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Making the most of technology to balance family, caring and work

10 September 2013 by Sarah Newton MP

Sarah Newton MP, Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Earlier this year, I was proud to have been asked by the Carers Week partners such as Age UK, Carers UK and Macmillan Cancer Support, to be one of the three Parliamentary Ambassadors for their excellent campaign; a campaign designed to highlight and celebrate the help that carers provide to their loved ones. There are 6.5 million carers in the UK who support family members who cannot look after themselves, either through disability or simply old age.

Being a Parliamentary Ambassador allowed me to shine a light on the invaluable contribution that carers make and to pay tribute to their devotion which all too often goes unrecognised. Carers Week itself ran from 10-16 June 2013 with over 2,600 organisations coming together to take part and hold events across the country.

It also provided the opportunity for the report Prepared to Care? to be launched. This was an in depth study which found that 75 percent of carers were not prepared for all aspects of their caring role in terms of both emotional and practical requirements. It also found that 45 percent of respondents had been forced to give up work in order to care for their loved ones thereby putting a tremendous strain on their finances. I have long felt that employers need to consider what more they can do to enable employees with caring responsibilities to continue working, with for example flexible working arrangements.

The study also found that a staggering 81 percent of respondents were not aware of the help and support that was available to them simply because they did not have the time to look for it. All too often carers are left to struggle without knowing what help, information, advice, support and guidance is there for them.

But there is help available. In my own constituency the Cornwall Carers Service (CCS) brings together expert organisations to provide carers with help and support. Whether this is getting access to the benefits to which they are entitled, helping to provide respite care or simply to provide a place where carers can come together to share their experiences, the CCS is on hand to give real help to carers which is tailored to their individual needs.

Much more needs to be done to support carers as the excellent new, follow up report Potential for Change from Carers UK shows. Why is that we embrace the use of technology in all other aspects of our lives but are unaware of how it could help us with caring for our loved ones? While there is no replacement for spending time, talking and being with the people we care for, technology could help us juggle work and family caring. Like many other busy families, my husband and I use technology to stay in touch and care for our teenage and young adult children, yet I have barely given a thought as to how I might do the same for our elderly family members.

The report showed what while less than a third of people have ever considered the use of technology to support health or care needs, they were not rejecting it, rather just did know how it could help. Once a list of options was described, 65% said they thought technology would play a bigger role in supporting families care for older or disabled loved ones.

So we all face a big challenge as policy makers, professionals and consumers on how to make the most of technology to help us balance working lives with family caring lives. This new report is a helpful sign post along the road to improved care and support for carers.

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