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My vision for carers

11 November 2013

Paul Burstow MP

What’s your vision for carers around health and social care? That was the simple question Carers UK put to me ahead of their annual Carers’ Summit. And the simple answer is that my vision for carers is that everyone caring for loved ones has the support they need – and recognition of the fantastic and inspiring work they do on a daily basis.

But sadly, these things are never as simple as they seem. The catch is how we make this a reality. The social care reforms which I helped to craft are a huge step in the right direction, but we need much greater recognition of the challenges of a society changing before our eyes.

Life expectancy is increasing; we are getting better and better at surviving. This age shift has profound implications for our economy, our public services, our relationships. Everything will feel the effects of an ageing society. And it’s against this backdrop that the contribution of family carers must take centre stage. Our economic success will in no small measure be determined by how easy it is for people to juggle caring responsibilities with work – and maintain their own wellbeing.

The most farsighted leaders of British business already recognise this and are adopting flexible working practices to retain skilled staff. But, sadly, today we find that four out of ten carers say the trigger for them quitting work is a lack of reliable, quality, affordable household services. That little bit of help, with gardening, cleaning, and household maintenance can be the difference between being able to manage and finding the daily struggle to cope and achieve the impossible all too much. As I listen to the stories of carers in my constituency, I am ever more acutely aware that we are failing to meet this growing demand.

Over the last twenty years successive Government’s have intervened in the childcare market to increase both the choice and quality of provision, using subsidies, tax reliefs, and regulation.

It is time Government did the same in household and personal services for disabled adults and older people.

The evidence from the nations that are already growing their markets for personal and household services is that it is good for the economy and good for the well-being of families too. I believe that putting in place this kind of support would be a transformational step in making my vision of real support and recognition for carers a reality.

The Care Bill, which has just finished its scrutiny in the House of Lords, enshrines individual well-being as the new mission of social care. And, crucially, it makes another radical shift in regard to carers. Recognised in their own right, with entitlements to assessment and support, their well-being mattering as much as the person they care for.

And Councils will be obliged to seek out and identify carers. This is a major reform but there should be a similar duty on the NHS too. Health and care services must both be explicitly in the business of promoting the individual’s well-being. Both should do everything possible to prevent the preventable. Both should have the duty to identify and support carers. Both should have to collaborate and forge relationships with the community and voluntary sector to better support carers. It is only by all actors working together to ensure the right support and services for carers and those they care for that the vision I set out can ever become the reality.

The Rt Hon Paul Burstow is MP for Sutton and Cheam and served as Minister for Care Services from 2010 until September 2012.

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