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Friday, 22 April 2016

Engage: Carers Strategy call for evidence - the story so far

Written by Alistair Burt MP

It’s getting personal. In a good way.

When this call for evidence launched in March, then – as now – I was keen to understand the reality of unpaid or informal care in England and to build a comprehensive picture of what people need and want to lead happier, healthier lives alongside caring. In that respect, whilst this engagement exercise was conceived to canvass as wide a range of views and experiences as possible, I was hopeful carers’ voices would be the loudest – and so they have proven to be.

Of the nearly 1700 responses received since March, more than 86 percent have come from carers themselves. The remainder is an interesting – and no less insightful - mix of professional and ex-carers, support groups, care providers and local authorities.

Already, strong themes are emerging. Whilst it’s clear carers do what they do out of love and respect for those they care for, many believe employer attitudes are critical in how they are helped to juggle caring responsibilities with work. Attendant to that is their concern about the quality of paid care when they are at work or taking respite leave. Indeed, these worries have caused some people to put career progression on hold or leave the job market entirely to care full time.

It’s an issue borne out by Employers for Carers’s own research into working carers, which estimates that 700,000 fewer people aged 16-49 will be active in the UK labour market over the next decade. That’s set against the potential care needs of a growing aging – population: another 3.7 million people aged between 50 and state pension age over the same period.

Employers for Carers also estimates the number of UK carers could increase by 50 percent to 9.1million by 2032. As a result, more people will be combining work with caring. Even now, it’s far from being the exception to the rule.

On this point, we need to work closely with employers leading the way in this field. Together, I’d like us to make the case more strongly to other businesses that they risk losing or compromising valuable staff if they don’t properly acknowledge and support them with their caring obligations.

Part of building this case involves innovative ways of thinking to allow employees to continue caring whilst adding value in the workplace. I believe technology is key, and I recently chaired a roundtable discussion on assistive technologies attended by providers, carer organisations and service commissioners. It quickly became clear there was a need for greater awareness and promotion of supportive technologies – and their benefits - across the sector. Creating support networks at a local level will be the measure of success.

So what else is the call for evidence telling us? The majority of respondents so far have been aged over 45 and it is perhaps not surprising that response rates tail off from carers under 35. Tellingly, 80 percent of contributors believe the health and care sector must raise its game to identify more carers. This is particularly true of school age carers, many of whom have no formal interactions with clinical or care services and have thus gone unrecognised and unsupported. Clearly, there is more work to be done, work highlighted by events such as Young Carers Awareness Day – an annual day of recognition promoted by the Carers Trust. Research released to mark the day revealed that 80 per cent of young carers are missing out on childhood experiences because of caring for family or friends.

Across all ages, respondents are giving us a sobering sense of the impact caring has on their mental and physical health. Over two thirds confess to a negative cost to their own wellbeing and, by association, that of the people they care for. I believe this fact alone is all the justification we need for a new carers strategy – one which I hope will address the final emerging theme I want to mention: the personal touch.

The carers we’ve heard from clearly feel the need for face to face, personalised support to combat feelings of isolation and the sense they risk being disregarded or misunderstood. They also want to see a more obvious joined up/holistic approach from health and care services – this is something which feeds into our broader integration and seven day services agendas.

Ultimately, carers want their opinions to be valued and needs addressed, for while they may have aspirations and interests beyond caring, their compassion still compels them to do the right thing for the people they love. This consultation runs until 30 June 2016, so we’ve still got a lot of listening to do - I promise you we will act on what we hear to deliver a strategy that respects and supports unpaid carers, whoever and wherever they are.

Alistair Burt MP
Minister of State for Community and Social Care