all of the points made would be fully taken into account as the new Carers Strategy is developed. The Minister paid tribute to the enormous contribution carers make but acknowledged that action is now needed to be taken ensure carers get the support they need:

“Our respect is unreserved, but respect is not enough. We must never lose sight of that fact if a new Carers Strategy is to succeed.”

The fact the debate was scheduled on a Thursday afternoon meant that many MPs were back in their constituencies, some taking part in Carers Week events, some campaigning on the EU referendum and some carrying out their own caring roles . 

YQ tweet

This shouldn’t take away from the value and importance of the debate itself. To secure such a debate, and to have MPs share such personal and heartfelt stories, is extremely important. It not only pushes caring up the political agenda ahead of the new Carers Strategy, showing the Government that MPs are prepared to stand up and press for more support for carers, but shows that caring can and does affect each of us, no matter who we are.

You can read the transcript of the debate here.

 

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