IF you aren’t a carer yourself you probably know someone who is. There are around 65,000 unpaid carers in Edinburgh and a little over three quarters of a million adult carers in Scotland. Carers Scotland estimate that in two decades there will be over a million.
A few decades ago, caring was regarded as a burden to be borne privately and silently. Now, we rightly expect the government and our local councils to share part of that burden.
And it’s often a real burden. I spent part of my teenage years looking after my mum, who suffered from mental health problems. The experience had a lasting impact on both me and my dad, who took early retirement to look after her.
Soon, the Carers Bill will become law, introducing new rights for carers, and placing a duty on local councils to provide support to qualifying carers. Combined with the £114 million the Scottish Government has spent on carers since taking office, and the recent announcement that the Carers Allowance will soon be increased to match Jobseeker’s Allowance, leaving carers £600 a year better off, the Bill is evidence of a government that has listened to, and engaged with, carers.
Carers Scotland’s recent manifesto is full of ideas that MSPs of every party should be able to get behind.
The new commitments to carers made in the Carers Bill are good in principle, but need proper funding to make a difference. The Scottish Government and local authorities must work together to ensure this happens.
Holyrood’s new powers over social security can, with a little creativity, be used to set up a special benefit for carers. This might take the form of help with the utility bills that a third of carers struggle to pay. The Bill lets local councils set their own criteria of who qualifies for support – which is sensible – but the prospect of a postcode lottery is real. Ministerial guidelines to local authorities should therefore be clear and unambiguous, without being a straitjacket.
Finally, carers need a hand up into the workforce once their caring responsibilities are over – alongside a sense of empathy and an acceptance that they may need psychological help if the person they have cared for has died. Society, frankly, owes it to them to ensure that they aren’t economically penalised for undertaking a task that would fall to the state in their absence.
Caring can be a deeply rewarding experience, a lesson in empathy and dedication to another. I’m proud of the steps that the Scottish Government has taken to make the lives of carers hew more closely to this ideal. But there’s more work to be done. Carers are a pillar of our society – without them our NHS and social care systems would collapse. Any government committed to a socially just Scotland will have their welfare at heart.
Toni Giugliano is SNP candidate for Edinburgh Western in May’s Scottish Parliament elections.