Tag Archives: Carers

Local care for local carers: Wickham Market finds a solution

More and more of the UK’s care problems are being picked up by family carers, but who cares for them? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

The government and the media and all the other movers and shakers may move shiftily and shake their heads despondently, but they come up with precious few answers.  I can tell them exactly how to move forward. Government and the media and all the other movers and shakers – you  just need to come and look at what’s happening in Wickham Market!

In this small Suffolk village the Wickham Market and District  Family Carers group  (a wonderful group of which I am proud to be a member) has created a trail-blazing solution to Britain’s growing care problem. In March, 13 volunteers from Wickham Market became  the first people in the country to qualify in an innovative scheme to provide local free trained respite care to local family carers!

Why? When the villages ‘s parish council saw local services struggling to meet the care needs of an ever-increasing older population, they recognised that it would be most practical to support the people who look after this population – the family carers. They also recognised that the single most important way of supporting these people was by giving them worry-free respite from their caring role. Their unique scheme ‘Local Care for Local People’ provides a pool of trained, accredited, insured – and most importantly LOCAL – volunteer carers, to respond to the present and future needs of people looking after loved ones fulltime.

After qualification, the volunteers carry on receiving  training, development and supervision. The knock-on effect is an improvement to employment opportunities for local people in our rural area . The scheme is therefore not only helping our local family carers, its contributing to the economic health of the community,” says the dynamic and diminutive Pam Bell, too modest ever to admit she is the brains behind this idea (she is). “Each volunteer has undertaken 56 hours of training by accredited trainers, 10 hours of assessed placements in residential care homes, plus course work. It a huge investment of time and effort for them to make  even before they start their volunteering role in the community. This is real commitment. From Easter 2012 we’ve been able to provide up to 100 hours per month of free support for family carers so they can take a break.  Our Volunteers are qualified, insured, CRB checked and supervised and each individual Family Carer can contact the volunteer they choose directly, no agency, no waiting, no cost!”

Family Carers are unsung heroes who, out of love, compassion, friendship, voluntarily care for another adult 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, with little or no support or opportunity to take a break. They find it hard to do all sorts of things non-carers take for granted – to go shopping, to go for a walk, to meet a friend for a coffee – even get to the doctors or cope with an unexpected injury. The idea of doing something really positive to help them – training local people to become Local Volunteer Carers – was born from their plight says Sarah Owen Williams who is Wickham Market and District’s  Carers Support Group leader.

“Almost all support groups for carers are centred on the illness of the person they are caring for. Yet the problems that all carers face are very similar. Once we’d set up a group in Wickham Market to help any local family carer, we realised that respite was the key issue for all of them. And that we could make a real difference to their lives by training a bank of local people to provide short term respite care when emergency strikes. Or just when somebody wants a little time off from it all. Why should their love and public-spiritedness give them no private time? Pam adds.

When employed people talk about the stress of  their long working weeks, they need to remember that a full-time family carer is working a 168 hour week without pay, overtime, sick leave, holiday pay or an occupational pension. You can be called on any time of the day or night.  Indeed, I spent a terrifying and upsetting night in A&E ten days ago – unsure as to whether the relative I care for would survive the night (she did).  It may be  stressful running counties, countries or big companies  – I wonder if it is any less stressful being on call for years as the permanent link between life and death for just one single other person. You certainly don’t get paid at the same rate.

And on top of everything carers are always worrying about what will happen to their loved one if they have an accident or became seriously ill. I was knocked off my bicycle three years back by a man driving on the wrong side of the road.  He jumped out of the car to see if I was badly hurt.

And grazed and bruised I might be, but I had my priorities. I burst into tears and said If you had killed me, there’d be no-one to look after my daughter!

Nor was there. There are no carers for carers.

But now Wickham Market has made sure there are!

And if you don’t live in Wickham Market, or district? This scheme is unique – but we would be delighted to help other communities to replicate it in other parts of the country says Pam.

So  that’s all there is to it. Go thou and do likewise, why don’t you?

Family carers need recognition as workers

Although local concerns about the closure of the Suffolk Respite charity are timely, we need to recognise that the problems family carers face are not primarily those of ‘frontline cuts’. They are the outcome of years – decades – of total neglect by  past governments.  Carers need more than charity – they need recognition as workers. I speak as a 24/7 fulltime carer  since the year 2000.

6.4million unpaid family carers in the UK save the UK economy £140bn every year. And for 24/7 care (a 168 hour week), they get a Carers Allowance of £55pw only if they are unable to work on top! Most carers struggle with dreadful daily conflicts between work and care, and a million have had to give up or reduce their hours, losing an average of £11,000 a year. There’s a wolf at every carer’s door – and over 4 in 10 say caring has pushed them into the red, with 47% being made ill by money worries. Their worries come, not only from lost earnings, but  because they face bills for special equipment, foods, medicines, transport, heating.

Its a big price to pay for love. Yet carers don’t expect to be thought of as noble: we do it in many cases because  that is the hand that we and the person we love and care for have been dealt.  There are no other options, or options that do not accord with common humanity.

We cannot always manage to be the angels we are not, so it isn’t surprising that we would rather be thought of as the workers we are. Yet New Labour, Old Labour, wet and dry Tories – no government has given a monkeys for the plight of our large but clearly politically insignificant group. For all the care past governments have had for carers ,we might as well have been a rural bus route!

On Nov 30th (Strike Day)I and the person I care for crossed a picket line for an essential (life-supporting) appointment. I asked the Unison reps why they were not striking to improve the lot of family carers.   As I pointed out to them : “Our terms and conditions include no occupational pension, no time off, no holiday, no sickness pay or cover, Health & Safety training and we have no recourse to the European Time Directive”,.

“We can’t represent you because you don’t work,” I was told. “But we care an awful lot for your plight..”


I have since been onto Unison to ask whether they would consider representing 6.4million of the hardest workers in the land to improve dire living conditions that a public-sector union should be breaking its heart over. So far, no response.

This is a slightly amended version of my letter to the EADT, 6/02/2012

FACT – fire safety for the vulnerable

I went to a meeting of the Wickham Market and District Carers’ group today, where, yet again, we were treated to the most brilliant and useful talk. This time it was from FACT (Fire and Carers Together).

Explaining FACT to all of us who are desperate to know..

The Suffolk FACT scheme is a free service in Suffolk for family carers and vulnerable people with additional needs who might find it difficult to leave their home, or understand when they should leave their home, or know how to leave their home, in the event of a fire. As you can see, it gives essential information.

How does it work? Basically, Suffolk Family Carers works in partnership with Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service to assist family carers and vulnerable people to prevent fire in their homes. Fire safety officers will  come out to your home, and provide a very specific home fire safety check on site, and then give you advice – and appropriate (free) equipment if it is needed. By registering with FACT, you  – and those you care for – will learn how to prevent fire in the home – and will be helped to prevent it.

And more – FACT can give you a (free) listing on their an emergency database at the Fire Control and Command Room . This  alerts them to people with special needs or requirements should there be a fire on the property and will help them prioritise rescue.

We in Suffolk can be proud that FACT is the first scheme of its kind in the country.

So far, FACT has registered a great many people in Suffolk, and has also provided over 800 home fire safety checks. Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service has fitted many fire alarms, including sensory alarms (ones that can alert people with hearing difficulties).

Carers: there is no charge for this service… so please, please, make the most of it!

More details and how to register on the FACT scheme, here

Wickham Market’s Support for Family Carers

Today I went to a fantastic Christmas party, run by the Wickham Market and District Family Carers Support Group.

We had a lovely time at the party, but then, we generally do.  Coming along to the group gives a little relief  from a hard relentless job for so many, particularly those supporting a  loved one with a degenerative degenerative disease. “I live for these meetings,” a member told me today.  She cares for a longterm partner with Alzheimers – and coming to this group gives her a chance, not only to put her cares to one side for an hour or two,  but to do so in the company of people who know exactly how longterm and dispiriting these cares can be.

I’ve been attending since the group started in April  – not as a County Councillor (although SCC provides some of the funding), but as a family carer in my own right.  Since it started  up it has been a wonderful source of support, and invaluable information to help each of us members in our caring role  – and, quite as importantly –  a little respite from it . 

The Corn Dollies melodeon trio had a number of us dancing , and then singing to their lively selection of tunes and carols

As you will know from other blog entries of mine, I am very concerned about the uk’s scanty and uninterested notions of how to treat the nation’s 6.4million family carers. People who do so much in such isolation and with such  little help.  Fortunately we  live in the very part of Suffolk where people have  recognised  quite how isolated family carers of all ages and backgrounds  can be – and which has set up a group to cater for a diverse range of carers over a wide geographic area. 

Don’t take my word for it – if you are a carer, come along to the group  one Wednesday morning and find out for yourself.

Which brings me to another of the Wickham Market objectives:  to train and set up a pool of local, trained, accredited and insured  carers to respond to the present and future needs of the local community, which will improve employment opportunities for local people as well as helping out group members in an emergency.

And today I heard good news from Pam Bell, the originator and moving spirit behind Wickham Market Family Carers Support: Suffolk will benefit from over £200,000 of lottery funding, to create other groups set up on the Wickham Market model. Congratulations Pam!

Paying to Care: a Modest Proposal about Carer’s Rights

Today is Carers Rights Day

And boy, do they need someone to look out for them.

There are an estimated 6.4 million people in the UK providing unpaid care and they are saving the UK economy £119bn every year – more than the cost of all social care services and all private providers combined. You’d think the uk would be grateful? Think again

Today, carer  @GallusEffie tweeted the following stark reminder

5 Rights I do not have as an unpaid carer

1. I have no right to a living wage. I earn about a tenner less per week than Jobseekers;

2. I have no right to an occupational pension. ( I’ll have no right to carer’s allowance as a pensioner either, if ‘X’ & I are still alive);

3. I have no right to a normal day off, emergency or sickness cover. We do get some respite, but that’s not law, it’s luck;

4. I have no right to training or Health and Safety at work to protect me from moving and handling issues in particular;

5. No European Work Time Directive for me. I exceed 100 hours of caring every week of the year.

It is not surprising that a survey of over 4,000 carers by Carers UK has found that almost 47% are being made ill by money worries. I’m only surprised it isn’t more. Many – indeed most – carers struggle with dreadful daily conflicts between work and care, and an estimated one million have had to give up work or reduce their hours. This loses them an average of £11,000 a year. And often a lot of freedom, companionship and self-esteem in the bargain.

Its a big price to pay for love. Yet carers don’t expect to be thought of as noble: they do it because there are no other options . But it isn’t surprising that they would rather be thought of as the workers they are.

On top of lost earnings, caring for illness and disability also bring increased costs. There are  higher household bills, ones for special equipment, foods, medicines, transport  -and heating is a terrible problem for people who may be permanently at home and relatively immobile.

There’s a wolf at every carer’s door – and over 4 in 10 say caring has pushed them into the red. And as money worries cause stress, its hardly surprising almost half of the carers who responded to the survey said they were suffering from anxiety and depression because of concern about finances.

Yet when the government pays for respite by an outside body it is in real terms and therefore  at a rate that would stagger you, considering how little the carers themselves are required to exist on. Last year I saved up my respite hours and got a 5 day respite from fulltime care –125 hours. This was lovely, I went on honeymoon. But the cost of this care was more than I earn to support my entire family for a month. It may sound contentious but maybe if this kind of money was ploughed into the carers’ lives rather than giving them a break from it, they might need less of a break. Carers need circuses as well as bread: and what use is respite care if you can’t afford to do anything in your time away.

So what to do? strangely there are not many people on the political right or left who wish to acknowledge this problem. Possibly because all past governments have been uncaring as to the carers’ plight.

On the right, there is a lot of head-patting and the suggestion that “if only the magic money fairy existed” all could be made better…but sadly the right don’t believe in fairies.

The left wing tend to refuse to acknowledge the situation at all, in case they might have to admit their past share of responsibility. For example, over the last couple of days whenever I mentioned how badly carers have always done under various governments,  certain types of people have refused to acknowledge this as a problem. They skate over the subject completely, returning instead to the iniquitous terms and conditions of various waged, pensioned, holiday-and-sick paid employees.

It is clearly more comfortable for these people to argue the case – for example – that paid care workers are disgracefully badly paid. Which is incontestable – but hardly relevant comment to the plight of the unpaid person working a weekly 168 hours. (Yes, thats what 24/7 caring is: 4.5 weeks work every week. On call, night and day, without let for years – decades, maybe. And all for a carers allowance of 33p per hour if you don’t earn anything else.) This isn’t a hardship, contest, folks. But if it were, unpaid carers would win hands down.

So what’s to be done?

I suggest a serious revision of how carers are supported and viewed. And looking it I don’t think its unduly expensive or ambitious. Just common sense. As follows:

Ensure the state counts the Carers allowance as a wage rather than a benefit, and awards it separately from earnings or other benefits(exactly as DLA as awarded to those who are eligible) rather than clawing back sums in the long-established Scroogery that currently exists.

The government should 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.

In return for the carers forgiving the government for giving them an allowance so much beneath the minimum wage , the the government should agree 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 after all that work.

There should be a real and appropriate scheme set up to train carers for real , 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.

(I don’t think we can afford to do much about the European Work Time Directive or the sickness cover although, when this country was prosperous we jolly well should have tried to) beyond recognising and respecting those 168 hours on duty each and every week ill or well.

We rely on the love carers feel for those they care for to save the state the real cost of that care. We, the people of the UK need to remember that Carers ARE the money fairy. Tell me who else gives £119bn a year voluntarily to the state and expects so little in return?

Its time for a change.