Unpaid carers have been forgotten – but Labour councillors like me can help

Kelly Grehan

The failure of Boris Johnson to act on his promise to reform adult social care is hitting the headlines – and rightly so. We cannot allow the crisis-hit system to continue in this way. We also need to focus on the fact that the people who actually provide 90% of care in the UK have been completely disregarded and forgotten by government policy.

Unpaid carers provide support to a family member or friend who, due to being disabled, cannot manage daily without their support. In doing so, they save the economy £132bn per year, an average of £19,336 per carer. Carer’s allowance is the main carer’s benefit and is £67.60 for a minimum of 35 hours, the lowest benefit of its kind. During the national lockdowns, many carers were left with no breaks at all as the services they used closed down. Some have still not resumed.

Studies of carers consistently show that they feel forgotten. Having been elected to Kent County Council  in May, I was given the shadow lead role in adult social care. I met with some carers in Carers Week from a fantastic campaign group called We Care Campaign and, realising how much support they are without,  decided my next step was to analyse the council’s Carers Strategy. Imagine my horror upon finding out that the strategy had not been touched since it was written in 2009.

The disdain shown to carers by Kent Council is matched by that shown to them by this government. The Kent document was produced after the Labour government brought in a national carers strategy in 2008, which sought to “put carers at the heart of communities” and set out a ten-year strategy for giving support to carers. This was an ambitious, long-term plan built around the voices and experiences of carers, and it was first published in January 1999.

In 2008, Prime Minister Gordon Brown stated his objective was that by 2018:

“Carers will be universally recognised and valued as being fundamental to strong families and stable communities. Support will be tailored to meet individuals’ needs, enabling carers to maintain a balance between their caring responsibilities and a life outside caring, while enabling the person they support to be a full and equal citizen.”

The loss of power of the Labour Party in 2010 meant this ambition for carers was never realised. Carers are waiting for a new government strategy on carers, but despite a consultation in 2016 nothing has happened.

It’s all too easy to take carers for granted – after all, the circumstances that dictate that you are caring for a loved one is not one people generally walk away from – but we have to be better than this. We must stop paying lip service to carers for one week a year before forgetting them.

While we remain in national opposition, it is up to those of us on councils to ensure that we are the voice for carers, they are heard and strategies are in place and fulfilled.

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