The Simon Heng Column

 I was talking to some first year social care students about the effect that recent legislation has had on service users and their families – particularly, the introduction of direct payments, the disability discrimination acts and the carers acts.

We were discussing the role of informal carers, and many of them were struck by the injustices in the rules regarding entitlements for carers. Some of them were carers themselves, and testified to the difficulties surrounding their roles.

Driven by a growing sense of injustice, I realised that you could think of the carer’s role as a kind of conscription. If you live with someone who needs social care, as parent, partner or child, there’s an expectation that you will care for them.

Any “extra” provision will be based on what you cannot do alone. Unless you choose to evict yourself, or the service user, it’s difficult for most people to avoid this.

Like military conscription, the pay is pitiful, you don’t choose the work and the hours are long. There’s no such thing as conscientious objection, unless you’re prepared for the disapproval of almost everyone around you. Of course, most of us would want to be involved in caring for those we love, even at the expense of our own careers, social life, or the chance of a decent wage. But it must gall carers to know that the paid care staff who work alongside them are receiving an acceptable reward for their labours, when they are effectively earning less than £1 per hour.

Why do the rules for the Independent Living Fund – and most direct payment schemes – insist that service users cannot employ someone who shares our homes? Is it that funders don’t trust families to work in an honest way, or is it just cheaper to pay informal carers a pittance?

Another way of looking at care provision is to see it as a form of industry – it provides employment, requires regulation and training, and adds money to the local economy.

Service users as wealth creators – now there’s a thought.


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