This week is Carers Week, when national charities and local groups recognise the contribution made by the 6.4 million people who care.
Steve McIntosh is Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer for Carers UK
This week is Carers Week, a week where national charities and local groups are recognising the contribution made by the 6.4 million people in the UK who care, unpaid, for ill, frail or disabled friends or family. However, more than most, carers are facing increasingly difficult times.
A survey of carers to mark Carers Week showed that four out of five were fearful of the impact of cuts on their families and nearly half did not know how they would cope if the support they received was cut.
It is clear that carers’ fears are well-founded. Directors of social services have reported £1 billion in cuts to social care in this financial year, at a time when increased demand from an ageing population should require an additional £425m in social care spending.
There is also evidence that families have little capacity to withstand cuts to the support they receive. According to a report from the NHS Information Centre, the proportion of carers caring for over 50 hours a week has doubled since 2001. We also know that carers are twice as likely to be in ill-health as the general population, half have suffered a physical injury as a result of caring and nearly three quarters already report being pushed to breaking point by the stresses of caring.
Yet, despite what can be a harsh reality of caring, the contribution carers make continues to grow. According to Carers UK’s own estimates, carers contribute £119bn in savings to the NHS and social care budgets with the care they provide, up from £87 billion in 2007.
With threats to essential services, appealing to respect the dignity, independence and quality of life of older and disabled people by supporting carers should be enough to fight cuts to social care. But we also have a very clear economic case to make to government and local authorities – cuts now to home help, respite care and day centres will bring greater costs in the long term. Cut support to families who care and the consequences will be costly.
Admissions to hospital and residential care will rise as carers are pushed to breaking point by a lack of support. ‘Bed-blocking’ will increase as ill and older patients cannot be discharged because services cannot meet their needs at home. In addition, we risk the economic damage of family members forced to give up work to care for loved ones as home care is cut.
However, while cuts are at the front of many carers’ minds, we must also look to the future. Carers UK estimates that our ageing population will push the number of carers up to 9m by 2037, and our creaking social care system cannot keep pace.
Next month will see the publication of the recommendations of the independent Dilnot Commission, which was set up by the government to tackle the vexed question of how we pay for social care. The current cuts demonstrate just how important it is that the Commission’s report and the political debate that follows, deliver urgent reform on the basis of cross-party consensus.
Labour’s ambassador for Carers Week, Kate Green MP, has joined us in calling for the government to focus greater attention and resources on this issue. Kate said:
“Carers are the often unseen and under appreciated cornerstone of our health system and I’m delighted to be part of efforts to highlight their contribution at such a crucial time. The government has made deficit reduction its priority, but as Carers UK have shown, cuts to carers support will cost us more in the long run.
“This is not a party political issue; it is about ensuring the most vulnerable can be sure of dignity and quality of life, and that the family and friends that help provide it for them are treated with the fairness and respect they deserve.”
We hope the attention and focus of this week will bring a cross party response to help carers now and in the future, because disabled and older people and their families simply cannot wait.
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