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Support for carers (and work with Labour) essential if Cameron is serious about Big Society

Posted on 12 September 2011 | 5:09am

One of the downsides (or should that be upsides?) of being moderately well known, and very accessible via social media, is that you get bombarded with people asking for time, money, contacts, ideas and expertise for their (invariably) good causes.

On twitter, there is rarely a day, and some days rarely an hour, that there’s not someone on there asking for a donation or a retweet of a link to another JustGiving page. With the Great North Run a week away, we’re in one of the peak periods.

Also, whenever I do a charity event, or a professional event, in fact any event, it is very rare not to get approached at the end by someone with an earnest glint in their eye, a fundraiser to plan, and the notion formed that I ought to speak at it.

In common with most people in the same situation, I do some, but not all. I also try to be a bit strategic about my time, and so am particularly committed to two causes very close to my heart – Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research, of which I am chairman of fundraising; and Time to Change, the campaign to break down stigma surrounding mental illness.

But today I want to draw attention to another issue, namely carers, and another charity,  The Princess Royal Trust for Carers.

At a dinner a year or so ago I was sitting next to the charity’s chief executive, Carole Cochrane. I remember her mainly for suggesting the word ‘gusset’ when I was playing a little game I sometmes play when speaking at dinners; namely asking the people at my table for a word, which I then try to weave into my speech. I cannot remember how I squeezed ‘gusset’ in, but I did, and ever since Carole has called herself Mrs Gusset in any correspondence between us.

Her charity supports people who are caring for a disabled or seriously ill relative or friend. I remember being impressed by her passion for her job, and also slightly taken aback at her telling me there was a three in five chance of becoming a carer for a friend or relative at some point in our lives. We all know our society is ageing but that kind of stat brings home how it might affect our own lives.

Her latest correspondence is to ask to help publicise a survey of older carers which they are publishing today at . (I was having trouble accessing this earlier, so suggest the charity’s main website if you do too)

It shows that the implications of an ageing society are already with us, Not only are there more older people needing care, but there are more older people providing care as well – over 1.5m aged 60+. However, asking older people to move, lift and push immobile people or asking them to bathe, clothe and medicate can put strains on them that they aren’t always able to handle.

Nearly 70% of older carers surveyed said they suffered things like back pain, arthritis, heart conditions and even crumbling spines. One third of them had cancelled treatment or an operation for themselves because they were needed to provide care for their loved one.

The charity has acknowledged that the Labour Government developed a comprehensive strategy to support these carers, which the new Government has seen the sense of keeping and progressing. But more must obviously be done to make sure carers can get help from GPs to maintain their own health and support in the home to take some of the pressure off them.

Labour has offered to work with the coalition to improve the care and support we give older people in this country and this should not be rebuffed by the Tories as it was when Labour tried to develop a similar cross-party approach when in Government. This is one of those very big issues that is going to require a major political response, and trying to do so freed from the usual party political knockabout would help.

It is also a chance for David Cameron to do something to put some flesh on the bones of two of his favourite slogans … the Big Society and Broken Britain. We are talking here about  millions of people holding Britain together, living the Big Society. All they need is a little bit of support from Government.

If Cameron is serious, he has to grasp this because if he doesn’t he will become an old man in need of support who finds there isn’t anything there for him.

  • Olli Issakainen

    Ageing population is as big a problem to Britain as the financial crisis when it comes to costs.
    According to OBR report Britain now faces decades of austerity because of ageing population and declining tax revenues from the North Sea.
    Healthcare and pensions costs will rise.
    Without new tax rises or spending cuts debt will hit 60% in the mid 2020s, but will rapidly rise to 107% of GDP by 2060-61.
    Health spending will have to rise from 7.4% of national output in 2015-16 to almost 10% by 2060.
    A century ago when the foundations of the European welfare state were being laid, government was still typically 10-15% of GDP.
    That grew helped by the expansion of public services from the 1950s onwards.
    Now public spending varies between 35% and 55% in developed countries.
    According to latest growth forecasts UK will grow about 1% this year. But 1.5% growth is needed for Britain to just stand still. 2.5% is needed for unemployment to go down. 3% is needed for Osborne´s plan A.
    Mr Osborne put blind faith in private sector and lost his gamble. He now hopes in vain that the BoE will rescue him by printing more money.
    Greece can go bust on any day. Consensus is on December. After that the dominoes will start to fall: Portugal, Spain, ITALY…
    After Belgium it will be Britain´s turn in the spring of 2012.
    Britain´s banks account for only 5.2% of total national output. But their combined balance sheets are 500% of GDP.
    Banks are the biggest threat to Britain´s national security. They must be reformed immediately to avoid a disaster. Complex financial instruments must be banned.
    After the collapse of Greece banks will start to fall too. This time governments do not have money to bail out them again. With interest rates already at low levels, monetarism has no tools to fight the coming depression-like situation.
    The new economic crisis will start this month, and will last the whole next year.
    The cuts are not just austerity measures. They are the Tories´ way of proclaiming the ultimate victory of the free markets.
    Big Society is a euphemism for the reduction of public funds in assisting the poor.

  • Olli on Saturday we chatted about education in Finland.   In Finland would you say communities are better or worse at looking after their vulnerable members (I’m talking about personal interactions rather than state provision here) than in the UK?

    It worries me how little community cohesion there is.  How many people go unnoticed by their neighbours.

  • Olli Issakainen

    We have strong welfare system here in Finland, so we have less visible problems.
    When I was in London in 1995, I saw people sleeping on pavements. I have never witnessed anything like it here in Finland.
    I once chatted about the subject with my Burnley-supporting English pen pal when he visisted me in my hometown.
    If we believe him, I would say Britons are ahead of us in this respect.
    Of course, as a Finnish friend of mine living in London has told me, things have changed a lot since then.
    In the west we have adored individualism for the last 30 years. But now that bad times are just around the corner, it is necessary to change our narcissistic ways.
    What worries me are the working-class people. Mrs T destroyed their traditional way of life, yet they are now trapped to the mirage of aspiration and social mobility preached by Thatcher and I have to say, Tony Blair.
    A new study by IFS says that Mr Osborne´s plan will cause 10% drop in family living standards.
    It is time to wake up and abandon neoliberalism before it is too late. (Please everyone read Jackie Ashley´s recent column in which she asks where is the economic urgency.)
    Workers of the world, unite!

  • Dave Simons

    I blame Mrs T for a lot of things but destroying ‘the traditional way of life of working class people’ is not one of them, though she did put in place a lot of policies deliberately aimed at accelerating the disintegration of any kind of working class cohesion. But Richard Hoggart was lamenting the loss of something like ‘the traditional way of life of working class people’ in the 1950s, an outcome caused by slum clearance and the proliferation of council estates away from town and city centres, often bordering farmland. Robert Tressell was baffled and frustrated by the self-defeating disunity of the Edwardian working class as described in his early twentieth century novel, ‘The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists’. The exhortation, ‘Workers of the World, Unite’, will soon be two centuries old, and it’s been two centuries of mostly disunity. Also, as in the 1930s and 1980s, a sizeable proportion of ‘the working class’ is not working, so there’s not much chance of seizing the means of production and operating them democratically, as, I understand, was Marx’s prescription and solution to capitalism’s internal contradictions.

  • MicheleB

    There must be some reasons Olli why Finland has such a high murder rate.  I’d speculated for a while that the long winters and long nights could be one cause (a spike in the figures?) but looked at Sweden’s and Norway’s figures and theirs have been nothing like Finland’s (although obviously the neo-Nazi in Norway will spoil their record for this year).

    There also seems to be a very high unemployment rate, especially among people over 50.  I’m glad the young are being so well-educated but wonder whether many of them need, eventually, to emigrate?

  • Whatifwhatif

    One growth industry in UK is hardware for the elderly or disabled!  A local forum had complaints about the number of high street shops selling motorised wheelchairs and bedpans.

    When my mother was diagnosed terminally-ill I gave up my job to be available 24/7, I wouldn’t say I was as great at it as I’d been at my job but there we are ….  by the time I could resume work we were in to the couple of years that preceded TB’s election win…. oh dear.  I fear that anyone doing the same thing now would face a similar outcome.

    • Ehtch

      Made me laugh, MicheleB, in a fit of blackhumour, is when I saw the painted mobile electric disabled scooter lanes at the side of the road in Eastbourne when I visted there years ago. Or did I dream it?

  • Whatifwhatif

    Grrrrrrr …… the last one switched from my ID back to the glitch one just as it disappeared in to moderation   !!

  • Mmacneil

    One way that Government can look at providing better support for carers of all ages is to realise that when your loved one goes into hospital, you need the extra help that welfare benefits provide more than ever. State assistance in the form of Disability Living Allowance and Carers Allowance is withdrawn after a stay in hospital lasting 28 days or more. This reflects the lack of awareness of the realities of informal care provided at home by relatives and friends. Daily visits to hospital and eating at hospital cafes can be costly and is bound to cost more than staying at home.

  • Anna

    I care for my disabled husband who has Parkinson’s disease, plus complications resulting from a fall and a subsequent heart attack during surgery on his spine. We have received excellent medical care since Labour’s NHS reforms, though hospital nursing ‘care’ was often rather uncaring. Before that, we had to find £4000 from savings to get him a diagnosis as the waiting list was 18 months and he was rapidly deteriorating.

    Social services have also been excellent, fitting grab rails in the shower and supplying all sorts of helpful aids. However, I haven’t yet asked for respite care, though I rarely have a full night’s sleep as he often needs help during the night.  The problem is that I know he would be troubled by the indignity of a complete stranger helping him to the loo or shower, helping him dress etc. after his bad experiences in hospital.  Although he has said he’d be willing to accept respite care to give me a break, I can’t bring myself to do it. I think this is a common problem for carers.

  • Ehtch

    Aging is relative – years ago there were many many, mainly male population, absouterly knackered at fifty from manual work from having to do it since the ages of about 12-14. Many crippled from industrial accidents, and many that worked in meturallical industries with cateract blindness and debilitating kidney diseases from a buld up of toxic metals etc.. They would suffer around about five years of being unable to work until the end came, due to no treatment available then as now.

    The main concern these days, is up the top – altzeihmers and strokes mainly, for exhausting care from others.

  • Ehtch

    Olli, been to Finland with work in 2002, and to the north, and in January! Had to buy North Pole wear before I went! The warmest it was that week was minus 25 degC. Flew to Helsinki, change flight to Oulu, then had to travel to Ii – yes, Ii, never knew there is a placename called as such in Finland – dismantle a process machine used in the mobile phone/telecom exchange intergrated circuit component making. Then travel in a truck along roads that were ice rinks to a factory in Kemi in Northern Finland, and reassemble the machine. Then flew back from Kemi airport, that was another ice rink as a runway, via Helsinki to home. Amazing experience.

    Loverly place Kemi, where they build that ice hotel/castle each winter. Went down to the harbour on my day off on the Sunday to see the Bay of Bothnia, and before I knew it I was walking on it and heading to Sweden! Incredible to see the sea all frozen like that.

  • Ehtch

    What I have npticed, Parkinsons disease has declined.I think this is due to more polyunsaturated intack, omega-6 as well as omega-3, and less transitional fats that replace their enzyme levels. What? OK, it is a hobby of mine. Olive oil and butter is only I use as a side-fat that entrers my body. A tub of of any magarine? POISON!
    Butter making ladies, from Wales, on their hols,

  • MicheleB

    It sounds as if you’ve been a full-time carer for many years Anna, you must be exhausted.

    Your husband is willing to go in to respite care and imhoo you need to accept his kindness, he could feel like a burden.  A neighbour used to go in every few months, her son/carer didn’t do more than stay home but she certainly benefitted from the break which included lots of personal grooming treatments.  Our council also used to provide visiting/mobile personal care (I’m not in Scotland) but that’s been curtailed.

  • MicheleB

    I think I’ve read that you care for your Dad Ehtch; hope respite has been offered in your case too as it’s part of what the thread is describing.

  • Dave I think the public sector are pretty united in saying that they are concerned that a substantial rise in pension contributions at a time of rising prices and static wages will force many to stop contributing to their pensions and that this is a bad thing both because we should plan for our pensions and because if people withdraw the schemes will collapse (as current payments in fund the people currently retired).

    I think they’re also united in the view that they don’t like the way the government is systematically misrepresenting the key issues through the media and is proactively labeling those who are expressing important and intelligent concerns as being self-interested groups.

    Sadly instead of teasing out the particular issues which need to be urgently addressed, Ed Milliband is also choosing to label those who are raising them as being irresponsible.

    This is going to be interesting.

  • Bit late with this one…so all I will say is I have to have care from my PA  – the modern way to access a carer of your own choosing – each day as I have MS. This backs up the continual care I receive from my fantastic DH and I know The Princess Royal Trust is doing a wonderful job ensuring carers have the resources they need.
    One thing we have here is a scheme whereby by DH carries a card that will (should) initiate a system to make sure I am told if he has an accident or becomes seriously ill while away from home – told by someone who is aware I will need care immediately from a neighbour, my PA, a friend, family member etc.I am not helpless, hopeless or hapless – I just have ill-health that signalled the end of a career in my early 40s. I am happy! Because I am cared for and loved – can anyone ask for more?

  • MicheleB

    Just heard that council budgets for carers have been increased but … just as with Sure Start’s budgets, they are not ring-fenced.

    This smacks of sloppy ‘work’, yet more lack of interest in detail …. Dave the NiD.

    Budgets should be created around actual needs, numbers of carers, not some other meaningless criteria that results in councils having cash left over they can spend on whatever they wish while Govt pretends some altruism about what it was meant to be for (which we know it wasn’t anyway).

  • MicheleB

    Just heard that council budgets for carers have been increased but … just as with Sure Start’s budgets, they are not ring-fenced.

    This smacks of sloppy ‘work’, yet more lack of interest in detail …. Dave the NiD.

    Budgets should be created around actual needs, numbers of carers, not some other meaningless criteria that results in councils having cash left over they can spend on whatever they wish while Govt pretends some altruism about what it was meant to be for (which we know it wasn’t anyway).

  • Ehtch

    MicheleB, it is not too bad – after my mother died from crippling rheumatoid arthritis which entered her heart and lungs, eventuallly, then my father fell to pieces, in a way, even though he will still not admit it. He then came down with prostate and bowel cancer together joined, which unbelievably, with hardcore radio active directed aimed therapy, and chemotherapy pills, he is still alive, and had the all clear, but his bumhole now exits at the bottom of his stomach, rather than his behind, if you get what I mean.

    But, and this is a big but, the radiotheraphy around his groin has knackered his nerves, and he can hardly walk. To walk fifty yards for him would a four hundred yard sprint to us younger. And I have still got to cope with his mind before this cancer buisiness…

  • Sue

    Carers have been buried by agendas and strategies driven by central government and local authorities for years now. All ask us what we want, but then go away and translate this into bits of meaningless paper.  The simple solution is to have good support and care services that carers trust and stop wasting money on nonsense.  I am now ‘boxed’ as a ‘carer’ rather than a mother of a severely disabled young lady. My daughter for whom I have cared for, for the past 16 years, this includes nearly continuous sleepless nights,  bathing and all other personal care, dealing with her challenging behaviours which can include right hooks and kicking out or throwing whatever is nearest to her basically 24 hour care.  All of this,  including arguing with every bureaucrat I meet for support in every area of her life. I will care and love her for the rest of her life or the rest of my life whichever of us dies first.  But nowhere are the needs of parents/carers of disabled children acknowledged,  I know of some mothers and fathers who are ‘carers’ for 50 years never returning to ‘paid work’ due to the lack of support, or the mopping up of the disasters of  day or residential services their son/daughter attends.  I am not surprised at the findings of the  Princess Royals Trust, its well documented, but it boils down to this, successive governments really do not understand or respect the role of carers not least because they continually talk about us going back to work!  Well, we do work far more hours than would be accepted in a paid work environment, and without the safety net of a health and safety bod coming along to care for our backs, eyes, ears, or whether we will be hit by someone.  Its simple really stop wasting money on bits of paper and give us good support services that we can trust.