Top guidance for carers

Luke Clements is full of praise for the guidance accompanying
the Carers and Disabled Children Act, which spells out, among other
things, which carers are entitled to assessments and services.

Has a carer the right to choose not to provide full-time care
for a disabled partner or child?

Just once in a while the Department of Health manages to produce
a truly excellent piece of guidance that is capable of making a
real difference to people’s lives. At first sight, however,
practice guidance on the new Carers and Disabled Children Act 2000
would not appear to fall into such a category. The act is a
disappointing measure and one could therefore assume that the
accompanying guidance would be equally dull.

Not so. It bristles with positive statements that should
reinforce good practice. By way of example, it tackles head on the
issue of what makes a carer a “substantial carer” (and thereby
entitled to an assessment and potentially to services).

It is not, the guidance asserts, only the time spent each week
caring that affects carers. For some, such as those caring for
adults with learning difficulties, the caring role can have the
additional impact of being a lifelong commitment.

For others, such as those caring for adults with severe mental
health problems, caring can be a sporadic or cyclical
responsibility. The carer may not be physically or practically
caring at all at certain times, but still anxious and stressed
waiting for, or seeking to prevent, the next crisis.

In addition, caring may conflict with other family
responsibilities, such as parenting or holding down a job. Any
assessment of the carer’s need for support has to look at the
impact of the whole caring situation.

Nowhere, however, is the practice guidance more eloquent than in
relation to carers and employment. Local authorities should, it
states, take action so that “carers are supported to stay in work,
or to return to work, where that is what they want to do”. This
advice extends to the parents of disabled children, stating that:
“they will also benefit from joining or rejoining the workforce”,
and that, “many parents of disabled children would like to return
to work and, if they were able to do so, would benefit socially and
emotionally, as well as financially”. Of particular significance is
the fact that the final guidance omitted the phrase “provided that
this will promote and safeguard the welfare of the disabled child”
(which appeared in the draft guidance).

An additional breath of fresh air is the guidance’s
challenge to local authorities concerning their own staff who are
carers. In formulating policy social services departments should,
the guidance states, ask themselves how they treat their own staff
who are carers “in terms of work-life balance, flexible working
practices, support…”.

It might have also been appropriate for the guidance to remind
social services departments of their duties under the Employment
Relations Act 1999, which provides that an employee is entitled to
take a reasonable amount of time off work (albeit possibly

n To provide assistance when a dependant falls ill, gives birth
or is injured or assaulted.

– To make arrangements to care for an ill or injured

– In consequence of the death of a dependant.

– Because of the unexpected disruption or termination of
arrangements for the care of a dependant.

– To deal with an incident which involves the employee’s
child while the child is at school.

The carer is, however, obliged to tell the employer the reason
for the absence as soon as practicable (which of course may be
after the event) and how long the absence is likely to last.

Henceforth local authorities should have no excuses: this is
practice guidance of the best kind and its message is clear: “Do
unto your staff what you preach to others”.

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