In my capacity as the Church of England’s lead Bishop on Health and Social Care, I was involved in the publication of a recent report: ‘Care and Support Reimagined’. We brought together nine people with different areas of professional expertise to lead this work, but it was striking that more often than not we drew on our personal experiences. Whether it was from settling a relative into a care home, trying in vain to recruit a personal assistant, or caring for a loved one at home, we all had a frame of reference upon which to draw.
It was clear from the outset of our work that the hopes, needs and aspirations of unpaid carers needed to lie at the heart of any new vision for care and support. Unpaid carers represent the backbone of the social care system, and yet often receive very little recognition, respite or support. The Bible presents us with a notion of caring as being a profound expression of our nature as human beings. When we give freely of ourselves, out of love, without expectation of receiving anything in return, we often grow in deeper relationships with others as we recognise our mutual dependence.
Yet the sad reality is that the well-documented challenges facing our social care system today means that many are left without a choice. High-quality care is simply unavailable or unaffordable for millions of people, just at a time when there is increasing demand on formal services. Care can end up being offered out of necessity rather than love. It can strain relationships when it feels as though the status of carer replaces that of mother, father, child or sibling.
A new deal for carers, as we propose in our report, would not solve every challenge, but it would give us the basis from which unpaid carers can receive the emotional, financial and practical support they need. Our report focuses on the need for restorative breaks as a means of ensuring that anyone providing care to a loved one is able to rest and recuperate from time to time, an opportunity for them to focus on their own wellbeing.
The Carer’s Leave Act is a promising step in the right direction, but there is still more to do to support carers to balance their work with caring responsibilities. A review of Carer’s Allowance would enable us to have a much-needed conversation about the value of unpaid carers to our society, and whether £76.75 per week adequately reflects the efforts of those who provide care on a full-time basis.
This Carers Week, my prayer for anyone caring for a loved one is that you are encouraged by the support of your family and community, grow in relationship with the person for whom you care, and experience the joy of restoration amidst your responsibilities.
The Rt Revd James Newcome, Bishop of Carlisle