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Up Close & Personal … Helen Walker

I was delighted to join the team at Carers UK in December last year, coming from the national volunteering charity TimeBank which I led for 10 years as Chief Executive. TimeBank has a strong social ethos, working tirelessly to demonstrate how volunteering can transform the lives of both volunteers and beneficiaries by building stronger and more inclusive communities. I had a fantastic journey leading the charity and I am looking forward to using that experience to help Carers UK continue to thrive.

Before TimeBank I was Director of Fundraising for the Armed Forces charity SSAFA so I understand the tough fundraising challenges we all face in the current political and economic climate. All of these experiences sit well to help me to take Carers UK to the next level, building on our rich history of campaigning and support for carers.

My first 10 weeks at Carers UK have been both interesting and insightful. The financial hardship faced by unpaid carers as a result of full-time caring responsibilities is clearly an important issue that affects carers up and down the country. In January I was honoured to join carers delivering a letter to the Work and Pensions Secretary, signed by more than 8,200 people, calling for Carer’s Allowance to be raised to the same level as Jobseeker’s Allowance, as has taken place in Scotland. The imbalance and lack of financial support for unpaid carers is a longstanding problem which we will continue to address through our campaigning.

Another issue becoming increasingly apparent is the rapid rise in the number of people juggling work and caring unpaid for a loved one – now estimated to be five million people in the UK; one in seven of the workforce. I was particularly struck by the fact that in the last two years nearly half a million people have left work to care that’s around 600 a day which is a huge number. Carers UK is gaining momentum raising awareness of this issue; in the media, in Parliament and also with employers themselves. Employers for Carers, our business forum, now has over 115 members reaching over 1.5 million employees, committed to supporting unpaid carers at work. I hope to see more recognition from employers of their caring workforce, and increasing commitment to flexibility and paid care leave of five to 10 days.

The value of the care provided by paid care workers supporting families cannot be overstated. Care workers give families much needed support and assistance, providing trusted help so they can take a break, and for many people it is a key condition for them to earn a living. That’s why it’s more important than ever that the forthcoming Green Paper on Adult Social Care includes ambitious proposals that deliver the funding necessary to deliver high quality care and support services that millions of families rely on.

It’s early days but my intention is that Carers UK will remain the leading charity which campaigns for and supports unpaid carers whilst also providing the practical information and advice that many need. Technology will play an increasingly important role in supporting carers, as will strategic partnerships such as the three year relationship we’ve recently announced with Centrica. It’s important of course to remember that we are a charity and as such we need to work hard to fundraise to pay for our work and if we are to expand our services we need to raise more money. This is an area I am keen to consolidate and diversify to ensure our long term stability. It’s a hugely exciting role that I’m incredibly proud to have taken on as I am acutely aware that caring touches so many lives and will continue to touch many more so we need to be ready to support everyone – whatever stage they are at in their caring journey.

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