This week is Carers Week – an annual UK-wide awareness campaign that aims to improve the lives of the one in eight people in our country who look after an ill, frail or disabled family member or friend.
The nature of caring very often means people don’t at first, or sometimes ever, identify themselves as carers. Rather, they think of themselves simply as wife, husband, son, daughter, mum, dad or perhaps grandparent, niece or nephew giving help.
If you are one of these people you can request a carer’s assessment from the council’s social work team. This is separate from any assessment of the needs of the person you look after, and can signpost you to sources of help.
Without the right help and support, caring can have a devastating impact – carers can find their physical and emotional health, work and their finances all hit hard.
The good news for us as a society is that, contrary to some doom-laden views that we live increasingly isolated lives, so many people do get help from family and friends.
The less good news is that this is ever more necessary. “Professional care” is being stretched thinner. No longer is there the home help who will do some shopping and housework, help with meals and stay for a chat.
Unless you need help with washing or dressing, getting in and out of bed, taking medication and food preparation and eating, you will be told you will have to find and pay for a service yourself. And even the help that is within the “free personal care” definition is often limited to short 15-minute visits.
Every year politicians of all parties are eager to praise carers, but what is really needed from both the Scottish and UK Governments – and parties such as mine that want to be the next Government in both Holyrood and Westminster – is an open debate about how the needs of carers and cared-for will be met.
For example councils are finding it increasingly difficult because the council tax freeze means they have to provide the same level of services but with less and less money.
This week Alex Neil, the Cabinet Secretary for Health in the Scottish Government, claimed he wanted to end 15-minute care visits. I’m afraid that to make this a reality, councils have to be allowed to raise the money to pay for this. It isn’t right to pretend the system and the freeze aren’t issues.
• Sheila Gilmore is the Labour MP for Edinburgh East