[18/06/2020 | No comment]

This week is Shared Lives Week, an opportunity to celebrate the amazing Shared Lives carers and the lives of the people they support.

Shared Lives carers open their homes and family life to support people with mental ill health, dementia, learning disabilities and people discharged from hospital. It’s a personal way of caring for each other, in an ordinary local home, but also a formal social care service, aiming to build kinder, stronger communities.

It was an absolute pleasure to join Shared Lives carers and the people they care for today and to hear their stories. They have each overcome huge challenges and what they are doing is amazing. In fact, this was by far the most uplifting meeting I’ve had since the crisis started!

We desperately need longer term reform for social care, and Shared Lives must be at the heart of any new settlement as we emerge from this crisis and seek to build a better future. You can find out more about Shared Lives here.

[18/06/2020 | No comment]

I’ve written to the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, urging him to put in place a recovery plan for social care, which is integral to the overall recovery strategy for our country, alongside the longer-term reforms social care desperately needs.

These are some of the areas where I believe greater focus is needed:

    1. Testing: one-off testing of care workers isn’t good enough. We need weekly testing of care home AND home care staff, and antibody tests for care workers, not just those in the NHS. Families must also be tested and get proper PPE so they can start visiting their loved ones again.
    2. Workforce: for too long social care staff have been undervalued and underpaid. This must change. We need a comprehensive plan to improve pay, T&Cs, and improve recruitment and retention. Staff also need proper mental health support to deal with trauma and stress they’ve experienced.
    3. Families: most existing unpaid family carers have been caring an extra 10hrs a week during the virus, and 4.5m more people have taken on caring responsibilities since the pandemic began. Action must be taken to transform support for family carers, now and in the longer term.
    4. Resources: social care was stretched to the limit even before COVID-19. Extra costs (including PPE and staffing) will continue for months to come. The Chancellor should announce extra resources in his July statement and the Government should produce a plan for long-term reform by the end of year as the Prime Minister promised.

As the focus shifts to ending the lockdown, we must remember that COVID-19 isn’t over for social care. We need a sustainable plan for the remainder of the virus, alongside a long-term settlement for the future. You can read my full letter above, and more about this in the Independent here.

[10/06/2020 | No comment]

Today I attended a “Care for a Cuppa” event hosted by Carers UK. I’d like to say a huge thanks to everyone who joined the event.

The pressure and stress of looking after a sick, elderly or disabled relative during Covid-19 has been huge and families need far more attention & support.

[09/06/2020 | No comment]

I recently met with The Carers Centre of Leicestershire and Rutland, and local family carers to mark Carers week and discuss their experiences through the lockdown.

Prior to the pandemic, there were 9 million unpaid family carers in the UK. Many already felt pushed to breaking point, even before the virus struck, seeing their own health and finances suffer because of their caring responsibilities.  Since the outbreak, 70% of carers say they are providing even more care than normal: an average of 10 extra hours a week. Carers are also spending more money on food and bills, and many say they feel overwhelmed and worried that they are going to burnout in the coming months.

In addition to these existing carers, research out this week from Carers UK shows a staggering 4.5 million people have taken on new caring responsibilities during the course of the pandemic so far – that’s the size of the NHS workforce three times over. 

Coronavirus has thrown these new carers in at the deep end. It can be physically and emotionally stressful caring for someone who is shielding and at greater risk of catching the virus. Many unpaid carers struggle to get the information they need about what support might be available. They battle to find their way around the health and care system, often telling their story time and time again to different people. Two thirds of these new carers are also trying to juggle their paid work alongside their caring responsibilities.

Action must be taken to ensure unpaid carers get the support they need during Coronavirus and beyond. In the short term, the Government should increase awareness about the vital role unpaid carers play in dealing with this virus and provide local authorities with resources they need to support carers, including with proper information and advice. Carers must be a priority for regular testing and PPE, particularly where they care for the most vulnerable. They also need easy access to supermarket food slots for themselves and those they care for.

In the longer term, social care desperately needs a sustainable funding settlement which includes comprehensive support for unpaid carers like regular respite breaks. The NHS should systematically identify and support carers and ensure they are fully considered in any recovery plans. The Government must also look to improve carers’ rights to take time off to juggle their work and caring responsibilities.

Caring for an older or sick or disabled loved one is part of the reality of modern family life. That was true even before Coronavirus but is even more so now. As we emerge from this pandemic we need a new settlement for social care, which puts family carers at its heart and gives carers the practical, emotional, financial and workplace support they need to help look after the people they love most.

You can read more about this in my The Times Red Box article here.

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