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Our history in detail

We have a long history and our past has firmly shaped how Carers UK operates today. We owe everything to the vision, commitment and values of the carers who led the organisation through its infancy.

The 1960s : Speaking out

The one woman who began it all, Mary Webster, gave up her work as a Congregational Minister in 1954 to care for her parents. She was just 31 years of age.

Over the next decade she began to think about her situation and the disadvantages, not least financial, that it had created.

In 1963 Mary Webster burst upon the public generating a breath-taking amount of publicity drawing attention to the practical difficulties, the isolation and often financial hardship that women carers were experiencing. This was an issue that had been almost totally hidden and it is hard to believe this was one woman’s work with no organisation behind her.

She soon realised that a new organisation was needed and in 1965 she formed the National Council for the Single Woman and her Dependants. Over the next few years Mary showed an acute political instinct for choosing the right allies and with the help of some key political players the Council won the first ever legislative change with the 1967 Dependant Relative Tax Allowance.

Mary Webster died in 1969 tragically young at only 46 years old yet her legacy continues to this day.

The 1970s : Building evidence

Into the 1970’s the Council was led by it’s first paid director, Roxanne Arnold, a barrister described by the Guardian newspaper as “a tough, practical, unsentimental campaigner with an ability for exerting precise pressure on the right people”. The Council had some outstanding successes, – it was instrumental in securing the Attendance Allowance in 1971 and the Invalid Care Allowance in 1976 – the first financial support for carers.

The 1976 campaign for the Invalid Care Allowance (ICA) was based on evidence in a report ‘The Costs of Caring’. The approach begun by Mary Webster and Roxanne Arnold – of campaigns based on sound research - continues today.

1980s : A new charity

In 1981 a new organisation, the Association of Carers, was set up by Judith Oliver. She was a carer for her disabled husband as well as having a young family. She felt there was a need for an organisation to support all carers, not just those with elderly dependents.

An important early principle was that carers themselves are best placed to decide what help they need. This member-led ethos is written into Carers UK’s constitution to this day.

During the 1980s the Association set a dizzying pace of campaigning. Its most successful campaign was when carer Jackie Drake won a European Court case to have the Invalid Care Allowance extended to married women in 1986.

In 1986 talks began about a merger between the two carers' organisation : the Council and the Association. These came to fruition in 1988 with the establishment of Carers National Association.

The 1990s : Developing services

Throughout the 1990s, under the leadership of Baronness Jill Pitkeathley, Carers National Association expanded into a modern charity, developing services for carers. Many local branches of Carers UK focused their efforts on setting up scores of local carers' centres – many of which are still amongst our affiliate members and continue to provide vital support today.

In 1997 the charity launched the first national helpline for carers supported by booklets and written information to help carers. Amongst the practical services created were projects to help carers back into work and to help former carers cope with bereavement.

The 2000s : The fight for legislative change

In 2001 Carers National Association was renamed Carers UK, responding to the challenges of devolution with a name that recognised the important role of Carers Scotland, Carers Wales and Carers Northern Ireland. Under the leadership of Imelda Redmond CBE the charity refocused on research and policy work with the aim of securing legislative change.

Carers UK was the driving force behind an historic and unprecedented trio of Private Members Bills in the UK Parliament. Out of this work came new rights for carers to have their needs assessed, enshrining in law the principle that carers should have a life of their own (The Carers Equal Opportunities Act 2004); and new rights to request flexible working. (Work and Families Act 2006).

2010s and beyond

With a new Government in 2010, Carers UK has continued to lead work to improve carers’ rights. Our recommendations were adopted in the landmark reform of social care legislation in 2014 and, against Government resistance, we won the battle to ensure parent carers were not left behind.

Unprecendented cuts to public spending has meant that, alongside continuing to campaign for improvements to support for carers, Carers UK has also needed to fight to hold on to carers’ existing rights. We have won important protections for carers including ensuring Carer’s Allowance was exempt from the real-terms cut imposed on most benefits, but many carers still face the loss of vital benefits and services when they were already struggling. In 2013-14, Carers UK’s year-long Caring & Family Finances Inquiry shone a light on carers’ financial hardship and we have led campaigns to protect carers’ and their families from cuts to disability and housing benefits.

But in tough economic times we have managed to radically increase the support we provide to carers. In 2014 we have more than doubled our Adviceline support, moving from two to five days a week and, for the first time combining a listening ear service, provided by carers, alongside our well-established expert advice.

New Chief Executive Heléna Herklots joined Carers UK in 2012 and Carers UK has continued to innovate with a new generation of local carer ambassadors across the UK, our vibrant online carer forum and the launch of our carers’ app Jointly.

Into the future

As we look forward to our 50th Anniversary in 2015, we believe our founders would be proud of what we have achieved and recognise that we work to the same principles.

What is remarkable is that those core values set up in the 1960s – placing carers' real experiences at the heart of our work, tenacious campaigning based on evidence, and a thirst to finding ways to improve support for carers – have stood the test of time and are serving Carers UK well into the 21st century.

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