Many of the UK’s six million carers do not get the support they are entitled to. The result appears to be failing health and a lack of social contact. Maria Ahmed reports
A report last week from Carers UK claimed that councils could be violating carers’ human rights by not providing them with enough support (Councils ‘failing on human rights’, 16 March).
It finds the social care system is often “incapable” of balancing the rights of the UK’s six million carers with those of the people they support, putting carers at risk.
Councils are failing to provide services which could prevent carers’ health from declining, it says, and carers are also not receiving enough support to allow them to rest, develop relationships or pursue outside interests.
Good practice is “thin on the ground,” it adds. The report builds on other evidence of the lack of support for carers. Earlier this month, government figures showed that just one-third of carers assessed for services were receiving dedicated support. And research carried out for charity Shared Care Network published last week found that families caring for disabled children were waiting up to a year for access to short-break schemes.
Carers UK has called on the government to ensure there are enough resources to prevent infringement of carers’ rights under the Human Rights Act 1998.
While the Association of Directors of Social Services accepts the report’s findings, it denies good practice is scarce, and says councils are being thwarted by a lack of resources.
Sarah Pickup, its carers spokesperson, says: “The system is short of resources but most authorities try hard within tight budgets and in the face of rising demand.
“More and better support for carers is not always expensive – often something very small can make a big difference – but widespread access to more services would require additional resources.”
But she says there is growing evidence that councils are finding “creative service solutions” to carers’ needs.
However, some campaigners suggest that councils are not using the resources they do have, and the government’s decision to stop ring-fencing its carers grant in 2003 has led to authorities diverting this money – £185m in 2005-6 – elsewhere.
Margaret Fletcher, director of operations at the Princess Royal Trust for Carers, says: “Carers’ services are patchy in many places, and there is evidence to show that carers’ rights are being breached as a result of this. This may suggest that money previously ring-fenced for carers is going to other non-related services.”
Campaigners have welcomed proposals in the health and social care white paper to provide emergency respite, training and information for carers, but say they must be backed by new funding.
The partial regulatory impact assessment of the white paper, published earlier this month by the Department of Health, estimates the costs of emergency respite as £25m, training as £5m and an information helpline as £2m-3m.
Pickup says she does not know whether this will be sufficient.
And Caroline Bernard, policy and communications manager at older people’s charity Counsel and Care, warns: “Until the new approach set out in the white paper becomes a universal reality on the ground, carers will always be taken advantage of, providing high level 24-hour care to vulnerable people free of charge.”