The plight of carers revealed: special report

Carers Week

To work in social care while also coping with being a carer at home can be doubly difficult, says Tim Anfilogoff, (pictured), policy manager for carers and users at Hertfordshire Council’s adult Tim Anfilogoffcare services department.

During Carers Week 2006  which ends on Sunday, campaigners are again highlighting the plight of the UK’s six million carers.

Many carers face physical and mental illness with 60 per cent suffering from depression and half experiencing back pain, according to new research published for Carers Week.

The coalition of charities behind Carers Week are calling for health checks for carers, more respite care, and better information and support including advice on benefits.

Much of this is already on the way, promised by the government in the health and social care white paper, published in January 2006.

The white paper stated that there will be:

• A new information service/helpline for carers, which may be run by a voluntary organisation.

• Respite care for carers during emergencies to be established in each council area.

• An expert carers programme, similar to expert patient schemes, will be established.

Work on these proposals is still in progress and no further detail available yet, a Department of Health spokesperson said this week.


Meanwhile Hertfordshire Council already has support for carers in place, with its Carewise initiative.

A report published by Carers UK earlier in 2006 argued that supporting carers at work brings “significant business benefits” including attracting and retaining staff, increasing productivity, and reducing sick leave.

Tim Anfilogoff at Hertfordshire’s adult care services department agrees that the business case is strong and his authority has acted accordingly.

Hertfordshire was made a beacon council for its carers work by the government. The beacon scheme identifies and share good practice in local government.

The authority also won an employer of the year award  in 2005 for its carers package, from the charity Working Families.

Nearly one in five of the workforce are also carers at Hertfordshire adult services.

Numbers of carers are higher here than in other departments, due to a high proportion of part-time older female staff.

To work in social care while also being a carer can bring extra problems, Anfilogoff points out.

“Council staff understand the pressure our department is under, and may be more reluctant to ask for assistance with caring responsibilities. As social care professionals, some might feel they should be able to cope at home without assistance.”

Confidentiality can also be an issue and staff may not want to be assessed as carers by close or even distant colleagues, he adds.

Operating across the whole council, Hertfordshire’s Carewise policy is based on flexible working including paid and unpaid leave for those staff needed for caring responsibilities. The authority also offers advice, information and counselling for carers plus a carers group.

Anfilogoff says the council’s approach to carers does indeed help with recruitment, retention, sick leave, and also with staff morale. Last year 96.6 per cent of flexible working requests were granted.

Hertfordshire is now disseminating its carers work to other authorities and as pockets of good practice develop locally, the national outlook may also be improving.

Hopeful signs

Apart from the important proposals in the white paper there are small but hopeful signs that carers are being taken more seriously at Westminster and in the Welsh Assembly.

The work and families bill, currently going through parliament, will extend  the right to request flexible working to carers from April 2007. However, there are concerns that the bill’s definition of carer is too narrow.

A flurry of early day motions supporting carers have been tabled in the House of Commons this month. Motions are a way of MPs highlighting an issue.

One urged the government to abolish a rule preventing carers from earning more than £84 a week, while claiming carer’s allowance of £46.95 a week. Another lobbied for more support for the UK’s estimated 175,000 young carers.

And in Wales, the appointment of assembly member John Griffiths, deputy minister responsible for older people, as carers’ champion was announced. The role is the first of its kind.
Charities taking part in Carers Week are Carers UK, Crossroads Caring for Carers, Counsel and Care, Help the Aged, Macmillan Cancer Support, MS Society, Rethink, and the Princess Royal Trust for Carers.


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