One year since its introduction, Claire reflects on the extent to which the Carers Act has changed things for unpaid carers.
On the first of April it was the one year anniversary of the introduction of the Carers (Scotland) Act. Over the last few months we have been asking: How has the Act changed things for carers?
Has it achieved its primary aim that ‘adults and young carers should be better supported on a more consistent basis’?
To answer this question we have asked carers if they know about their rights under the Carers Act, we have asked local carer support organisations how the Act has changed the way they deliver services to carers and we have asked local authorities, how they spent the money the government allocated to carer support and implementing their new duties under the Act.
More on that later…
But I think the real test has been talking to carers up and down the country on their experience of trying to access support for themselves and the people they care for. Because even if a carer isn’t aware of the new legislation, they should still notice an improvement in the systems and services designed to support them in their caring role.
The conclusion we have come to is – it has improved things for some carers in some areas, but it has in no way achieved any form of consistency, either between different local authorities, or even for different carers within the same local authority. Each area has their own eligibility criteria for support and a different pathway for carers to access that support, which makes it confusing for carers trying to find out what their rights are.
This can best be illustrated by a carers meeting I attended recently which included carers of different ages, looking after people with a variety of care needs.
Of the 30 carers in the room, just over half had heard of the Carers Act and just one fully knew their rights under the Act. Two had successfully managed to get an Adult Carer Support Plan and had opted for a direct payment. This had enabled them to access their choice of support, which was a big improvement for them. But it had taken them reaching crisis point and their caring role nearly breaking down before this happened.
In contrast, other carers had tried to get support and had contacted their local authority, but they had been passed from pillar to post and had not been able to find out who to contact to get an adult carer support plan, despite this being a right for all carers under the Act.
Our research shows that this is not untypical for carers in many areas.
Over 1,000 carers responded to our survey, which asked them if they knew about the Carers Act. 51% had never heard of it and only 16% knew what new rights the Act provided to carers.
In terms of local carer organisations, they told us that, their referrals have increased by around 26% since the Act came in. One area has seen an increase of 69%.
Yet in most areas they haven’t received adequate funding to cope with the increased demand. For 1 in 3 centres their funding has remained the same and for 1 in 10 their funding has actually decreased in the last year.
In the first year of the Carers Act the Scottish Government committed £19.4m for implementation, but when we asked local partnerships what they had spent the money on, we could only account for £13 million and much of this was money that local areas were ‘setting aside’ for future costs.
Some areas have fully spent the money allocated to them for supporting carers and have involved carers in deciding what their local priorities are, such as flexible funding for preventative support and short breaks.
As we enter the second year of the Carers Act, we know that there is still some way to go before the Carers Act is fully implemented in the way that it was intended.
In the coming year, we would like to see good partnership working between health, social care and the third sector to become the norm, and not the exception, and for there to be better carer involvement in all aspects of service planning and delivery.
The Carers Act offers a real opportunity for carers across Scotland to be better supported, and it is vital that this legislation doesn’t become a missed opportunity.