National carers week 2013

At some point in our lives, almost all of us will find ourselves caring for a relative or close friend. Many of us will one day be reliant on some form of care ourselves. We owe our carers an immense debt of gratitude. In this week’s National Carers Week, individuals and organisations are joining together to highlight the invaluable work carried out by UK carers and to raise the profile of the nature and challenges of the role.

For too long, the care system in the UK has been designed around the needs of large organisations rather than around the needs of patients or carers. When I was first appointed as Minister for Care and Support nearly a year ago, a key priority for me was to put patients and carers back in the driving seat to ensure we have a system that puts people, not institutions, at the heart of the system.

The Care Bill currently going through Parliament – which Paul Burstow championed before my arrival in the Department of Health – aims to tackle the fact that while carers carry out fantastic work in providing support for elderly, disabled or mentally ill people, few have access to adequate support themselves. Caring can be an all-encompassing role and can dominate someone’s life, particularly when, as is often the case, that individual is caring for a close relative. The Care Bill recognises therefore the drastic need to ensure that carers are not left isolated in tackling the challenges that they face.

The Bill will ensure that, for the first time ever, carers have a legal right to have their eligible needs for support to be met. By simplifying the duty for local authorities to carry out “carer’s assessment” so that it is when they have cause to believe a carer is in need, the Bill will help to prevent people from suffering in silence. The Bill also will require that a local authority should have regard to the caring role that children and young people in a family are undertaking so that steps can be taken to prevent them from undertaking inappropriate caring responsibilities or levels of caring; a significant number of the UK’s 6.5 million carers are children and young people, many of whom will find themselves looking after a close relative with a health condition they may not understand, with little idea about the support the family may be entitled to. It can be good for young people to care but caring can be incredibly stressful for young people, and can have a serious impact on their education and their social life, so it’s particularly important that inappropriate caring roles and responsibilities are reduced as far as possible. We need to look at the whole family and how best to help them.

We still have some way to go as a country to ensure that carers receive the recognition they deserve for the extraordinary contribution they make to our society. The Care Bill constitutes a very significant development in terms of recognising the need for carers to receive support and help they need.

We should also recognise the enormous potential for local communities to play their part in providing support for those who need care and their carers. So many people work selflessly to support others. Many more are willing to get involved but don’t always know how. So many great schemes involving volunteers operate around the country and more are emerging. We must do everything we can to encourage this endeavour.

Caring can be an upsetting and lonely business: let’s try to use carers’ week this week to make sure that the carers we know get the recognition and support they deserve from the people around them.

* Norman Lamb is MP for North Norfolk and was Liberal Democrat Minister of State at the Department of Health until May 2015. He now chairs the Science and Technology Select Committee

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