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VOCAL’s Statement – Essential Support Measures for Unpaid Carers

Vocal Carers Centre have produced the following statement setting out their proposals to support carers during the Covid-19 pandemic:

In Scotland we recognise unpaid carers as equal partners in care, as providers, not users of services, similar to the paid NHS and health and social care workforce. Unpaid carers must now also be recognised for providing essential services. It follows that unpaid carers must be supported in their individual circumstances with as much commitment, support and resources as the paid workforce.

As the Coronavirus situation unfolds, unpaid carers are already among the worst hit. Most of their critical health and social care supports have been withdrawn and statutory systems will be under severe strain in the coming weeks and months. The more intensive their caring situation, the more devastating the impact is likely to be, due to current cessation of day care, home based supports, many preventative health, social and support services.

Like many others, sudden existential threats are now paramount for carers, with high risks to their emotional, physical and financial wellbeing. Whilst we acknowledge national and local government responses have been wide ranging, we believe there has, to date, been insufficient attention paid to the situation of the unpaid caring workforce.

Scotland’s carers require an urgent package of holistic additional support measures, which should include:

  1. Emotional and mental wellbeing

Carers are likely to be at greater risk of poor mental wellbeing in the current climate, due to their role in caring for people, many of whom will be considered at higher risk of developing complications from Coronavirus or even death.

Many carers now have a more intensive caring role due to supports being stopped, will be experiencing greater social isolation and will have concerns about how best to provide adequate care and measures to prevent virus transmission.

Proposed response:

We believe there should be a significant increase in funding allocated to carer centres to provide much more and targeted emotional and therapeutic support in both remote one to one and peer settings. This could include telephone or teleconferencing counselling, online peer support wellbeing groups, digital befriending or mentoring.

  1. Loss of supports

With the cessation of community supports and the need for social distancing, carers will no longer have access to a range of resources to support their – newly intensified – caring role at home. In addition, carers will require assistance to navigate the new service environment to maximise support available to them.

Proposed response:

Identify and free up additional funds, and funds from services no longer fit for purpose, to allow front line carer support workers to allocate ‘direct payments’ to carers. This could be achieved through allocation of resources to facilitate individual budgets for spot-purchasing to provide support for carers and their families  to ease their situation and strengthen their ability to care. Such solutions could be wide ranging e.g. additional aids for the house, safe transport like taxis, disinfectant and cleaning products, toiletries and personal hygiene products, IT products to connect better to the outside world, deep cleaning services and other creative personal solutions.

  1. Replacement Income (Universal Basic Income)

Thousands of carers are losing their regular incomes from (mostly) part-time work with increasing concerns about their financial wellbeing. State benefit supports are crumbling under the pressure of waiting lists and the collapse of telephone claim lines. Financial worries add to pressing health concerns.

Proposed response:

We appeal to the Scottish Government to enact a (temporary) universal basic income for carers in recognition of the multiple impacts of the coronavirus situation which for many carers has significant financial consequence As key workers carers should have then same income protection as all other frontline staff.

  1. Flexible use of resources

Traditional methods of accessing and awarding funding support to individuals have often been cumbersome and bureaucratic. At least temporarily, many of the restrictions of funds should be lifted and broadened.

Proposed response:

National and local government and other funders should be encouraged to suspend or remove many of the ‘traditional’ restrictions and control mechanisms for funding already allocated to carer centres. This should facilitate greater flexibility in allocation and reporting of funds.

In particular, Carers Act funds held back by local authorities and IJBS as ‘designated funds’ for purposes such as innovation should now be made available at the earliest opportunity. This will enable them to respond appropriately to help support the immense challenges carers are facing now and for many months ahead. These measures need to be taken swiftly and with determination to allow carer organisations to plan for the full impact of the coronavirus situation in Scotland.

  1. Organisational resilience

The capacity and ability of carer centres to effectively support carers across Scotland are being tested as never before. Business continuity plans are now in full effect in many, but these require further resourcing and external support. The rapid response required by the current climate pose many challenges for organisations in the voluntary sector, many of whom are already under resourced and ultimately ill equipped to cope with the extent of challenges presented.

Proposed response:

To support the strengthening of systems and approaches within carer services to facilitate enhanced and robust business continuity functions. This could involve providing resources to deploy additional staff to cover increased demand and allow for more intensive carer engagement for the identification of emerging carer issues and development of swift responses.

  1. Community cohesion and support

Social isolating within many households to help protect people with long term conditions requires a swift response to enable outside help to deliver food and other essential items. Some grass roots initiatives are emerging and the government are in the process of mobilising volunteers.

Proposed response:

National and local government should provide additional funds to  support carer agencies to enhance, coordinate and consolidate their effort at community level, i.e. to explore a range of practical responses like shopping and transport services utilising their own volunteer and staff networks to reach carers in isolation, and help coordinate work alongside community initiatives to empower carers to identify community inputs and personalised solutions.

Some carer quotes …

Carer answering the phone: “Are you calling me too to say you have to stop our support?” VOCAL Counselling Service: “No, we hope to offer you more support.” (VOCAL 24 Mar 2020)

Carer seeking help: “I was told at noon I would lose the service for my mum from 5pm that evening. And I was told I should stay indoors with her now for 12 weeks. We have no food and no nappies, I have no idea how to cope.” (VOCAL 23 Mar 2020)

Carer being offered counselling support: “I need my car to support my elderly parents. At the garage I was told, I could not get an MOT until at least May. How am I going to reach them with food and supplies?”

Carers Act Funding – What was the money spent on?

In December 2018 The Coalition of Carers in Scotland and Shared Care Scotland sent out a Freedom of Information request to all local authority areas in Scotland asking for details of what they spent the Carers Act funding on.

We asked for information about the additional £2million distributed via Health Boards for 2017-2018 to help local areas prepare for the Carers Act commencing on the 1st April 2018. A report what this funding was spent on can be downloaded below.

Report on the £2million funding for pre-implementation of the Carers Act

Further funding of £19.4 million was delivered to local authorities for 2018-2019 to fund the first years implementation of the Carers Act. A report of how this money was spent can be downloaded below

Report on the First Years Funding for the Carers Act

LEARN4CARERS

According to recent research, carers across the EU provide over 80% of all care, with women providing approximately two-thirds of care.

The Coalition of Carers in Scotland is excited to be an associated partner in an exciting research partnership: LEARN4CARERS

Each partner will undertake steps in its country to promote the need for more support to carers, initiatives to raise awareness of the issue to citizens, and educative activities to professionals about informal carers needs and support methods, with local partners.

All the best practices, cases, tools (e.g. web platforms) and interventions will be made available online as part of the “Practical guide of best practices in the support of Informal Caregivers in Europe”.

More information on the project can be found here

Project Duration: 01-12-2018 – 30-11-2020

A briefing paper on the changes and what they might mean for carers is available here:  Re-Thinking Welfare, A Briefing Paper for Carers

Nicola Sturgeon meets carers at VOCAL

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