Category Archives: disability

Forget Carers Week – nobody cares

Last week  – National Carers Week – passed with even less than its usual muted tootle.

Not sure why. The pandemic has meant that unpaid carers are busier, lonelier, more stressed, less supported  than ever. Maybe everyone was clapped out for the ‘real’ carers – you know, the ones we pay.

Carers Week is generally when those lucky enough not to be carers briefly acknowledge their plight, and then forget it again. This year we didn’t even bother to remember.  The official hashtag #carersweek is matched by the unofficial #realcarersweek. Have a look: it is very illuminating. I’ve spent twenty years watching paint dry when it comes to raising awareness of the very existence of unpaid carers and their lives. It’s dispiriting.

Putting national apathy aside  (and it was total)  all I can imagine is that everybody in Britain  – including our Prime Minister – is unaware of the void of difference between care workers (staunch, hardworking, poorly paid – but, crucially, paid) and unpaid carers, whose invisible lives are defined by high levels of ill-health (both physical and mental), poverty, stress and isolation. Carers are seven times more likely to be really lonely compared with the general public.  Carers are in effect slaves, held hostage by love, saving the state billions. Many work 24/7 without a break for months, maybe years at a time. Unpaid carers have no pay, no sick leave (let alone sick pay), no holiday (let alone holiday pay), no employers pension contributions

Suffolk doesn’t even know how many unpaid carers it has – old couples locked behind doors, children worried sick that a parent may be collapsed when they get home, a sibling trying to keep a family  member safe.

We do know that we have about 100,000 of them, because unpaid carers make up 13% of the population.

This year, lockdown gave everyone a sudden taste of being shut up involuntarily, unable to get out, unable to contact friends, losing livelihoods, careers, opportunities, very stressed, very concerned, very worried. And, like becoming a carer, it happened in a flash.

I am calling on the people of Suffolk – and those who represent them – to think what it would be like being locked down for life – for love. Without all the food parcels, the zoom quizzes, the sudden support networks and all the initiatives that are on offer now that sudden loss of of so much has hit the zeitgeist.

Clap for the carers? “Oh, of course  we mean you you too.” Clap for no pay, no sick leave, no holiday, no work-related pension, no union representation – because you only work. You are not counted as workers.

Are the carers charities  finally going to lobby to make real improvements to unpaid carers lives?  Lobby for pay, sick leave, holiday entitlement, work-related pension contributions (because, sure as hell, carers work their socks off)? £67 Carers Allowance for the few, and a dismissive pat on the head for all is simply not enough!

This is the time to admit to and take responsibility for those hidden 100,000, many of whom – appallingly – we still can’t identify, still living lives of quiet desperation behind closed doors, whether the lockdown eases or not.

And having -finally – taken responsibility for them, we must be morally obliged to do something to make their lives better.

Woodbridge: What’s been happening in Suffolk, Jan and Feb

End of Ipswich Northern Route project?  County Council  Leader, Matthew Hicks,  has announced that he will be recommending to  Cabinet that the Ipswich Northern Route should not proceed to the next phase  when it meets to decide the future of the project on 25th February. He had a very uncomfortable time at  February full council when  his plans  (Interim Study, and a Strategic Outline Business Case) and the public  consultation were publicly and comprehensively roasted by Nick Green of the Stop campaign.

To remind you – because so many county councillors seem very keen to forget –  Suffolk’s Conservative and Labour County Councillors spoke in favour of the route, and voted  en masse against my group’s motion (last July  -click for my seconder’s speech)  to abandon thoughts and costs of this route in favour of a sustainable transport strategy. However the public consultation found that over 70% of respondents were  also against the route. The sums just didn’t add up.  Continue reading Woodbridge: What’s been happening in Suffolk, Jan and Feb

Suffolk is “Connecting Communities” even less

Rural concessionary bus pass holders are losing travel entitlement due to cheeseparing decisionmaking by our penny-foolish pound-foolish county council.

Harsh words? I will tell more. In recent years, where scheduled bus transport is not supported (and SCC has made a point of not supporting rural scheduled buses over the last decade), demand responsive transport (DRT) is provided instead. Initially bus pass holders had the same rights on DRT bus transport as they would have on the scheduled service. In 2016 this changed (You can read details here): http://carolinepage.blog.suffolk.libdems.org/2016/06/16/will-your-pass-be-accepted-on-sccs-new-community-transport

I was delighted at the time to discover that Suffolk Coastal bus pass holders together with most other districts would not lose entitlement, though very concerned that Mid-Suffolk bus pass holders would. I was also concerned that this loss of entitlement might spread. I was right!

Hidden in this year’s budget  (Appendix E p5 Table 1.3: Tactical Savings – Cost Reductions) is the following: COST-GHI-4 Passenger Transport: Removal of Concessionary Fares from Connecting Communitiesto ensure consistency of pricing through Suffolk.”

These are weasel words. “Consistency of pricing” could more fairly be achieved by restoring concessionary fares to Mid Suffolk than taking them away from everywhere else. This decision is expected to save £30,000. Less than half of what our fiscally prudent administration wasted on the recent 14pp ResPublica report on Housing. Talk about inappropriate priorities.

Put this together with the budget cut advertised on p7 of the same Appendix E (Table 1.6: Tactical Savings – Service Reductions): SER-GHI-12 Passenger Transport: Net savings achieved through a reduction in funding for sponsored bus services combined with an investment in the Connecting Communities demand-responsive community transport service) you can see the administration are creating a perfect storm for those least able to manage: the elderly and disabled with few other choices All to save another £340,000. Both sums added together are less than a TENTH of the sum County’s Tory administration tossed casually to ‘consultants’ for the failed Orwell Crossing).

So why does this matter? The issue is one of equality. If you are unable to use your bus pass and are entitled to one, you can swap your entitlement for (I think) £100.00 of travel vouchers annually. This is useful if you are eg so disabled you cannot access buses, and therefore cannot make use of them.

However in the situation where a bus pass holder is not offered any local buses, they may be very enthusiastic users. This decision means such people have to choose between the vouchers for very local transport- and a bus pass that can be used on every scheduled bus service going throughout the UK, but not locally.

These two linked budget decisions therefore represent a huge loss specifically to elderly and disabled rural people with few transport choices  – either financially, or in terms of transport freedom.

Only an administration which has no understanding or reliance on a bus pass would have considered or enacted it…