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Carers UK Trustee meets PM

25 February 2010
Carers UK Trustee Rosemary Whitehurst met Prime Minister Gordon Brown when the Cabinet visited Exeter in February 2010. Read her view of the meeting and what she asked the Prime Minister about carers in an article she wrote for the Exeter Express & Echo.



PM was attentive but couldn't give answers

In June 2008, the Government published a Carers Strategy giving a commitment that by 2018 carers would not suffer financial hardship because of their caring role.

But we know that many carers are living in poverty now, so when the opportunity came to represent the Express & Echo's We Care campaign at a round table meeting with the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, I jumped at the chance. It was ironic that increasing the Carers Allowance (a pitiful £53.10 per week) was top of my list of questions, as I calculated the expense to the public purse of bringing the cabinet to the South West, with all the administrative and security arrangements that this entailed.

Walking past the heavily armed policeman and multiple security personnel was unnerving, but the opportunity to put carers' concerns to our Prime Minister in person was too good an opportunity to miss. I had heard from people that had met him that Mr Brown was a witty and engaging person and this was certainly the side we saw of him when he joined our table.

Perhaps he was on a high from the success of the Northern Ireland agreement from which he had just flown in, but he showed not a hint of the tiredness he must have been feeling from the gruelling schedule of that day, greeting us with warmth and good humour.

The Echo's table with representatives from its three campaigns was lucky in that we were allotted the bulk of Mr Brown's time. He was clearly interested in us as individuals as well as our concerns, Becca Stokes putting forward those of young people, Ali Morrish campaigning for safer drink driving limits and I putting forward the voice of carers. At the launch of the Carers Strategy, I had heard the Prime Minister say, 'I know we have to do something about carers' allowance and we will'. Therefore, my question asking for a timetable of when allowances were going to be reviewed was an attempt to remind him of this commitment and that time had elapsed with no apparent progress made.

He responded that it was a pity the chancellor, Alistair Darling wasn't there to answer me directly. He said he couldn't give me a reply about the timetable but added: "I can assure you it is one of our biggest priorities and commitments." Of course, I was disappointed that he couldn't give a firmer response. Carers have been campaigning for a long time about the poor rate of their allowance — worth less than the minimum wage — and of the unfairness of stopping it when a carer reaches retirement age.

However, I did believe him to be sincere when he spoke of his appreciation of carers and the work that they do and of the need for the Government to do more to support them. It was time then for others to have their say and he listened to us all with intense concentration. During the plenary session, it was clear that many more people would like to ask questions of the Prime Minister and Cabinet ministers attending than there was time to do so.

We were told that we could leave our unanswered questions and that they would be passed on to relevant ministers. On your behalf I left the following:

Would the Government commit to a legal entitlement to respite breaks for carers?

Would the Government commit to paid leave for working carers for emergency care and end of life care?

Would the government give assurances that Attendance Allowance would not be taken from individuals and transferred to local authority budgets?

We could have asked many more questions and as we get the chance, the 'We Care' campaign will put them forward. I am sure that there will be some readers who will question if days like these, organised at great expense will achieve anything at all.

In asking myself 'was it worth it?' I would have to say that if we succeeded in implanting in some ministers' minds that carers do have a right to a better life, to a decent income and services they can rely on and that they won't give up on this, then it was. Time will tell and when we get answers to our questions, we'll let you know.

Support our It's time... campaign by signing our letter to the next Prime Minister. more...

This article was published in the Exeter Express & Echo who have championed carers with their 'We Care' campaign

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