The Care Act 2014 aims to strengthen carers’ rights to assessments, care and support. Ahead of the Act’s introduction in April next year, researchers at the social care workforce research unit at King’s College London have been looking at family carers’ current experiences of services and a recent paper outlining their findings (see pic below) found that too many carers are unaware of their rights.
Jo Moriarty, deputy director of the social care workforce research unit and one of the researchers on the study, answered our questions about some of the key findings and what social workers can learn from them.
What key messages from the study do you feel are particularly important for social workers to know about?
JM: The big message is that supporting carers is an important part of social workers’ roles wherever they work (e.g. grandparents supporting an adult child with mental health needs and their young children) as well as in traditional areas such as dementia or end of life care.
The other one is that caring situations change. The idea that this will be picked up in an annual review or that the carer will necessarily get back in touch if they are having problems is unrealistic. Systems that may have been suitable in the past when all a carer needed was to be put in touch with a good home care agency are no longer fit for purpose.
Equally, direct payments can help but they are not a panacea – especially when carers care for someone who can’t manage their own direct payment. With increasing eligibility criteria, a carer known to a local authority is likely to be caring for someone with a complex mix of needs. That condition may be progressive or fluctuating. Arguably this makes the role of the social worker simply as care co-ordinator unsuitable.
Carers have always valued ‘traditional’ social work with someone they trust who understands their position and has a good overall knowledge of health, social care and welfare benefits and local services. Social workers’ skills in supporting carers are probably not being used to their full extent but that would be another study!
Why do you think a lot of carers are unaware of their rights? It is due to poor information from local authorities or other factors?
JM: There are a lot of reasons for this. A big one is that people don’t always recognise themselves as carers. Often people take on caring roles gradually, unless the person they care for has experienced a dramatic change in their health (e.g. an accident) or is born with a disability so there has always been a strong division between the carer/cared for role.
With time, carers start doing more and more but the point at which ordinary everyday reciprocities (such as picking up shopping or driving someone to an appointment) becomes caring is more blurred. They might see a poster asking ‘are you a carer?’ but they haven’t actually defined themselves this way before.
In some instances, cultural expectations play a part. People think ‘it’s what you do’ so they will often assume that what they are doing is part of their role as a person’s wife/husband/partner etc. They often say, ‘I’m not his/her carer – I’m his wife/husband etc’.
Guilt is also a big factor for some carers – they feel they ought to manage, even if it is hard. There are also carers who are worried about the consequences of them saying they are finding it hard to manage. This is a particular problem for young carers who might worry that they will be separated if they say how much they are doing for a parent/grandparent.
Overall, people never really think that caring is something that might happen to them, even though Carers UK estimate that women have a 50:50 chance of becoming a carer by the age of 59. They then either don’t imagine there is any help for them, they think it will be too bothersome to apply for or they just feel it’s too much trouble to find out about it. They may also think that help is discretionary, even though carers do have some rights (for example, to be assessed or access to Carers allowance) .
The study also found that people were disadvantaged if they were caring for someone who was ineligible for social care support. Do you think the Care Act’s new duties will improve this?
JM: Technically it ought to. However, if carers and voluntary groups think that it is all too much bother to get very little help, then they may not ask for a carers assessment.