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Carers UK warns of economic problems if care crisis is not resolved

13 July 2009
Carers UK today warned of significant economic and social problems if the Government and all political parties do not get to grips with the care crisis facing the country

Imelda Redmond, Chief Executive of Carers UK said, "We are coming up to a general election and we need a clear vision and action for the way forward from all political parties. The reform of social care must not be put on the back burner because of the general election or the recession. We equally cannot let politicians put this in the "too difficult to deal with box". The green paper on social care could be one of the most important policies of the decade.

Failure to deal with this issue properly will have serious economic and social consequences. One in five people has given up work to care for a relative or friend who is disabled or chronically ill. The economic impact of this for business and families is vast as employers lose skilled employees and families who see their incomes plummet. And yet there is also an expectation that people will need to work longer to provide for their pensions and retirement.

The social care system is complex, hard to navigate and is poorly co-ordinated and this can have devastating impacts on family life. People often cannot find out what help is available until it is too late because the system is so complicated. As a result, they miss out on vital income, work and support which would have made a critical difference to their health and well-being. Social care is seriously underfunded now and, Government estimates that if funding does not change, then there will be £6 billion gap in funding over the next 20 years. Carers UK believes this to be an underestimation of the funding that needed as this figure is based on the Wanless review looking at the care needed by older people only. The Green Paper will cover the needs of people of all ages who need care and support and the funding needs to be far higher than this.

There are six million people currently providing unpaid care to disabled, chronically ill and frail people in the UK. The number of these carers providing over 20 hours care per week has been increasing - from 1.5 million in 1990 to 1.9 million in 2000. By 2037 we will need an extra 3.4 million carers - an increase of nearly 50%.

Families often wish to care, but research over the years has shown that they pay a heavy penalty in terms of their health and well-being. Carers are twice as likely to suffer ill-health as a result of their caring responsibilities and there are many examples of carers forgoing life-saving treatments because they cannot get the right support. After 2 years of caring, they are significantly worse off financially. A Carers Week 2009 survey found that 74% of carers providing substantial care were at breaking point and 41% said this was due to "frustration with bureaucracy". And yet carers are the keystone of the care and support system, vastly outstripping any other form of professional care. Their support, provided unpaid, is worth £87 billion a year and this is set to rise as the population ages.

The vision for social care needs to be bold, practical and needs to span generations. There needs to be a system of national clear understandable entitlements to help people plan for the future and understand what they are entitled to. All political parties must find common ground with which to go forward. Families are making this an increasingly political issue based on their day to day experiences of trying to manage care. The political parties worked together to find some solutions for pensions and we need the same approach for care.

Carers UK will be scrutinizing the green paper to see whether:

families are central to reform

it will deliver a system that is transparent and fair – which people will be able to use easily and understand any entitlements they have. Carers UK has called for a universal offer and national entitlement.

delivers a solution that lifts families who care out of poverty

recognises the role that care plays in people's ability to work

recognises the economic impact of the lack of care on business

recognises modern solutions to age old problems e.g. technological solutions being commonplace rather than the exception, more flexible services like prescriptions being delivered to your workplace or home.

We expect the green paper to look at real solutions for stimulating the care market, reformation of public services to work more consistently and strategically to deliver better support, and a new funding settlement for social care.

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