MondayJune 9, 2014

As part of the ADASS contribution to this year’s Carers Week (June 9 – 15) Dawn Wakeling argues that news about the changes being wrought by the Care Act, this year and next, should be spread as widely as possible within our communities in order to make sure carers don’t miss out on the opportunities it has to offer.

The Care Act is the biggest change to social care of my career and in many people’s lifetimes. It brings in changes that should benefit existing service users, carers and members of the public who do not need social care right now but might do in the future.

Communicating these changes clearly and simply, in a way that ordinary people can understand and act upon, is crucial for the reforms to be a success. Much of the discussion among ADASS and others has focused on how to communicate the new funding system such as the cap on care costs. These are due to come into effect in 2016 and it is vital that the public understands how this new system will work.

Meanwhile, April 2015 will bring in other changes which are equally seismic and game-changing. These also need to be communicated to the public, so that people who are already using social care, carers and those who may need care in the future, can get the support they are entitled to under the Care Act.

One of the most significant of these is the new offer for carers. The policy and legal framework for carers will be completely different from April 2015, but how many people currently providing informal or unpaid care know about the changes that could help them in 2015?

The White Paper, Caring for our Future (2012) said that for the first time the needs of the carer will be seen as equal to the needs of the user. Given that the number of unpaid family/friend carers significantly exceeds the paid social care workforce, this change will benefit millions of people for the first time, in law. There will be national eligibility criteria for carers; carers will have entitlements without regard to the amount of time they spend caring. There will be a right to services and to a review for the first time. These are vitally important additions to the care system.

This is not to say that delivering them is going to be easy. We are still in a time of austerity and there is a national debate about funding social care. As a former practitioner, I know that sometimes service users and carers do not want the same thing: the choices and support desired by one may be unwelcome to the other and social care professionals will need to develop their practice to ensure they can work effectively in these situations.

However, carers are at the heart of social care, supporting their loved ones and making a vital contribution, socially and financially, to social care. Support for carers is rightly coming to the forefront of the new system. So, what do we need to do to make sure carers are aware of these changes and able to benefit from them?

Simple, accessible and far reaching communications are vital. Carers can be very isolated, many do not even identify themselves as carers. They may give up work and lose their social networks over time, as a result of their caring responsibilities. The message about the help they can get needs to be available in the places they do manage to go to - for example, GP surgeries. It also needs to be available in the communication tools that work for them. Web-based information will be useful for many but for some older carers. TV ads and direct mail might be more effective .

We also need to get the message out through local networks and services. Social landlords, local benefits teams, pharmacies and religious groups could also be ambassadors for the changes, helping to ensure carers get information on the help that is available for them.

Local councils, central government and carers organisations all need to work together to make sure that carers, no matter where they live, know about the help they will be able to get and then help them to get it.

Dawn Wakeling
DASS London Borough of Barnet
Dawn sits on an expert group advising the government on the communications demands of the 2014 Care Act.