Families across our area are facing real challenges when it comes to looking after their elderly and disabled relatives.
Many unpaid carers tell me they feel pushed to breaking point. I have lost count of the number of times families say they have to battle all the different services to try and get the support they need. Family carers are twice as likely to be in poor health and one in three has to give up their job or reduce their hours in order to care. Often, people aren’t getting help because they don’t see themselves as a carer; they are just a son or daughter, husband or wife, doing what they can to help someone they love.
Unpaid carers make a huge contribution to their families and our communities and, as family life changes, more and more of us will find ourselves looking after our elderly or disabled relatives. There are already 5.4 million unpaid family carers in England and three in five of us will be an unpaid carer at some point in our lives.
It’s not right that people who do so much get so little in return. It also doesn’t make economic sense if a lack of support early on results in families reaching crisis point, with carers either falling ill or being forced to quit work, because of their caring responsibilities.
We need action to give families the support they need. I would like to see the introduction of a new duty on the NHS to identify family carers, so that they can get the right help and support, and give carers a new right to ask for an annual health check. Families caring for people with the greatest needs should have a single point of contact with care services, so they don’t have to battle different parts of the system and tell their story time and time again.
Caring can be really demanding and many people desperately need a break from time to time. We need to ensure that the funding currently identified for carers’ breaks is properly ring-fenced to make sure all of the money goes to family carers. We need to consult with employers, trade unions and carers organisations on how to improve flexible working, which could include measures such as a new period of ‘adjustment leave’ to help families cope with a short-term crisis. I would also like to see family carers included in the groups who can be eligible for hospital car parking concessions.
Having seen first-hand the difficult job that those who are caring for family members do, in very difficult circumstances, I know that these measures would make a real and practical difference to many families.