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This blog post was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Informal carers: recognising and supporting their needs

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Care and support, Guest author, Viewpoint

The recently published Institute for Public Policy Research report The Generation Strain is, says ADASS President David Pearson, one in a  long line of commentaries and reports to demonstrate that, from a demographic perspective, our capacity to care as a nation will be overwhelmed by need.

It is difficult to understand why this should be the case in the fifth richest country in the world, but the figures speak for themselves. However, the report focuses not just on the provision from the public purse or from the purses of people who fund their own care - but on informal carers: people who make a huge contribution to sustaining others who would otherwise need far more from health and social care services. In many cases, this help is provided with some detriment to the carer's own health and wellbeing.

The landscape is changing. The development of the Care Bill, the current impetus towards integration, and the establishment of the Better Care Fund... All these bear witness to the pursuit of changes to improve outcomes while all the time the money available to achieve that ends reduces. The jury is out, as they say, as to whether the package of reforms since austerity gripped the land will suffice.

David Pearson
Pearson: 'IPPR [are] putting the focus back onto informal care, community cohesion and plain, old-fashioned social care.'
The foundations of the new landscape – Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), Health and Wellbeing Boards, the new structure of NHS England with its so-far inspiring new chief executive, Healthwatch and the new public health settlement - are still settling gradually and perhaps uneasily. The tectonic plates of our health and social care infrastructure – the ones that the Care Quality Commission’s David Behan spoke of so eloquently - are still grinding… And who knows what minor earthquakes and tsunamis are still yet to come…

Full marks then to IPPR for putting the focus back onto informal care, community cohesion and plain, old-fashioned social care – the sand and cement that pull these plates together and hold them fast. They correctly point to some really impressive new thinking and new ways of working from across the globe and in our cities and countryside. They quite properly single out Leeds as an exemplar. But the good practice they describe there can be found elsewhere, wherever inspired social care, health and other colleagues pool budgets, effort, ideas and skills into a common will focused exclusively on ensuring services provide better outcomes for our citizens.

Yes, in caring environments, caring carers, somewhat tautologically, are at a premium. And IPPR are right to back up the recent National Audit Office report which showed graphically just how much we are indebted to informal care. The Institute calculates their contribution at some £55 billion – a necessary calculation even if those bound up with the caring activity sometimes don’t like their efforts being seen in monetary terms.

The importance of this is recognised in the extension of our responsibilities to carers within the Care Bill itself, not only through additional emphasis on the assessment of need, but also on the provision of services. Note to Health and Wellbeing Boards: this shows how important it is that all future health and social care strategies/policies address the needs of carers and that this is threaded through all our thinking and practice.

Some of IPPR’s central recommendations are worth repeating:

  • New neighbourhood networks should be developed for older people to give and receive support and to offer extra help to families and carers, reducing pressures on the NHS and social care.
  • House public services for different age groups (such as childcare and care for the elderly) under one roof, to bring generations together.
  • Invest local public health budgets in strengthening community groups in those local authorities with the weakest record for community-based care.
  • Stronger employment rights for those caring for people who need more than 20 hours of care a week, to make it easier for family members to combine work and care.


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  1. Comment by Paula Manning posted on

    The role of carers, informal or otherwise is vital. The moving and handling load of pushing some people in a manual wheelchair can be large. The request for electric wheelchair power packs to be fitted to manual wheelchairs, in order to reduce the carers moving and handling load, is currently unmet by NHS wheelchair services. The cost of this load on a persons body is accumulative over a period of time. In order to maintain the health of carers and reduce the risk of of musculoskeletal injuries from pushing a large wheelchair and weighty individual, the cost of the power packs may need to be considered as standard equipment issue for certain clients in wheelchairs. In turn the carers will increase their chance of remaining fit to work or volunteer.

  2. Comment by Christina posted on

    There are plenty of neighborhoods already doing just that - so many pockets of good practice already exist - why not build on those rather than apparently re-inventing yet another government policy that just looks good! There are so many good informal carers of which the monetary contribution to society far outweighs anything that could be put into the system. My hat goes off to ALL informal carers who have the best interest of those they care for at heart rather than monetary or selfish gain.

    • Replies to Christina>

      Comment by Joyce posted on

      Let's not forget about young carers who have enormous responsibilities which impact on their childhood years. So many young carers I have come across doing many many hours of support, often giving intimate care, administering medicines, cleaning, shopping, cooking, caring for siblings, trying to fit in school and homework. Many cite the reason for not asking for help is that they are worried the family will be split up. More recognition needs to be given to this group! The United Kingdom Youth Parliament commitment to young carers cards is a step in the right direction.

  3. Comment by Liz posted on

    Basically the question for government and society is one about priorities. We have created a society where caring in all its aspects (from a parent staying at home to bring up their child to an older family member being cared for by their family) has been devalued.

    To turn the ship (which as any captain knows takes a lot of thought and effort and does not happen instantly) we need to change the way we think.

    This is not about instant policy this is about rebuilding communities pulled apart by the ethos of passing the care responsibility to someone else. Go back to work, but your child in nursery, place your mum in a home and go back to work etc... We need to reshape our view of society and start promoting family and community care. To do this there needs to be government and society recognition that the caring role is important and valued, and yes this does mean recognising the financial cost of caring.