As we mark National Carers Week, I want to recognise the important role of carers in our society – and call on the Government to give them a better deal.
The coronavirus pandemic has helped us recognise the true heroes of our community. In that group of unsung heroes, this week we should focus on Britain’s 6.5 million carers without whom our NHS and social care system would have been overwhelmed.
National Carers Week is especially poignant for me, as much of my life has been spent caring for close relatives.
I was a young carer, looking after my mum for three years during her fight against cancer until she passed away when I was fifteen. My father had died when I was four, so caring for my mum fell to me and my brothers. As my mum was an only child, when my Nanna needed help in her later years, I took prime responsibility for her care too - both domiciliary care when she lived in a warden-controlled apartment and then when she moved into a care home.
Now years later, I find myself a carer once again, looking after my wonderful son who was born 12 years ago with an undiagnosed neurological condition that's left him unable to speak or walk, and with significant learning disabilities.
Many people don’t appreciate the scale of responsibilities that carers have, and yet the support they receive from the Government is either non-existent, or falls well short of what is necessary. It certainly doesn’t recognise carers’ huge contribution to society.
National Carers’ Week is a chance to acknowledge the hard work of millions of people tirelessly looking after the most vulnerable members of our community – mostly unpaid.
Carers save the Government billions of pounds a year, and yet a survey a few years ago found that 75% of carers had not received any support to allow them to take even a short break from their responsibilities in the previous 12 months. Nationally 67% of carers had not received any support from carers groups and 64% reported feelings of stress.
Local authorities, which have the statutory responsibility to deliver social care, have seen their budgets repeatedly slashed by the Government, meaning they cannot deliver many of the services they once provided.
And so the burden falls to unpaid carers to close the gap as fewer people can access the care they need.
As a nation, we owe it to them to do better.
Here in Kingston we are fortunate to have the Kingston Carers Network, a wonderful charity that helps more than 3,000 carers in our community. Carers can turn to them for independent information and advice as well as support in maintaining their own mental and physical well-being.
But we shouldn’t have to rely on charities to deliver services for the most vulnerable members of society.
That’s why I'm calling on the Government to increase the Carers’ Allowance – currently just £67.25 a week if you care for someone at least 35 hours a week – and invest far more in social care.
During this National Carers Week, let’s recognise that without all the carers across our borough and throughout the UK, our NHS and social care services soon wouldn’t be able to function. And let’s commit ourselves to creating a social care system that we can be proud of.