Norman Work: Carers deserve all the help they can get

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LAST week was National Carers Week and an important reminder of the enormous contribution made by the 650,000 unpaid carers in Scotland.

They represent one in eight of the Scottish population and many dedicate much of their lives to looking after a family member, often in very challenging circumstances. This can have a massive impact on their lives financially, socially and economically so I think it is vital that they receive all the help they need.

There are more than 47,000 unpaid carers in Edinburgh alone and I was privileged to meet some of them at a recent Carers Recognition event at the City Chambers. Their stories were truly inspirational and many have made sacrifices to care for someone in their family – including mothers caring for disabled children, young people looking after adults and older people caring for their spouses. Yet they are often overlooked, despite the incredible work they do.

They provide essential skilled care and should be seen as equal partners in the provision of care in the city. It is often thanks to them that people with additional support needs are able to stay in their communities and without their input, the estimated cost of replacement care in Edinburgh is a staggering £771 million each year. It’s only fair that we do our bit to make sure they have access to the services they need, such as respite care. This can make a tremendous difference to the quality of their lives and enables them to have time to themselves, to do the things most of us take for granted, such as going shopping, or a trip to the cinema.

One of the initiatives we are launching later this year is to help provide these opportunities for unpaid carers. Volunteernet is a system that uses innovative software to allow carers to communicate with volunteers and arrange for help with everyday activities or for a special occasion. This will be a flexible system that can be used at short notice when a carer needs help or respite and will be a first in Scotland.

We have also trialled a scheme which provided support payments for carers and are working on a new Joint Carers Strategy with NHS Lothian to ensure unpaid carers in Edinburgh are receiving the right level of support.

With demographic and social trends in Scotland suggesting that the demand for carers will continue to increase, we must remember the fantastic work they do every day and make sure they receive the help and recognition they so rightly deserve.

• Councillor Norman Work is carers champion at Edinburgh City Council