Today marks the start of Carers’ Week 2017 – an annual campaign which aims to raise awareness of unpaid carers, how caring impacts on their lives and the massive social and economic contribution carers make to our society.
It’s not until you have cared for a family member, child, partner or friend that you really understand how being a carer can impact on so many aspects of your life right into old age including your work, physical and mental health, social life and finances.
VOCAL (Voice of Carers Across Lothian) provides information and support to well over 9000 carers in Edinburgh and Midlothian each year. However, there are still thousands of carers who are unaware of the support that might be available to help them look after their relative and their own needs, with around 47,000 people have caring responsibilities in Edinburgh and 8500 in Midlothian.
As a result, they miss out on financial support such as Carers’ Allowance, practical training in skills to help them support the person they care for, emotional support and counselling and access to short breaks.
Two new developments for carers in Scotland herald a major step forward: the increase of Carers’ Allowance to the same level as Jobseekers Allowance from summer 2018 amid a major review of a whole range of disability benefits, and the Carers’ (Scotland) Act 2016.
The implementation of this Act in 2018 could make a big difference for local carers but only if all partners get it right. The Act comes with new funds for carer support, replacing traditional funding streams. Carers expect open, transparent processes for the allocation of these funds to replace some bad practice of recent years. For this, the recent pre-occupation on council and NHS integration should give way to a new partnership focus with the voluntary and third sector.
Edinburgh City Council has just completed an independent review of the impact of the 2014-2017 Edinburgh Carers Strategy – with some shocking messages from carers emerging from the consultation. We need to learn from these.
Edinburgh and Midlothian Councils urgently require new, more effective Carers’ Strategies for their areas. To make a difference to carers, the Joint Integration Boards need to create level playing field. Particularly for Edinburgh this must mean less competition through arbitrary procurement; much more collaboration and co-production; and a thorough review of all NHS and Council’s joint in-house carer services using the same criteria, scrutiny and transparency applied to the voluntary and third sector.
Without fair play and openness, well-meant intentions of the Carers’ Act and scarce resources may get absorbed in bureaucracies and self-interest, failing to reach carers and making a difference to their lives.
“I wish I’d known about this sooner!” is something we hear time and again at VOCAL and that’s why national campaigns such as Carers’ Week are so important. Carers need the right support at the right time and in the right place. That’s why VOCAL is asking Evening News readers to “pass it on” this Carers’ Week – if you know someone who is an unpaid carer, let them know that there is help for them too and to get in touch with their local carer centre.
VOCAL wants to set the tone for a new partnership agenda: we extend an invitation to all newly elected City of Edinburgh councillors, MSPs and MPs to visit the Edinburgh or Midlothian VOCAL Carer Centres and speak directly to carers and carer-led organisations on the key challenges we face.
Sebastian Fischer is chief executive of VOCAL