Lynn reflects on yet another Carers’ Week in the context of a tumultuous General Election.
When I was asked to write this blog for Carers’ Week, I was conscious of the looming General Election. I did some fine-tuning post election on three hours sleep last Friday; still trying to make sense of it all (and not doing very well!).
Here we are then – Carers’ Week. It’s my second as an “official” full time carer – someone who provides 35 hours or more of care for the princely sum of £62.70 a week.
It’s not a landmark I want to celebrate, for a number of reasons.
I miss being in full time work; I miss earning a decent wage and I miss being valued by society. As a “scrounger”, I am deemed to be a leech sucking on taxpayers’ money. That’s what many in the political world would have you believe and yet, carers are essentially a significant, poorly paid public service, which underpins our communities and our economy.
Carers’ Week should be a spur to action – to improve carers’ experience and outcomes and to improve the way we treat disabled people. However, it seems only to elicit the usual platitudes about unsung heroes (my least favourite phrase). For many, Carers’ Week serves to remind us of how little progress has been made; in many ways, we are going backwards. The services and supports we need are not always there; the right services and conditions for our loved ones are eroding fast.
This past year has seen many of my friends and fellow activists fighting local authorities over destitution level care charges and further cuts to crucial care services. I’ve watched families brought to breaking point by a deeply flawed interpretation of legislation, which was meant to transform our broken social care system.
Continued cuts to respite and community support; further benefit reductions and cuts to pupil support all combine to leave families coping with more than most can imagine. Dealing with constantly challenging behaviour; lack of sleep; learning to use medical equipment; physical lifting and turning; washing; wiping and changing beds are a daily part of our lives – yet public services meant to make life easier often fail to work with us. The facets of good public service, outlined in the work of the Health and Social Care Academy seem quite elusive. Rather than ceding control to families to achieve good outcomes, carers feel that they have no control over their destiny. Carers’ Week often hides the less sanitary and salutary aspects of caring.
It has also coincided with the fallout from last week’s election – an election marked by chaos and change. Those concepts are not unfamiliar to carers and yet, there is no comfort here.
The result doesn’t help appease my worries for the future. It won’t do much to secure much-needed investment for social care or other services we rely on. It’s also unlikely to shift the debate on the value of unpaid care or the pitiful level of Carers’ Allowance.
Carers are a pretty cynical bunch – we will continue to be cynical as we wind our way through another Carers Week. And we’ll be watching what happens post election – with more than a passing interest!