I’ve been a carer for much of my life, and know how exhausting it can be. The government needs to step up to help
The past 16 months have demonstrated clearly that we are a nation of carers led by a prime minister that does not care. Our carers have been overworked and many have been left struggling to get by.
So before Boris Johnson and his colleagues take a little bit of time this summer to rest and relax, I hope they spend a bit of time thinking about our carers. Those who keep the NHS on its feet; the carers who have had to work harder than ever because of the pandemic.
Covid-19 has reminded us all of something Liberal Democrats have long understood: that caring for people’s health doesn’t stop at the hospital exit, or the GP surgery door.
A recent survey by Carers UK found that 81 per cent of carers are spending more time on their caring responsibilities during the pandemic, mainly because the needs of the person they are caring for have increased or because the local care services they rely on have been reduced or closed.
I’ve been a carer for much of my life. First as a teenager, nursing my mum during her long battle against bone cancer. Later for my Nanna, organising her care and trying to make her last few years as comfortable as we could. And now as a father, as Emily and I care for our disabled son, John.
So I know how looking after someone you love – whether as a parent of a disabled child, a teenager of a terminally ill parent or a close relative of an elderly family member – can be rewarding and full of love. But it is far from glamorous: and it can be relentless and exhausting.
People who work so hard and sacrifice so much to care for their loved ones deserve our support.
But as I have listened to unpaid carers across the country over the last few months, one message has come through loud and clear: they feel forgotten and ignored by people in power. And it’s easy to see why.
As we were plunged into the pandemic the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, put up Universal Credit by twenty pounds a week, he refused to do the same for Carer’s Allowance. And he is still resisting calls by the Liberal Democrats, Carers UK and others to put that right.
When the government initially published the list of priority groups for vaccination back in December, it left off unpaid carers – even though they are at greater risk of both catching Covid-19 and passing it on to a vulnerable person. It was only after campaigning by carers’ organisations, the Liberal Democrats and carers themselves that they were added to the priority list.
And to add injury to insult – and despite all the speculation this week – carers are still waiting for the social care reforms the prime minister promised them two years ago.
I’ve had the chance to hear many inspiring stories from so many inspiring carers. Carers like Gayna, who looks after her two daughters with complex disabilities. Before the pandemic, Gayna got support from social services and her local carers centre – as well as a much-needed break when her girls were at college and with a youth worker. But that all came to a halt when we entered lockdown — and Gayna’s amount of time spent on caring more than doubled.
Elaine had a similar experience as she cared for her husband, Mark, who is suffering with dementia. Throughout lockdown, Elaine struggled to cope without regular visits from Mark’s care workers. She deeply missed her respite time, and worried that Mark wasn’t getting the mental stimulation he needed from the activities he used to do with his care workers. She felt exhausted, stressed, and like she had no one to turn to for advice or support. But as Elaine said: “When you’re caring alone, you just have to keep going”.
Which is the reality for far too many carers — especially during the pandemic. On average, carers in the UK lost 25 hours of support each month as a result of Covid — whether from family and friends, or care and support services.
In my first speech as leader of the Liberal Democrats I promised to be a voice for carers. So I will keep speaking up for them. And our party will keep campaigning for the government to raise the Carer’s Allowance. We will keep campaigning to give carers a break. We will keep calling on the government to bring parties together so we can fix social care and ensure everyone gets the support they need.
Ed Davey is the leader of the Liberal Democrats