Carers selflessly contribute their time and money to caring for someone and ask little in return. They often provide care 24 hours a day, seven days a week, enabling a friend or family member to stay at home and live with the dignity, independence and security the rest of us take for granted.
As the minister for carers, I am clear that we, as a society, must do more to recognise the enormous contribution that carers make. Progress over the past 10 years has been considerable. We developed the first prime minister’s strategy for carers, which has led to the introduction of the carers’ grant, the right to request flexible working and the carers’ pension credit.
However, demographic change and the increasing number of people wanting to remain in their own homes means we need to do a lot more. The launch of the New Deal for Carers this year ensured our commitment to supporting carers would be sustained and accelerated.
The New Deal includes measures designed to recognise and support carers and the essential role they play. However, at its centre was an undertaking to create a new strategy. I was given the task by the prime minister to ensure the review was based on “the most far-reaching consultation ever on the future of carers, to encourage the fullest engagement of the very people who would benefit most”.
The revision of the strategy is not just looking at health and social care issues. All relevant government departments are involved looking at issues concerning employment, income, young carers and equalities. The emphasis is on working in partnership across government and with the third sector to provide the best support we can for carers.
While the new strategy, to be launched by the prime minister next year, will improve support and recognition for carers over the longer term I knew that we needed to take action in the short term. That is why the New Deal for Carers includes more than the revision of the strategy. In October this year £25m was made available to local authorities in England to provide short-term cover for carers in emergencies.
We also announced a national helpline for carers. In addition, we pledged £5m to support the development of an experts carers programme. I hope that this support will help to improve the quality of life for carers, empowering them with information and skills, and most importantly, putting them back in control.
Building on this, the prime minister has subsequently announced a new standing commission on carers. I will work with Philippa Russell (pictured right), a leading disability rights campaigner and carer who is heading the standing commission, to take forward this proposal. The standing commission will ensure the voice of carers is central to the long-term development of government policy. It will also ensure that the New Deal for Carers reflects the aspirations and needs of carers.
Carers and their needs are now among the top priorities for policymakers and politicians. Our challenge in every community is to respect the fact that carers are usually the experts on their family members, and to create an integrated health and well-being system that is easy to access, offers personalised support and ensures carers can have a life of their own alongside their caring responsibilities. This will require joined-up government and significant cultural change in the NHS, local government, and across statutory agencies in every community.
Carers deserve the best – our challenge and duty is to make them feel that we are on their side and to recognise their unique contribution to the well-being of our society.
The economics behind the new deal for carers
This article appeared in the 6 December issue under the headline “Carers and their needs are top priorities for policymakers”