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Speech by Paul Burstow MP, Minister of State for Care Services, 26 November 2010: Carers UK Conference

  • Last modified date:
    20 December 2010

It’s a pleasure to join you today. Supporting carers is something I campaigned for passionately in opposition, so I’m determined to do all I can now I have the opportunity in Government.

I know from experience with my local carers centre in Sutton the issues that many of you face. The financial hardship. The loneliness. The barriers to work and a life outside caring. The stress and ill health that often accompanies their caring roles.

I also know the great, sometimes heroic, work you do. The love and dedication you show. The satisfaction you get from doing it, and yes, sometimes the anger with how things are.

And I suspect the mood of many carers can be summed up in three words.

Frustrated. Fed up. Frazzled.

I think some of the carers I’ve spoken to over the years had a few other f-words in mind. I’m very grateful for their restraint.

Certainly, I know the experience of caring can stir deep emotions.

Just last week, on Radio 4’s You and Yours Programme, I spoke to a gentleman who was providing 120 hours of care a week for his wife.

A break wasn’t an option as he said his wife wouldn’t accept a paid carer.

I don’t know the circumstances in this case, but I know other carers who in these situations feel trapped.

And just spending more isn’t an answer.

It would only be the tip of the iceberg.

To really chip away at the foundations of this iceberg, we need a different approach.

To make sure public services, the benefits system and wider society work together to give you the support you need.

It’s clear that we do need to do better.  That is why today we launch a new plan to help us do so.

There are many questions to answer.

How do we end the silos and the turf wars between different agencies that stop you getting the right help at the right time?

How do we open the eyes of NHS and social care professionals to the needs of the carer?

How do we close the gaps that fail young carers because adult services don’t see it as their business to consider the impact of a disability on young carers?

And how do we get the right kinds of action across wider society?

To reduce dependency.
To support your wellbeing.
To give carers more opportunities for flexible working.

Personalising Care

The first thing we must do is let go of this idea that the State has all the solutions.

Every carer is unique, and one size, like-it-or-lump it solutions don’t work.

So we need a shift in power. Away from Whitehall and town halls. Into the hands of individuals and families.

And that shift is embodied in a move to personal budgets. Personalised services that fit with you, your family and the person you care for.

By April 2013, every eligible person requiring care will have the right to get a personal budget from their council, preferably in the form of a direct payment that can be used to buy the services.

This means that more people will get control of the money spent and the decisions that affect their life.

It will change the complexion of care and support – making it more than just supporting an individual, but about supporting whole families.

Developing the Care Market

Of course, to make personal budgets work, there needs to be worthwhile services to buy.

So the second thing we need to do is develop the range of options available for carers.

For instance, new technology has a major role to play. We’re only just beginning to learn how electronic monitors and other extremely clever gadgets can help people retain their independence.

We’re already running the largest trial of assistive technology anywhere in the world, looking at how this can help people regain their confidence and reduce their reliance on carers.

And as we learn more about the effectiveness of this equipment, we want to make them far more mainstream. More visible, more commercially available for those who are not eligible for council support.

The best councils understand that more personalised, more effective care means listening to you and working with you far more than ever before.

That’s the shift in mentality we need to see across all parts of the country. A greater involvement and a greater sensitivity to your needs across public services.

Better NHS support

And that includes the NHS. Too often carers are the invisible partners in clinics or consulting rooms, rather than real experts that can help doctors get the best results for patients.

So the third key priority is to improve how the NHS responds to carers.

When we say “No decision about me, without me.”  We mean it.

Medical professionals have to get better – some, much better – at talking to carers. Explaining the options. Not just talking at you, but listening to your views. Giving you the information and the options you need to provide better care and support at home.

That may include difficult conversations. For example, one of the biggest shocks – and the thing that tips many carers over the edge – is managing incontinence. It’s rarely discussed. I think it should be.

That is why personalisation is just as crucial in the NHS, which is why we’re piloting personal budgets in health. I’ve seen how they can transform lives by putting people in control.

GP training and awareness

Of course, we also need to help you stay healthy and able to carry on.

GPs can make the difference, by asking how you’re doing, by picking up on the common problems – back problems, stress, depression – by generally making sure you’re in good health.

It’s a simple gesture but many GPs aren’t as aware, and some are perhaps not as sympathetic, as they could be.

That’s why we’re investing in training. To help doctors understand your needs and to help them to identify and support those who might not think of themselves as carers.

Equally, I know that many of you draw great comfort and strength by taking a break from your caring responsibilities once in a while.

That’s why we’re also providing the NHS with an extra £400 million to invest in breaks for carers.

This will help thousands of carers over the next four years to have a breather and a little time to yourself.

Community Action

And let me conclude with the fourth and final priority. I think perhaps the biggest opportunity of all. To look beyond public services and to foster a better environment for care across the whole community.

Call it Big Society, call it capable communities and active citizens, call it social action, it means the same thing.

This isn’t about lofty ideals either.

We’re taking concrete actions.

For instance, by investing in the voluntary sector, which I know can make a huge difference.

We’ve already provided more than a million and a half pounds to the three national care organisations this financial year.

We’re now providing a new grant to help various patient groups to reach out to carers and help them to get the advice and support they need.

We will also work with business and organisations to help foster a more care-friendly working culture in Britain.

UK plc has to respond to social change – to an ageing society, to growing rates of dementia – that means more people will need care in years to come.

As Maria will tell you, we will be looking at how we extend your rights, and encourage more organisations to be more sensitive and more flexible to carers’ needs.

Conclusion

So yes, we do have a challenge ahead of us.

And yes, Government must do more – and we will.

But this has to be a partnership, with everyone playing their part to change attitudes and transform opportunities for carers.

It’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to happen overnight either.

But Maria and I are very focused on this, and we’re keen to work with carers organisations and with all of you to make it happen.

As I say, I campaigned for all this in opposition – I’m going to work as hard as I can to deliver it in government.

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