​At last, some recognition for our nation's carers​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ - Alex Cole-Hamilton

Wendy Chamberlain, Lib Dem MP for North East FifeWendy Chamberlain, Lib Dem MP for North East Fife
Wendy Chamberlain, Lib Dem MP for North East Fife
“For there is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside of it.”

These words, taken from the final pages of Middlemarch, have a real resonance for me. Amid all the upheaval of the Victorian period, George Eliot illuminated the importance of community, empathy and connection; she knew, far better than most, that society only works when people care about each other.

Caring has been and always will be critical to our society. It sustains our humanity and compassion, enables people to live their lives in the fullest and most dignified way possible and eases the many varied pressures on our health service.

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Many people don’t even consider themselves carers; they do it because it’s the right thing to do, because they want to do it. But from day-to-day physical caring, making medical appointments or doing the shopping for a housebound elderly neighbour, caring or being cared for is something that almost everyone will experience at some point in their lives.

That’s why I was so proud of the phenomenal efforts of my friend and colleague and deputy leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Wendy Chamberlain MP, as her Carer’s Leave Act came into force at the beginning of April. Wendy’s Act will recognise the work of the estimated 2.4 million carers across the UK by giving them a statutory right to take an extra five days of unpaid leave per year.

The Act has been hailed as a “landmark” piece of legislation by Carers UK. It will allow people to use their annual leave for their own rest, take leave from work without feeling at a disadvantage and increase the chances of an employer supporting them in all their roles.

These changes are vital. Caring can be relentless, exhausting and incredibly distressing. Unpaid carers can often struggle to balance caring responsibilities with work and other obligations, and that constant tug can come at a heavy emotional and physical, as well as economic, cost.

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According to a survey conducted by Carers UK of unpaid carers, 75% of respondents worried about continuing to juggle work and care, while a significant number of others have either already gone part time or given up work entirely. This is particularly concerning when work represents a lifeline to many carers.

Getting legislation passed as an opposition MP is no small feat, and while Wendy knows that this is only the start of the journey, the Act is a crucial first step in improving employment rights for carers and offering more flexibility to manage work and caring.

Better valuing the work of carers, and the sector as a whole, goes to the very heart of what it means to be a Liberal Democrat. Our UK leader, Ed Davey, has spoken movingly of his own experiences caring for his mother, grandmother and disabled son, while from my own background as a youth worker, I know the challenges that so many young carers face every day.

Fundamentally, it’s this kind of community politics, the desire to champion individuals and fight for a fair deal for everyone, that sets us apart. It’s where our focus is at both the Scottish Parliament and at Westminster, and we will continue to champion that emphasis in the weeks, months and years to come.

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We are all “greatly determined by what lies outside” of us. In recognising that, my party recognises the need to support carers in the workplace and in all aspects of their lives. They deserve every opportunity to thrive, and I believe that our Carer’s Leave Act will lay the groundwork to make that happen.

Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats

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