Identifying Suffolk’s unpaid Carers

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Cllr Caroline Page speaking via zoom: head and shoulders shot in front of bookshelves
Cllr Caroline Page proposes the motion at Full Council via zoom

Thursday I proposed to Suffolk County Council that we create an “all unpaid carers opt-in” database administered by the respected charity @suffolkfamilycarers to help the unpaid carers of Suffolk. This would allow county to target support at those that most need it.
We literally have no exact idea how many such carers there are in the country/county or what their needs might be: the last true numbers were taken at the last census in 2011: the #ONS will tell us in due course what the current figures are from this year’s census. The estimate for Suffolk is around 164,000 – and the estimated 1400 carers in Woodbridge alone (!!!) have saved the state (eg us) £20MILLION over the last year. Let’s be frank, such carers will generally be happy to pass on getting the plaudits and claps that haven’t come their way – if they could get all the help and visibility they need.
Wonderfully, Suffolk Conservatives seconded this motion, and it was passed “by general acclamation” by all of Suffolk County Council.
So pleased – because so badly needed!

My speech in full:

Colleagues, I am not going to read through our motion. It is self-explanatory.

Instead I am going to highlight some of the reasons why we are asking you to vote to help a crucial and often invisible  group of  Suffolk residents – our unpaid carers.

We’re extremely pleased that the Cabinet Member for Social Care is prepared to second this motion. Unpaid care is a issue that crosses all party boundaries.

We all know carers, many of us are carers, and sadly, any one of us, of any age, could either  become  a carer or someone needing care, in a heartbeat.

In this last year the pandemic increased the number of Britains unpaid carers by half – from around 9 million, to about 13.6 million  giving us 164 thousand in Suffolk – 1400  in my small Woodbridge division. The figures are approximate because  carers aren’t counted except in the census!

We know of sone. Some GP surgeries list them. The small percentage eligible for Carers Allowance are known, social services are aware of specific cases, Suffolk Family Carers has about 10%  of the total currently on their books,  but the large majority are known only to themselves and maybe a couple of family members or friends – carers who are children caring for adults, elderly couples with one caring for the other,  people in anxious or vulnerable situations, people who are simply scared of ‘the council’   – most of these fly under the radar.

Additionally many do not see themselves as carers until they recognise they need to plan for every moment’s  absence.

We need to know them ALL.

We need to know them because we need to be able to help them:

The life of many unpaid carers is anxious, impoverished, and vulnerable to both physical and mental health issues. Caring is hard to fit around earning, the Allowance is a pittance, and the stresses of caring impact on both the body and the mind.

Caring is so far from simply patting a hand or making a cup of tea. Yet we rely on carers to carry our NHS and social care on their shoulders. Those  1400 carers  in Woodbridge alone saved us around 50 thousand pounds a day – that’s  20million pounds last year.

The cost of replacing an unpaid carer is extreme.

We REALLY need to offer them targeted support to prevent burnout, or breakdown or tragedy.

And how can we offer targeted support unless we know who to target.

Many carers live lives of quiet desperation behind closed doors, invisible even to their own neighbours. Their support us often fragile and unofficial. This makes it easy for things to fall apart  when any crisis happens. I think all of us can think of local cases which came to light during the pandemic which  showed how much Suffolk was relying on unrecognised care. In  Woodbridge, our emergency response group have ended up as quasi carers for several people whose fragile unofficial  network was not covid proof.

We also worry very much about child carers, some primary school age,  many bearing an overwhelming load they can barely understand and seldom disclose. How have they been identified during this last year?  We must find a way of helping them – for their own futures as well as their present needs.

Our motion suggests how we start to answer these issues – via the respected Suffolk Family Carers charity working with other interested partner organisations.

I’m asking you to vote to support them in expanding their database to cover all carers within Suffolk -with initial information to be drawn from community organisations, schools, and all GPs, who must offer carers registered with them the option to register on the countywide database. We would be trying to reach every possible carer so as to, for example, target specific support in a pandemic, improve communications in general, and enable us to consult with carers about carer-specific policies and issues.

This would make Suffolk a national beacon of good practice. More importantly, start to solve a huge problem which we all share and which we know we have to solve together.

Colleagues I commend this motion to you.

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