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Does Anyone Care for the Carers?

Unpaid carer, Lynn Williams, describes the cynicism with which many carers view the new Carers Act and what needs to change.

Lynn Williams is an unpaid carer for her husband Derek, who has a high lesion spinal injury.

Lynn has campaigned for a number of years on the issues affecting unpaid carers, working first with Carers Trust. She joined SCVO in 2012 as a Policy Officer with welfare reform as a major part of her remit. At this time, she was asked by then Deputy First Minister to join the Expert Working Group on Welfare and served through both phases of the group's work.

 

Alongside her full time caring role, Lynn also works on a very part time basis with GCVS on health and care integration. She is a Carers Allowance claimant and she and her husband are currently dealing with the DLA to PIP transfer.

I want to be positive about the soon to be implemented Carers (Scotland) Act, which completed its parliamentary journey in 2016.

I want to believe that it will be the catalyst that transforms support for Scotland's 700,000+ carers. I want to hope that it will eradicate or even reduce the mind-numbing public service bureaucracy which makes our lives as carers that much harder.

The Act is promoted as some kind of panacea – as a game changer in conferring real rights and recognition for unpaid carers. There are, however, a number of significant contextual and infrastructural challenges, which make it less likely that this aspiration will be achieved.

Firstly, despite its critical contribution to economic and social equality, social care still does not receive the same recognition or investment as other public services. Moreover, the recent Audit Scotland review of self directed support lays bare a broken social care system; a system which leaves families at the mercy of struggling public authorities caught up in procedure and detail, rather than facilitating the transformational commissioning envisaged for health and care integration.

Secondly, the recent Programme for Government doesn’t reveal any additional funding to support the Carers Act. A small amount has gone to authorities to help with planning; without proper investment in local infrastructure and carers’ services, there is little chance of the Act resulting in positive outcomes for carers.

Thirdly, the regulations being developed to support the Act have been criticised as being unambitious and as “setting the bar extremely low”, especially in relation to clauses on short break statements. More broadly, the decision to kick a clearer definition of carer short breaks into the long grass by waiting for statutory guidance, will have carers wondering just what the Act is all about.

One final barrier is likely to diminish any legislative benefits for families – trust, or the lack of it.

A quick sweep of social media platforms will provide you with an insight into the battles that carers and their families face on a daily basis. Even accessing support in crisis situations can take time and comes with a load of overwhelming administrative baggage. So, carers find it hard to trust that real change will come from another piece of legislation when previous laws have already failed to help them.

Without trust, the Carers Act sits on a very shaky foundation. And that’s a real pity. It’s up to local authorities, other relevant public bodies and Ministers to seek to rebuild that trust – and there is still time to ensure that the Act has a chance of doing that.

The success of direct short breaks funding like “Take a Break” demonstrates what can happen when we let carers and carer communities create their own local support, without interference and without excessive bureaucracy. That the Carers Act will facilitate similar good practice is uncertain at best – but it could, given the right circumstances and with real investment.

We are supposed to value the £13bn of support that unpaid carers provide in Scotland. If we listen and act on concerns being raised about the Carers Act, we might just stand a chance of doing some good. Missing this opportunity is worse than doing nothing at all.

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