EVERY day should be Carers’ Rights Day

So, today is Carers’ Rights Day, the day when we celebrate family carers and tell them what they are worth..

(Fifty-nine pounds odd a week, if they earn less than £100, that’s what.  Whoopee)

I am offended by the whole concept of a Carers Rights Day – a day when well-paid professionals and media pundits gather together to pat each other on the backs and moo “Ooooo – we care: we reeeelly care for your plight, pooooor yooo. ”  The brutal truth is that they don’t.  Society doesn’t. Successive governments don’t.   And when I once asked Unison strikers why they were not striking for family carers they memorably replied “Because you don’t work!”  (That is, because we Family Carers don’t have paid hours, overtime, sick pay, holiday pay etc etc we don’t work. It’s iniquitous)

Carers wouldn’t need a Carers Rights Day if the state had ever given Family Carers any meaningful rights.  And the right to be accepted as a worker rather than patronised as a rather dim and unworldly saint  comes top of the list.

If carers were seen as the workers they are, the real cost of that care: the working hours, the loss of careers, the impact of poverty and poor health, the absence of employment-related pensions – all these might be factored into the support offered to them.  As it is, people suggest they may like a session of aromatherapy!

In this country the welfare state has traditionally relied  on the love carers feel for those they care for to save the state the real cost of that care. Yet carers suffer from blighted careers, poverty, poor health (fulltime carers are twice as likely to be in bad health than their peers) and can look forward to little more than an impoverished old age.  Thousands of people like myself have worked unsupported 168 hour weeks for years – in my case for the whole of this millennium. You know, its possible we might just get worn out!

This is not only sad and bad, it is expensive.  How much does it cost to replace 24/7 specialised, knowledgeable care? Five years ago when the cost of home care was estimated it varied between £18 and £27 per hour depending on whether it was daytime, evening or weekend. Goodness knows what it is in 2013.

So what’s the answer? Once again – to the sound of one hand clapping  – I’m suggesting the following serious revision of how carers are supported and viewed. Its not unduly expensive or ambitious. Just common sense :

  1. Carers Allowance should be viewed as a wage rather than a benefit, awarded to all full-time carers  (exactly as DLA as awarded to those who are eligible)  Currently family carers can claim £59 odd a week -if they don’t earn more than £100:  meaning carers are expected to live and further their careers on £8368  a year. If, of course you earn a little more than £100 a week, you get no carers allowance at all. These folks have hearts like greasy bullets, don’t they?
  2. The state must further relax rules on ‘other employment’ to allow carers the ‘luxury’ of being able to work, and have some non-caring life outside their responsibilities.
  3. The state should pay into the equivalent of an occupational pension for carers to accurately reflect (ok at minimum wage) the real hours spent caring. This could be established by reference to the cared for’s DLA returns and would give carers the prospect of a securer old age with recognition of what can be decades of real – if unpaid work.
  4. When a family carer is bereaved they are simultaneously made redundant. The state should set up obust and appropriate  training to provide  carers for genuine, satisfying jobs when their caring roles (often sadly) end. This isn’t a luxury – it is a reward for all the unpaid work they have done without prospect of career advancement. 
Every day should be Carers Rights Day. Everyone should recognise how close they are to being either carer or cared for!

Cycle danger “must be designed out”

Six cyclists have died on London’s roads in less than two weeks.  Several others have been seriously injured.

A horrifying thought for cyclists and non-cyclists alike. And particularly thought-provoking for a rural cyclist like me who has had to make frequent cycle trips across London, visiting my child in hospital. I’m a sensible, careful, confident cyclist, but clearly just being  sensible, careful and confident is not enough. If  I were killed, who will look after her?

Every death on the road is the death of someone who was needed by someone, was responsible for someone, is missed by someone .

Three of these six tragic fatal collisions involved lorries, the rest coaches or buses. For years these large vehicles have posed a threat to cyclists and pedestrians completely disproportionate to their numbers – and both in and out of London. There are a number of factors likely responsible, but design of roads and lorries come right at the top. This video shows  the shocking extent of a lorry’s  blind spot.

The kneejerk reaction is to blame the cyclist. “You wouldn’t be in danger if you don’t ‘come up’ on the inside of a lorry.”  Right.  Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Unless the lorry ‘comes up’ on the outside of you, that is.

You wouldn’t be in danger if you wear hi-viz  …have bright lights …stick to the rules of the road ..maintain your bike properly …cycle defensively… etc etc.”

No, my friends, this is not the case. You will be in danger if you don’t do these things –  but you are far from safe even though you do.

Boris Johnson’s latest bright idea is that safety can be achieved by a ban on cyclists with headphones. Another example of missing the point completely:  when I had a near-fatal encounter with an HGV, I wasn’t wearing headphones. But the HGV driver was.   Having failed to spot me – all neon yellow and glittering lights –  in front of him, he was unable to hear either my air-horn or my screams.   Banning  headphones will only add to safety  if the ban is all-embracing.

CTC’s view is far more balanced.   All it is asking is that Boris Johnson  should “apply the most fundamental principles of safety management to this dreadful situation as a matter of urgency. In other words, the danger must be designed out and reduced at source to stop more unnecessary deaths“.   CTC suggests this should be by:

  • Re-designing and re-building major roads and junctions to optimise safety for cyclists and other road users, rather than optimising the motor traffic  flow;
  •  Insisting hauliers operate vehicles of the most cycle-friendly design . Models  already on the market feature lower and more transparent cabs to give drivers a better, direct view of the road;
  • Keeping lorries off the busiest roads at the busiest times.

Training and awareness activities – for lorry drivers, for cyclists, in fact for everyone –  would come next  says CTC and “their purpose should be to minimise whatever risks cannot be eliminated at source by the measures listed above“.

Here, I would counter Mr Johnson’s simplistic notion, with a reductio ad absurdam of my own.  Cycle safety on roads (whether city, town AND country) is not a matter of headphones, its a question of whether you’re plugged in to reality. And I would suggest that these days very few drivers are. The modern vehicle is built to give one a feeling of virtual travel – insulated against sound,  smell, atmosphere,  action, weather.  So to ensure people drive safely maybe we should be reintroducing these elements into their travel?  perhaps we should require vehicles that drive in rush hour to drive with their windows down? their roofs off? They could enjoy the vicarious experience of being a virtual cyclist.

From which it may be a simple step to getting out from behind the wheel altogether

Co-operative Principles: ‘the man’ or ‘the little man’?

I have been a member of the Co-operative group for a quarter of a century and a Co-operative bank account holder for over 20 years.  I have a Britannia savings account and a Co-op pension plan. If I’d died, I would probably have had a Co-operative funeral.  I’m a Co-op member not because of a party political allegiance but because I’ve identified with  its stated ethical principles, because it was responsive to local people at a local level, and because it offered a dividend  for shopping locally.

There are a lot of people like me out there – a fact that the Co-operative group seems recently to have forgotten.  Sadly, despite its ethical policies the Co-operative Group seems to have been supporting ‘the man’ rather than ‘the little man’

Yesterday, I wrote to the group as follows:

I would like to ask you to confirm

  • whether the Co-op group really did donate £50k to Ed Balls’ office last year?
  • that the Coop group will NOT be paying a dividend to its many members this Christmas because the Group cannot afford it?
  • and that if these two are both the case, how the Co-operative Group can  possibly square this with its ‘ethical policies’ which supposedly support the ‘little man’ (eg Co-operative  members) as opposed to ‘the man’ (eg Ed Balls – who surely is quite wealthy enough to donate £50k to his own damn office if he feels it needs it).

This is not a frivolous question and I hope for a serious answer.  I will post it