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