Saturday, 25 June 2011

Backing carers - Reading's hidden heroes

Today an elderly constituent  I've known for many years and who I have assisted with various local issues came to visit me at our ward surgery.

We talked about the issue she had come to raise (relating to planning) and after a few minutes it transpired that she had recently become a full-time carer to her husband.

I had no idea about this and as I asked her about what support she was getting at home.

 It soon became clear that not only was she not getting any support but that she didn't realise that she was entitled to any.

I asked her when the last time was she had a day off.

She told me she couldn't remember.

When I probed a bit further she said she had been forced to rearrange the house so they could both sleep downstairs as due to disability her husband couldn't get up the stairs anymore.

They have a bath but a shower would be more convenient.
Her neighbour was able to help her with a few things including getting the shopping.

I immediately made a note of her needs and said I would ask the Council's social services team to contact her to see what support she could be given.

It struck me that had I not digged deeper I might never have found out that my constituent was a carer.

It is not something that people will always bring up in conversation in the street or on the doorstep.

That is why I make a point of saying to people that I am here to help them whenever I am out and about in the ward.

But it is not possible for me as a councillor to speak to every single resident.

This is a major challenge for the Council: how to respond to the needs of a resident who is not 'in the system' who they are not aware of.

It got me thinking about the numbers of residents who carer for family, friends and neighbours in Reading, soldiering on in often difficult circumstances and what we can do to support them better.

Talking to my constituent it became obvious that it had not occured to her to ask me or the Council for help.

This was partly because she didn't think she needed it (she felt as a wife of 30 years plus it was just something she had to do) and partly because she didn't know help was available.

This is evidence of the work that still needs to be done to publicise support for carers and to do more to encourage carers to come forward.

When I was Lead Member for Social Care I placed support for carers at the heart of our approach.

Our agenda was not simply about supporting carers in their role but helping them live their own lives.

What did this mean in practice?

Answer -  supporting people to get breaks by giving them access to funded respite care and a personal budget to spend on things that help them live their lives.

I have met carers who have benefited from this approach - many of whom carried on in silence for years because they didn't know support was out there for them.

This made me feel even more strongly that we must not overlook people who care for others in their own homes.

And with an ageing population the number of people who do this is set to increase.
I have personal experience of family members who have been carers and their selflessness has made a big impact on me.
In March I wrote on my blog:
"As an administration we are committed to placing support for carers at the heart of all our policies and at the top of our local agenda for transforming community care."
I said this because despite the fact Labour councillors regularly congratulate themselves on their social care record the reality is (backed up by the Council's own research) was that Council policies failed to meet the needs of carers.

When I led this portfolio I increased support for carers while other councils were cutting it.

Cutting support for carers was not something me or other members of the Lib Dem - Conservative Coalition Administration were prepared to do.

Whilst councils rightly focus on people who receive formal social care they must not ignore those people who currently fall outside the system.

A survey of 900 carers by the Council in 2010 (when it was controlled by Labour) identified the following key areas for action:
  • Supporting carers to get breaks
  • Promoting the take-up of Direct Payments from the Carers
  • Offering back up support for carers in an emergency
  • Helping new and existing carers access information and guidance on support and services.
Work I kicked off this year to respond to identified needs of local carers includes:

  • Continuing the Carers Steering Group to ensure local agencies continue to collaborate for the benefit of carers
  • Making a positive contribution by ensuring carers are including in service development
  • Improved quality of life through raising awareness of services available and to engage with other providers to negotiate better access to services for carers
  • Encouraging take up from underrepresented groups, RBC has funded an additional BME carer support group to complement existing ones offered by PRT
  • Working with JobCentre Plus to make sure employers in Reading are aware of flexible working rights for carers
  • Community development work alongside the Thriving Neighbourhoods Programme to ensure carers are identified
  • A series of events in 2011 to link in with national events and promote carer rights, support available to them and how to access this.
At national level, Lib Dem Minister Paul Burstow has led this agenda helping to put Lib Dem values and policies around supporting carers into action.

I know Paul quite well and I know he is personally very committed to increasing support for carers which goes to the core of Lib Dem values around valuing the individual and reciprocity.
The Coalition Government’s Agreement sets out that the Government will look to provide increased support to carers particularly through:
  • Extending the roll-out of personal budgets to give people and their carers more control and purchasing power;
  • Using Direct Payments to carers and better community based provision to improve access to respite care;
  • Extending the right to request flexible working to all employees, consulting with business on how best to do so; and
  • Establishing a commission for long-term care which will consider how to ensure responsible and sustainable funding for long-term care.
In 2010 the Council estimated that there are around 11,000 carers in Reading

My guess is the actual number is even higher.

I am pleased I was able to identify a carer in my ward today and hope I will be able to play my part in helping her to have a better quality of life.

I will be challenging the Labour administration to continue to the work I led which placed carers at the heart of social care policies as I feel strongly we owe it to residents who care for others to do the best by them.

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