Name: Imelda Redmond
Job: Chief executive officer, Carers UK
Quailfications: BA in social policy, diploma in psychotherapy, working towards MA in management
Last Job: Deputy chief executive, Carers UK
First Job: Residential social worker
Carers UK needed to refocus its sights on its members’ priorities. Chief executive officer Imelda Redmond tells Sarah Wellard how this helped raise awareness of carers’ needs and rights
When Imelda Redmond took over as chief executive officer at Carers UK two-and-a-half years ago she realised the organisation needed to look afresh at its strategy for advancing the needs and rights of carers. “There were a lot of things to tackle. We weren’t making best use of our resources and fund-raising targets weren’t being met.” So the first step was to agree a financial recovery plan with trustees. The next was to consult members about priorities.
Redmond says: “We’re a membership organisation and we have to make sure our organisational priorities are the ones our members want. We asked people what were the most important issues for us to take forward.” The answers from more than 2,000 carers were: poverty, carers’ health, social inclusion, employment and recognition of carers’ role and contribution.
Convincing trustees that these five issues should be adopted as organisational priorities was never a problem because they had been involved closely from the outset. Redmond says, “As carers themselves their first concern is to support people. We knew we couldn’t deliver support directly to six million carers so we decided our focus should be on advice and information, public awareness and engaging carers in campaigns to raise our issues.”
Once the priorities were agreed, the task was to bring the work of the organisation in line behind them. “The consultation focused our minds. It gave us confidence in knowing where to concentrate our energies and commitments. The five priorities cut across everyone – the helpline, training, policy. Everything lines up behind them.”
The clear focus also helped the organisation identify which areas of work were most likely to achieve maximum benefits for carers. “We kept asking ourselves: how do we get carers higher up the agenda and into the public eye? How do we make legislative gains for carers? How can we achieve progress for people who don’t even know they are carers? We started saying ‘no’ to people and withdrawing from working groups that weren’t taking us anywhere.”
With billions of pounds of disability benefits and carers’ allowances unclaimed every year, one strand of Carers UK’s anti-poverty strategy is to convince people to realise that they may be able to claim support.
Despite having had to reduce in-house resources, Redmond believes the organisation has achieved a much higher profile for carers – ITV’s recent campaign is just one example. “We’ve sharpened our approach to media work. The people who are talking to the media now are more connected with our purpose and understand that it is critical to get recognition for carers and inform them of their rights.”
With employment identified as a priority, employers are another key group for Carers’ UK to work alongside. The organisation has been instrumental in setting up a lobbying forum known as Employers for Carers, which includes major companies such as BT, HSBC and British Gas as well as the CBI and government departments.
Redmond says: “We wanted to do something to promote flexible working for carers. The group provided the vehicle for employers to speak to government directly. They make the business case for introducing carer-friendly working practices.” Employers are also putting their weight behind the lobby for improved care services as they realise they will lose key staff if support services are not available.
As for any campaigning organisation, influencing government and legislation is crucial. Redmond believes there has been progress. “We’ve got carers’ equal opportunities legislation on the statute book and the government has made a commitment on flexible working. But there are still policy collisions. We’ve been pushing for a carers’ champion to work across government. At the moment different elements of policy are pushing in opposite directions and there’s no single person we can go to. And if policymakers don’t understand the role carers play they won’t deliver on the return to work agenda or on their vision in the health and social care white paper.”