Opinion: Crisis in our social care system, a personal memoir

There is a crisis in our social care system and it needs addressing as a matter of urgency.

I made a public call for cross party talks on social care following an interview on BBC Radio Berkshire last Autumn.

The interview came about because I started a campaign, ‘Crusading for Carers’, aimed at highlighting the plight of carers.

During that interview I was asked what I’d like politicians to do about the growing crisis in our social care system. I was aware of the Dilnot Report and of the cross party talks that took place prior to the General Election so I called for them to get back on track.

I was pleased to see reports in the media that this has recently happened.

Since becoming a full time carer in 2009, I’ve been shocked at the lack of support available.  It is bad enough that carers like me have to give up work to care full time but when we eventually do get help it can be of poor quality.

After two years and three different home care providers the Council here in Reading has not been able to provide a reliable service to us. The companies contracted to carry out this work cut corners to save money and treat their workers poorly.

I have raised the latter issue with Unison because as a lifelong trade unionist, I want to see someone stand up for these people.

In just a three month period recently our home carer was over 30 minutes late on 20% of visits. From conversations with the Council I understand that this is not an unusual situation, nor is it just a Reading problem.

From discussions I have had with people living in the neighbouring districts of West Berkshire and Wokingham the situation is similar if not worse.

Respite services for carers are no better. In Reading the Council’s recommended provider for a sitting service is an organisation called Crossroads. I’ve found them unreliable as they have cancelled several times at short notice. According to my local Carers’ Centre recently, this too is a regular occurrence.

To add insult to injury, direct payments to carers have been cut this year from £500 to £200.

Any reform of the social care system has to fix these problems because the current set up is failing the people who need the care, their unpaid carers and the people who work in the sector.

There are a whole range of other issues as well.

Carers lose out if they have to take on the role full time. I went from a job earning £28,000 a year to £55 per week Carer’s Allowance but I was ‘fortunate’ enough to get redundancy.

I still lost out on an occupational pension for the immediate future and all hope of a life outside caring due to complete lack of a proper respite service.

Due to my redundancy payment, I have not claimed other benefits but the Carer’s Allowance unit were not helpful when I submitted my initial claim. The fact that I had paid into the system for 30 years seemed to count for nothing. I felt that they were treating me like a scrounger and I will not forget that in a hurry. I have an appeal pending because they withheld payments to me for six weeks and I am still waiting for this to be dealt with ten months later!

My final point is that the whole system is inefficient, unwieldy and wasteful. There are several layers of bureaucracy in the Council, DWP and NHS who don’t communicate with each other. This means you have to deal with a number of different people who are not allowed to be flexible and tailor services to people’s needs. The waste of taxpayers’ money is phenomenal due to duplication, supply of often unsuitable equipment and no clear system in place to recover it.

I keep telling myself that there are carers in a worse position than I. How they struggle through, I just don’t know.

* David is a member of Horsham and Crawley Liberal Democrats

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  • kevin white 25th Jan '12 - 7:48pm

    I’m afraid that we’re not addressing issues like this in Government. We must not be a soundbite Party for the Daily Wail on matters of welfare and care.

  • DAVE WARREN 26th Jan '12 - 8:25am

    I agree Kevin we have been in government for a while now. Its time we started seeing some real action.

  • “According to my local Carers’ Centre recently, this too is a regular occurrence.” – Actually didn’t say this nor anything in relation to any specific agency, not least Crossroads. Did say that carers and service users have expressed concerns about punctuality and timeliness by care agencies generally. Hope this clarifies –
    John Shaw, Chief Executive PRT Carers Service.

  • DAVE WARREN 26th Jan '12 - 3:18pm


    I didn’t quote you directly. You may recall that when i visited the centre recently you were not the only person i spoke with.

    There is a serious problem with Crossroads and home care providers in Reading which i would really like the Carers Centre to take up.

    Will you?

  • Fair enough – Reading LINk is maintaining its interest in the home care issue and I’ll follow it through myself as a LINk Board member.

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