Time to Care for Carers

IMG_0811The passing of the Carers (Scotland) Bill this month was a momentous occasion. The legal framework to support carers needed to be updated. But was it enough? For me there’s been a trend in this Parliament for new laws and strategies which are good, but are not backed up by the investment needed if they are to succeed.

With increasing financial pressures on local authorities, from Scottish Government cuts, the responsibility, the burden of care has been shifted back onto families. In a country with an ageing population, and significant cuts to support for disabled or aged people, and those with learning difficulties, there are an increased number of people having to take on the role of carer, many of whom have multiple caring responsibilities already.

The issue of access to quality, appropriate social care isn’t going to go away. Moreover it’s going to get worse under swingeing cuts local authorities are dealing with in the light of this week’s budget. Third sector groups and volunteers are currently having to plug the gap that should be filled by public services. They do a great job, and the huge difference they make to the human experience is incredible and often thankless, but they can’t carry on indefinitely with this burden with such lack of financial support. We need to be prevention focussed, not crisis focussed.

In the last few months I’ve had carers seeking my help to get the right support for their loved ones. It’s mainly, although not exclusively women who are the main carer for their partners. By the time they come to me for help they are invariably exhausted. They’ve usually had difficulty accessing the right care support in their home, making it difficult to sustain themselves with even minimal trips to shop or visit friends or family being extremely difficult. For some carers the lack of the right ongoing support can push them to need care home placements often reluctantly. As one constituent put it to me – would you apply for a job that was 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without any days off during the year?

I met with VOCAL last week who the Voice for Carers Across Lothian to discuss their ongoing work and their future projects. While they were disappointed with some aspects of the Carers Bill, they welcome new rights for carers – hard-fought for. I was very interested in their work with the financial sector to provide support for employees so that they can juggle their work while also being a carer. There is a hidden cost with people forced to give up their work to become full-time carers in economic terms.

VOCAL works with Shared Care Scotland on a fantastic new scheme called “Respitality,” working with the hospitality sector to create short, local breaks for carers that can also cater for those they care for; liaising with hotels, B&Bs and activity centres to find out what services they can offer, and in return filling otherwise empty rooms, B&Bs and coach tours. Wee Breaks Midlothian http://weebreak.org/ offer advice for planning, finding funding, tips from others and general advice to help carers get the respite they so often miss out on, which can make a world of difference.