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Update from Helen Walker on COVID-19 and Carers UK

Helen WalkerI wanted to update all of our members, and indeed carers everywhere, on what Carers UK has been doing to represent you and support you in the past few weeks during the coronavirus outbreak.

Whilst we are a relatively small team, we punch well above our weight! We have been consistently championing carers for the past 55 years but in the last few weeks we have stepped it up again, and may I take a moment to thank our incredible staff team for their dedication and flexibility in simply making things happen across our organisation in four nations. All of our offices are now working remotely, we have adjusted to this well and are maximising use of technology to keep in touch both internally and externally.

In terms of Government – we have been representing carers at the very highest level throughout this crisis, making sure that you are front and centre of contingency plans, that you don’t get forgotten or simply expected to pick up even more responsibilities. I have been on calls to Ministers both with other charities and one on one. My colleagues in our policy team have represented carers with many government departments, including DHSC, DWP and BEIS.

Throughout this we have helped with carers guidance, we have pushed for safeguards in the emergency legislation, we asked for and got flexibility on Carer’s Allowance for those unable to care for more than four weeks because of the impact of coronavirus. We have asked for an increase in funds to carers, we have pushed for PPE at the very least to paid for care workers coming into your homes. We have publicly and privately challenged the Government and asked that they include carers in all of their thinking.

This is not just in Westminster; across the nations we have lobbied the devolved parliaments. In Wales we have hosted an extraordinary meeting of the Wales Carers Alliance remotely which included the Welsh Government. In addition, a letter has been sent to all vulnerable people and GPs in Wales and the guidance attached includes a link to the Carers UK coronavirus webpages, widely recognised as the best advice for carers.

In Scotland we have been working closely with the National Carer Organisations and the Scottish Government to ensure up to date accurate information is available to carers as the emergency legislation went through the Scottish Parliament. The Carers Scotland website now has links to a range of national and local support services relevant to carers, which is being updated on a daily basis.

In Northern Ireland we’ve been in daily contact with the Department of Health team, putting contingency plans in place and producing guidance for carers. Answers to questions coming through the adviceline (which runs 10-4 Mon-Thurs in NI) have been included in the official government information.

We have also been working side by side with the NHS – we worked with them on the letter to the 1.4 million most vulnerable being ask to ‘shield’, we have supported them with their contingency plans and advised them on how best they can include carers in these in order to support them and those they care for, hoping to minimise hospital admissions. We have also sent out a survey (you can find it here: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/HC6FQ8G) for carers to tell us in real time how coronavirus is affecting them so that we know we are representing you accurately as this crisis evolves.

But I know that all this is not enough. I know many carers feel that they have been forgotten and are being expected to pick up the pieces of a social care system that was crumbling before this crisis never mind now, and I know that you are anxious that the hard fought for rights that you have, have been taken away in one hit and may never come back. I know this because I have seen the calls to our Helpline rise by 80% in the last week, I have seen emails to our advice service rise dramatically and hits to our Covid-19 pages on our website increase by 600% - I know you are worried. So, I have increased our Helpline services from 2 days a week, for six hours a day, to 5 days a week from 9am-5pm with immediate effect. I have also increased our online support workers enabling them to answer more emails, more quickly. With things changing so rapidly we are working flat out to ensure our website pages are up to date with guidance and support and information.

Rest assured my pledge to you is that we will fight hard to reinstate your rights as soon as this crisis is over. And we will make sure that we campaign to secure greater rights for carers going forward. This current crisis has shone a light on what so many do every day to care for friends and family, and we want them and future carers to be recognised for their huge contribution.

I will update you regularly on what we are doing and how you can get help and support. In the meantime, stay safe and thank you for all that you do.

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You can see Helen representing carers on BBC News 24 last week here: https://youtu.be/qpZ-t3vvyBc

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