HOW much longer can we carry on with this complacency in politics? We watch in slow-motion horror as the Government slides its way seemingly unstoppable into the car crash of a no-deal Brexit. We see Labour MPs – except for the Independent few who have put their heads above the parapet – ducking down as their leader seemingly plots a Marxist state for Great Britain.
And we look on askance as our politicians, of all denominations, stand by and do nothing as the crisis in care ruins lives. In my small corner of South Yorkshire I see it and hear about it every day; from elderly people left literally bed-bound for 12 hours at a time, to the struggles of families caring for a disabled, sick or vulnerable relative.
I’m thinking here not just of my 92-year-old friend Betty, who still lives alone and relies on carers to attend to all her daily needs, but my daughter’s friend. Her mother has a chronic osteo-arthritic condition which means she can barely walk and no longer drives. Her father has had to give up his job to look after her full-time.
Proud as they are, they must now rely on the kindness and favours of wider family and friends to live their lives. Even though they live modestly, every single penny this teenager earns from her apprenticeship and her various moonlighting jobs must go into the family pot. It’s like something from the 1920s, not the promise of the bright future for young people we’re told to expect.
Perhaps certain politicians in their insulated Westminster bubble might be surprised to learn that there are countless families in a similar situation which buck the stereotype of “care” equalling sad lonely elderly person.
I could tell them also about those bringing up disabled children, or dealing with a partner who has suddenly fallen ill with a frightening disease. I know from personal experience that no-one prepares you for this enormous shift in priorities, and no-one has time to take you aside and explain what must be done.
There are an estimated 6.5 million people who regard themselves as carers in the UK. Each of them will tell you a tale that is very personal. However, the one thing that unites all those dealing with any kind of care situation is the awful sense of resignation. Many carers have long given up on expecting the Government to improve their daily lives or offer more support, whether practical, financial or pastoral.
However, it adds insult to injury that Ministers are taking advantage of this by continuing to delay the long-promised Green Paper discussion document which aims to come up with “long-term sustainable solutions” and “measures to support carers”.
Meanwhile, care should be a gift for any kind of decent Labour opposition. Unfortunately, the leadership has been occupied elsewhere and we haven’t heard much from the Shadow Minister for Social Care, Barbara Keeley, since she promised that the next Labour government will show carers that they are valued. That was last summer.
Speaking in response to the Government’s so-called Carers’ Action Plan, she suggested that Labour would invest £8bn in social care without any details of where this money might come from. Part of Labour’s plans would apparently involve upping the paltry Carers’ Allowance of £64.60 by a princely £10 per week.
However, as any carer will tell you, it is about more than money. It is about feeling that their responsibilities are being taken seriously and that the sacrifices they make are recognised by the government.
Earlier this year, the charity Carers’ UK reported that 600 people a day in the UK are giving up work to take care of their relatives. I get the feeling, from the dismissive attitude of Ministers, that they regard this exodus as collateral damage.
Yet the inflexibility of the system means that people in all kinds of professions are having to leave behind the world of paid work, losing self-respect and self-esteem in the process.
Who cares for the carers who, perhaps having worked all their lives, have to adjust literally overnight to full-time caring? A few years ago, the Royal College of General Practitioners warned that carers should be routinely screened for depression and mental health problems as they often “neglect” their own wellbeing.
The College made various recommendations to help the estimated 40 per cent who already experience depression or psychological problems. Routine appointments with carers should be held and family doctors should maintain a carers’ register to ensure that no-one got left behind and forgotten about.
Such practical and sensitive steps would at least help to create a supportive safety net. We need more to be discussed and adopted and soon. This would mean much more than the vague promise of an extra £10 a week or a Green Paper that the Government doesn’t appear to care about at all.