As we enter Carers Week 2016, ADASS President Harold Bodmer reflects on this as one of his priorities for the year.

“Over the years, social care has shifted its focus to community, home based services, now funded and organised through personal care budgets. This has inevitably put the huge contribution that informal carers make to care in this country into sharp relief.  ADASS has made a point of stressing that every minute of every day, millions of people are benefitting from distinctive, valued and personal social care. Even greater numbers receive that care from informal carers. Carers have now been given greater recognition by the Care Act, which is a positive move, but one not without its challenges.

We are living longer, and increasing numbers of older people have multiple long-term health conditions, while more adults have disabilities. There was a 16 per cent increase in those with a limiting long-term illness between 2001 and 2015 – that is, 1.6 million more people. The number of people aged over 85 is expected to more than double to 2.9 million in the next 20 years.

Despite this, funding for adult social care faced cuts of £4.6 billion, or 31 per cent, over the last Parliament due to unprecedented pressure on council budgets. New funding for social care was backloaded in the Comprehensive Spending Review, leaving a very lean two years and a shortfall of well over £1 billion in social care funding by 2020. 

400,000 fewer people now receive care and support from the state than in 2010, with a significant number of those still supported now receiving less care. This, of course, has an impact on informal carers, as state funded care often fills in the gaps in informal care. It is estimated that informal carers already provide at least £55 billion of unpaid care and support, so as demand for care increases over time, the need to properly support carers becomes increasingly urgent.

Thanks to the work of a whole range of national and local carer’s organisations, there is now more public recognition of informal carers. Ten years ago, at the 2006 ADASS Spring Seminar, there was nothing on the agenda about carers. This year our seminar was opened by carers and people using services. Information and advice, prevention and asset-based approaches to community social work have now become priorities.

The Care Act recognised the central role and contribution of carers, giving them new rights to assessments, services and support. ADASS fully supports the Act and its important changes to improve carers’ lives, particularly equal recognition for them alongside those they care for. The Act also places new duties upon councils to promote and support the wellbeing of individuals, with an emphasis on prevention, integration, personalisation and resilient communities – alongside the delivery, review and ongoing affordability of services. ADASS has consistently argued for fairer funding in light of these new duties, contributing to the introduction of the Carers and Care Act Implementation Grant, which was worth £55.5 million last year.

We hope that the Carers Strategy will go further to support carers, and we’re keen to engage in its development. A successful Carers Strategy is one that makes sure carers are as comfortable asking employers for time off for caring duties as parents are when needing time for childcare; when carers’ value to the economy is recognised; and when councils, the NHS and providers see carers as partners as well as people they provide services to. This is a challenge for us in councils as employers as well as service commissioners and providers.

Local government has an essential role in creating the right environment in which to support carers. However, as the proportion of those needing and giving care changes, and less state funded help is available, we need something more radical to support carers. We must also be confident that any strategy doesn’t exacerbate gender inequalities, and has the capacity to address the serious issue of carers becoming poorer and less healthy in their own retirement.

Councils provide community leadership and support, and involve carers in the development and implementation of policy. Early progress has been made with the Care Act – even though we are implementing this at a time of unprecedented financial pressure - and councils will continue to engage through the development of the new National Carers Strategy. We must not underestimate the importance of properly supporting the thousands of informal carers who play an essential role in sustaining our care and support system.

To this end, we have the opportunity to make sure health and social care is shaped according to local need through the development of the place based Sustainability and Transformation Plans for health and social care. Support for informal carers is not an add-on and needs to be right in there with our integration proposals in order that the phenomenal difference that they make to the lives of thousands of individuals is supported and recognised.”

This article was originally published in The MJ.