Category Archives: Carers

FACT – fire safety for the vulnerable

I went to a meeting of the Wickham Market and District Carers’ group today, where, yet again, we were treated to the most brilliant and useful talk. This time it was from FACT (Fire and Carers Together).

Explaining FACT to all of us who are desperate to know..

The Suffolk FACT scheme is a free service in Suffolk for family carers and vulnerable people with additional needs who might find it difficult to leave their home, or understand when they should leave their home, or know how to leave their home, in the event of a fire. As you can see, it gives essential information.

How does it work? Basically, Suffolk Family Carers works in partnership with Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service to assist family carers and vulnerable people to prevent fire in their homes. Fire safety officers will  come out to your home, and provide a very specific home fire safety check on site, and then give you advice – and appropriate (free) equipment if it is needed. By registering with FACT, you  – and those you care for – will learn how to prevent fire in the home – and will be helped to prevent it.

And more – FACT can give you a (free) listing on their an emergency database at the Fire Control and Command Room . This  alerts them to people with special needs or requirements should there be a fire on the property and will help them prioritise rescue.

We in Suffolk can be proud that FACT is the first scheme of its kind in the country.

So far, FACT has registered a great many people in Suffolk, and has also provided over 800 home fire safety checks. Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service has fitted many fire alarms, including sensory alarms (ones that can alert people with hearing difficulties).

Carers: there is no charge for this service… so please, please, make the most of it!

More details and how to register on the FACT scheme, here

Wickham Market’s Support for Family Carers

Today I went to a fantastic Christmas party, run by the Wickham Market and District Family Carers Support Group.

We had a lovely time at the party, but then, we generally do.  Coming along to the group gives a little relief  from a hard relentless job for so many, particularly those supporting a  loved one with a degenerative degenerative disease. “I live for these meetings,” a member told me today.  She cares for a longterm partner with Alzheimers – and coming to this group gives her a chance, not only to put her cares to one side for an hour or two,  but to do so in the company of people who know exactly how longterm and dispiriting these cares can be.

I’ve been attending since the group started in April  – not as a County Councillor (although SCC provides some of the funding), but as a family carer in my own right.  Since it started  up it has been a wonderful source of support, and invaluable information to help each of us members in our caring role  – and, quite as importantly –  a little respite from it . 

The Corn Dollies melodeon trio had a number of us dancing , and then singing to their lively selection of tunes and carols

As you will know from other blog entries of mine, I am very concerned about the uk’s scanty and uninterested notions of how to treat the nation’s 6.4million family carers. People who do so much in such isolation and with such  little help.  Fortunately we  live in the very part of Suffolk where people have  recognised  quite how isolated family carers of all ages and backgrounds  can be – and which has set up a group to cater for a diverse range of carers over a wide geographic area. 

Don’t take my word for it – if you are a carer, come along to the group  one Wednesday morning and find out for yourself.

Which brings me to another of the Wickham Market objectives:  to train and set up a pool of local, trained, accredited and insured  carers to respond to the present and future needs of the local community, which will improve employment opportunities for local people as well as helping out group members in an emergency.

And today I heard good news from Pam Bell, the originator and moving spirit behind Wickham Market Family Carers Support: Suffolk will benefit from over £200,000 of lottery funding, to create other groups set up on the Wickham Market model. Congratulations Pam!

Paying to Care: a Modest Proposal about Carer’s Rights

Today is Carers Rights Day

And boy, do they need someone to look out for them.

There are an estimated 6.4 million people in the UK providing unpaid care and they are saving the UK economy £119bn every year – more than the cost of all social care services and all private providers combined. You’d think the uk would be grateful? Think again

Today, carer  @GallusEffie tweeted the following stark reminder

5 Rights I do not have as an unpaid carer

1. I have no right to a living wage. I earn about a tenner less per week than Jobseekers;

2. I have no right to an occupational pension. ( I’ll have no right to carer’s allowance as a pensioner either, if ‘X’ & I are still alive);

3. I have no right to a normal day off, emergency or sickness cover. We do get some respite, but that’s not law, it’s luck;

4. I have no right to training or Health and Safety at work to protect me from moving and handling issues in particular;

5. No European Work Time Directive for me. I exceed 100 hours of caring every week of the year.

It is not surprising that a survey of over 4,000 carers by Carers UK has found that almost 47% are being made ill by money worries. I’m only surprised it isn’t more. Many – indeed most – carers struggle with dreadful daily conflicts between work and care, and an estimated one million have had to give up work or reduce their hours. This loses them an average of £11,000 a year. And often a lot of freedom, companionship and self-esteem in the bargain.

Its a big price to pay for love. Yet carers don’t expect to be thought of as noble: they do it because there are no other options . But it isn’t surprising that they would rather be thought of as the workers they are.

On top of lost earnings, caring for illness and disability also bring increased costs. There are  higher household bills, ones for special equipment, foods, medicines, transport  -and heating is a terrible problem for people who may be permanently at home and relatively immobile.

There’s a wolf at every carer’s door – and over 4 in 10 say caring has pushed them into the red. And as money worries cause stress, its hardly surprising almost half of the carers who responded to the survey said they were suffering from anxiety and depression because of concern about finances.

Yet when the government pays for respite by an outside body it is in real terms and therefore  at a rate that would stagger you, considering how little the carers themselves are required to exist on. Last year I saved up my respite hours and got a 5 day respite from fulltime care –125 hours. This was lovely, I went on honeymoon. But the cost of this care was more than I earn to support my entire family for a month. It may sound contentious but maybe if this kind of money was ploughed into the carers’ lives rather than giving them a break from it, they might need less of a break. Carers need circuses as well as bread: and what use is respite care if you can’t afford to do anything in your time away.

So what to do? strangely there are not many people on the political right or left who wish to acknowledge this problem. Possibly because all past governments have been uncaring as to the carers’ plight.

On the right, there is a lot of head-patting and the suggestion that “if only the magic money fairy existed” all could be made better…but sadly the right don’t believe in fairies.

The left wing tend to refuse to acknowledge the situation at all, in case they might have to admit their past share of responsibility. For example, over the last couple of days whenever I mentioned how badly carers have always done under various governments,  certain types of people have refused to acknowledge this as a problem. They skate over the subject completely, returning instead to the iniquitous terms and conditions of various waged, pensioned, holiday-and-sick paid employees.

It is clearly more comfortable for these people to argue the case – for example – that paid care workers are disgracefully badly paid. Which is incontestable – but hardly relevant comment to the plight of the unpaid person working a weekly 168 hours. (Yes, thats what 24/7 caring is: 4.5 weeks work every week. On call, night and day, without let for years – decades, maybe. And all for a carers allowance of 33p per hour if you don’t earn anything else.) This isn’t a hardship, contest, folks. But if it were, unpaid carers would win hands down.

So what’s to be done?

I suggest a serious revision of how carers are supported and viewed. And looking it I don’t think its unduly expensive or ambitious. Just common sense. As follows:

Ensure the state counts the Carers allowance as a wage rather than a benefit, and awards it separately from earnings or other benefits(exactly as DLA as awarded to those who are eligible) rather than clawing back sums in the long-established Scroogery that currently exists.

The government should further relax rules on other employment to allow carers the ‘luxury’ of being able to work, and have some non-caring life outside their responsibilities.

In return for the carers forgiving the government for giving them an allowance so much beneath the minimum wage , the the government should agree pay into the equivalent of an occupational pension for carers to accurately reflect (ok at minimum wage) the real hours spent caring. This could be established by reference to the cared for’s DLA returns and would give carers the prospect of a securer old age after all that work.

There should be a real and appropriate scheme set up to train carers for real , satisfying jobs when their caring roles (often sadly) end. This isn’t a luxury – it is a reward for all the unpaid work they have done without prospect of career advancement.

(I don’t think we can afford to do much about the European Work Time Directive or the sickness cover although, when this country was prosperous we jolly well should have tried to) beyond recognising and respecting those 168 hours on duty each and every week ill or well.

We rely on the love carers feel for those they care for to save the state the real cost of that care. We, the people of the UK need to remember that Carers ARE the money fairy. Tell me who else gives £119bn a year voluntarily to the state and expects so little in return?

Its time for a change.