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Carers together : Summit 2011

Every year Carers UK holds a 'National Carers Summit’. It’s a chance for carers to debate issues and question politicians. And it’s not just those in the room who participate. The event is broadcast live on the web via Carers World Radio and our online communities contribute questions for the Ministers.  

Ministers Maria Miller MP (welfare benefits) and Paul Burstow MP (social care) were there this year to answer a range of questions from Carers UK members. Over 100 questions had been submitted ahead of the day covering a range of topics but broadly falling into three areas: carers and employment, improving care for families and welfare reform.

PDF0001One of our members asked what the government is doing to support carers in work. Maria Miller MP said that it is critical to recognise people need a life outside of caring and that Jobcentre Plus can provide practical assistance. She acknowledged that there is a cliff edge at the moment whereby carers can only earn up to £100 before they lose Carer's Allowance. Whilst this is not going to change, she said that the  government is trying to make the benefits system work better for carers on means-tested benefits like Income Support.  One audience member challenged the Minister adding, “I am 58 and after years of caring I had to go back to work, when I went to the jobcentre I got laughed at.”

Fears 

Another questioner spoke of her fears for the future and being forced out of work. “Our daughter is 18 next year which means all services will be cut. My husband and I will have to give up work to care for her as we’ll no longer receive any help.” Paul Burstow MP agreed that all too often the worst experience carers face is the move from child services to adult services and the government needs to provide more support for families. He felt that a more personalised system would help as every family is different and should be put in control of what services work best for them. A White Paper (detailed proposals for introducing new law) will be produced in April which will outline the changes to simplify confusing social care law. â€œQuality, personalisation and preventative services all need to be part of the mix.” he said. maria3

A large part of the debate centred on welfare reform and the fears of carers and disabled people who rely on the benefit system.  One of our members asked Maria Miller MP, “Will carers lose out when Disability Living Allowance changes to Personal Independence Payment?” The Minister’s answer was a very clear ‘no’, it shouldn’t affect your Carer's Allowance. She went on to argue that Disability Living Allowance hasn’t been changed for 18 years and it needs to work in the modern world. She acknowledged that “it is creating uncertainty” but felt the new payment will “have fewer problems and will be a benefit we can be proud of in the 21st century.”  However carers continued to express their fears and their anger about being seen as 'scroungers'. 

Another member was concerned about the companies carrying our reassessments of ill and disabled people and the lack of medical knowledge from the assessors.  â€œIt seems as though anyone can conduct an interview of eligibility” she said “and if we don’t meet the points our benefits will be stopped.” The Minister assured everyone that ATOS (the company that undertakes the assessments) are constantly performance reviewed to the highest standards. She also added that questions used for the new Personal Independence Payment assessment are yet to be finalised and ministers want carers to be involved”. 

Help 

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Whilst the Ministerial debate was lively and engaging, the Summit is always about much more than the political question time. Outside of the hall, lunchtime was a chance for people to meet up with old friends and make new ones. Four carers from our online forum met up in person, friends in the virtual world now meeting face to face for the first time.  Large crowds also gathered to contribute to our T-shirt competition – design a slogan to explain caring to the outside world. The winner was Mary Oliver with her slogan “This T shirt isn’t big enough to tell you all I do as a carer” 

The afternoon session focused on how Carers UK can help carers. We asked our members to suggest ways we can improve our services such as our booklets, website, adviceline, branches and campaigns. There were some great ideas around how to get involved in local action and reaching out to ‘hidden’ carers.

Together

Some of the afternoon was given over to saying goodbye to our departing Chief Executive, Imelda Redmond CBE. Chair, Don Brereton and outgoing Treasurer Ian Peters paid tribute to the enormous contribution Imelda had made to advancing the cause of caring and the role played by Carers UK. Don on behalf of Carers UK's Trustees commented on her passion and leadership, whichmeant her successor could build on her considerable achievements.

In her farewell address Imelda reflected on the long history of the carers movement and reminded us how far we have come since our founder Mary Webster wrote a letter to the Times newspaper in 1963. Imelda paid tribute to the many carers over the years who have contributed to the movement and to all those taking part in the Summit. The message was clear – together we are stronger.

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