Sam’s Bill could help stop carers from slipping into isolation

Far away from Westminster, politics became a personal crusade.
Experience of looking after his disabled son, Sam, has driven Dr
Hywel Francis MP to push The Carers (Equal Opportunities) Bill,
otherwise known as Sam’s bill, through parliament.

Now the bill has received royal assent, it can start to help
carers gain more equal access to education, work and time out from

“This is a tremendous day personally for my wife Mair and me –
having cared for our son Sam, as well as all those other carers who
need support and information,” Francis says. “It has
been a long journey of hope and I am delighted to have got this
far.  I am now keen for my Act to make a real difference for carers
and it is vital that we concentrate on ensuring that is implemented

Under the new law, carers will have to be told about their
rights; will have more opportunities for work, education and
life-long learning; and greater collaboration between statutory
services to help them in their caring roles.

This is the third piece of legislation on carers that has been
achieved through the unusual route of a Private Member’s
Bill, and Carers UK has been behind each one – using it as a
tool to push carers to the top of the social agenda.  The other two
Acts came into force in 1995 and 2000 and were introduced by
Malcolm Wicks MP and Lord Pendry respectively.

But for legislation to be effective, carers, employers and
councils all need to be aware of what carers rights are says, Emily
Holzhausen, public affairs manager with Carer UK.

“There are so many people that are not aware of their
rights,” she says. “We have got until April 2005 to
really start working on dissemination. We are sending out
information to 300 support organisations and nearly 800 other
groups telling them about the act.

“We are also working with employers giving them advice and
guidance about carers rights.”

Holzhausen explains that Sam’s Bill is essential to allow
carers to integrate better with society and feel less isolated.

“Why the act is really important is that it represents a
change in culture. Carers need a life beyond caring, whether that
is in work, education or leisure. The longer we keep carers in work
the better it is for them. When they leave work, they are much more
likely to become excluded from society.”

Caring can take many forms, from parent to child, child to parent,
partner to partner, relative to relative to name but a few. But,
whichever form it takes, it is undoubtedly a tough job. Although
most of their work is never rewarded financial, it is estimated
that the unpaid contribution of carers to the UK economy equates in
value to the total cost of running the NHS – £57

At the heart of the success of the Bill has been the unanimous
support of all those involved – from its broad cross-party
support in Parliament, its backing from major unions and numerous
organisations across England and Wales, including employers such as
British Gas. Its success was boosted when government gave its
support.  The roots of the Bill go back to the recommendations of
the National Carers Strategy, which Tony Blair did so much to move
up the social agenda in his early days as Prime Minister.

There are six million carers in the UK, according to the 2001
Census. This was the first year that the census included a question
on carers. It found that 1.25 million carers provide over 50 hours
of care per week. About 316,000 carers describe themselves as
“permanently sick or disabled”, and of these 124,900
care for 50 hours or more every week. More than half of those
providing 50 hours care per week are over 55 years old.

Holzhausen is well aware of the scale of the task ahead of
voluntary groups and the government if carers are to make the most
of the new legislation. But she remains undaunted. “I am
optimistic, but there is a tremendous amount of work to do,”
she says.

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