If you ask anyone who works in care about the greatest challenges facing the sector today, many will point to our growing ageing population and ask, how we will continue to care for our grandparents, our parents and ultimately, ourselves?
The reality is the UK is set to have almost nine million more pensioners within the next 50 years. Alongside this, people with disabilities and complex long-term conditions are living longer.
This is something to be celebrated but it is also undoubtedly having a profound impact on our health and social care system. As a society, we need to think about how we can support people to live well and independently for as long as possible. Key to this is supporting the unpaid carers who provide care for their family, friends or neighbours.
Unsurprisingly the number of unpaid carers is also on the rise, one in ten people is a carer and their numbers have risen from 5.8 million in 2001 to 8 million in 2018. This trend is expected to continue, with one estimate suggesting that number of disabled older adults receiving informal care in England will increase from around 2.2 million in 2015 to around 3.5 million by 2035 – a 63% increase.
Carers need to be recognised and valued. They must have access to information and support to provide the best care they can. They must receive help to balance their caring responsibilities with their own employment and to preserve their own health and wellbeing, but this is not always the case
Businesses, local communities, the voluntary sector and individuals – including paid care workers – have to play their part in addressing these challenges to make sure caring is everybody’s business.
Care workers in particular have a big impact on the lives of whole families, not just the individual they are providing care for. Some of this support can be informal – checking on their wellbeing or making them a cup of tea, or they could be providing crucial respite care which enables carers to take some time off. In some cases, care workers can also help signpost carers to local services that provide essential information or support.
I know there is more to do when it comes to supporting unpaid carers around the country. In June last year we published a cross-government Carers Action Plan, a programme of work to support unpaid carers in England, setting out the practical actions we plan to take over the next two years.
Through the Carers Action Plan, we committed to creating and investing in the Carer Innovations Fund. The Fund will identify and promote creative and cost-effective models that look beyond existing services to help develop carer friendly communities.
When we initially announced the Fund, we had a budget of £500,000 and it was with great pleasure that I announced that the Fund was to increase tenfold to £5 million, launching in 2019.
I firmly believe this fund will unlock even more innovation and technological advances for the benefits of carers and the cared for throughout this country. This could include providing advice and information for carers, using technology to assist with caring responsibilities, early intervention or crisis prevention support.
For example, British Gas owner Centrica recently launched a service to help carers keep track of their loved ones via motion trackers and sensors which can flag if anything out of the usual routine happens – giving them reassurance and peace of mind.
Innovations such as these are vital and we need to share and build on all this best practice happening across the country; and where it has been proven to work, we must scale it.