Helen Walker, CEO, Carers UK
Despite significant pressures from all manner of sources, our health and social care workforce carry out incredible work for our society every single day, and their work is rightly recognised and commended by the Government and general public as really important. The breadth of skills and knowledge, as well as the compassion shown by health and care staff for others, enables hundreds of thousands of people with significant health or care needs to get better and recover, or enjoy quality of life with the support they need in place.
Usually, alongside the many individuals health and care workers are supporting, is a dedicated family member or friend providing unpaid care at home – an unpaid carer. Typically, they’re at hand to support their older, disabled or seriously ill loved one with everyday practical tasks, administrative help and emotional support. Many will be forgoing aspects of their own life in order to provide this care, such as breaks, social activities, maintaining their own health or even paid work.
Despite also playing a significant role in providing care, too often unpaid carers tell us they feel they are completely overlooked, particularly by the Government. They find this frustrating for many reasons, not least, it means they lack support that could make their caring role a lot easier to manage on a day-to-day basis.
Therefore, we were very pleased to see the focus of the role of unpaid carers highlighted in the House of Lords’ recent report: A “gloriously ordinary life”. The committee also calls for an urgent reform in adult social care – something that governments have failed to adequately address for years and is long overdue.
The report highlights Carers UK’s proposal for a funded National Carers Strategy. With startling recent research showing that 4.3 million people begin an unpaid caring role every year, Carers UK believes a National Carers Strategy in place would help raise the profile of unpaid carers as a group, and ensure that in a variety of different situations they get the support and recognition that they deserve.
Having better identification of unpaid carers in health settings would also help to address equality of recognition. A carer brings a wealth of knowledge about their loved ones’ condition, their treatments, daily life and communication style that could enable health workers to better understand a health concern and treat it. The House of Lords report recommends that Government and NHS England create incentives for secondary and primary care to identify unpaid carers, and including this status on their patient record would make a big difference. This kind of systematic drive to identification of unpaid carers acknowledges the important role they play in supporting the health of others, and how carers’ own health is impacted.
The report recommends a review of Carer’s Allowance, the benefit for those caring for 35 hours or more each week, something Carers UK has long been calling for. Unpaid carers need support to stay in work where they want to, and a solution to the sharp cliff edge of the earnings threshold that currently means earning even £1 over the threshold sees a 100% loss of benefit. During a difficult cost-of-living crisis, with Carer’s Allowance at such a low level, hundreds of thousands of carers face choosing heating or eating, and deserve better financial support.
In order to achieve long term equality of recognition, Carers UK believes unpaid caring should be the tenth protected characteristic to ensure carers cannot be discriminated against because of their caring responsibilities.
It cannot be understated that a well-functioning social care system is the essential backbone of our society, with the potential to improve life drastically for people with health and care needs, as well as unpaid carers and health and care workforce supporting them.