Healthwatch has released new research suggesting that family carers struggle to find support services. The new briefing combines the views and experiences of over 5,000 carers from 27 communities across the country.
These stories, gathered over the last two years, aim to give an idea of what it’s like trying to find and access help when taking on caring responsibilities for relatives, friends and neighbours.
Many of those who shared their stories said they felt they only found out about the help available ‘by chance’ and only really started looking at their options when they had already begun to find things difficult.
Healthwatch England has also analysed waiting time data, which shows that, on average, people wait two months between contacting the local authority and actually being able to access services. Whilst this is not an excessive amount of time in its own right, for those seeking an assessment when already approaching a point of crisis these waits are creating incredible stress, says Healthwatch.
Whilst councils have a duty to support local carers, Healthwatch research found gaps in the data collected by many local authorities, with 51 of the 152 local authorities asked unable to provide a recent idea of how many carers lived in their area and 72 councils unable to say how long carers on lists had been waiting.
Healthwatch says that more consistent and better data is urgently needed if councils are going to reach out to carers earlier and make a successful case for the necessary resources to meet local demand.
In June, the Department of Health and Social Care published the Carers Action Plan setting out its aspirations for carers' support over the next two years.
The government’s green paper on social care, expected later in the autumn, could provide the opportunity to set out how it will achieve these aspirations, and how councils can be supported to implement the Care Act.
Healthwatch England National Director and independent expert advising on the government’s social care green paper, Imelda Redmond CBE, said, 'This new research highlights the hard work being done and sacrifices being made by carers the length and breadth of the country. Quite simply, their efforts help keep the NHS and social care afloat.
'But the demands on carers are only going to grow over the coming years, as their numbers swell and our society ages.
'At the moment we have a system that waits for people to ask for help, which usually comes when they are on the brink of a crisis. To support carers effectively services need to be much more on the front foot.
'The green paper provides a brilliant opportunity for the Government to recognise the huge contribution carers make and put in motion plans that will ensure every carer gets the support they need, when they need it.'
Emily Holzhausen OBE, Director of Policy at Carers UK said, 'This new research from Healthwatch England highlights the scale and impact of the intense pressures unpaid carers face in looking after friends and relatives who are disabled, ill or frail. The unpaid support they provide is vital, but so often it comes at a cost to carers’ own health and wellbeing. Yet, without their support our social care system would collapse.
'Carers UK is extremely concerned that, at a time when the numbers of carers recorded as being supported is going down, the number of carers needing support is going up. This is going in entirely the wrong direction given our ageing population, and highlights the funding strain that local councils are under.
'This research shows the real need for councils to do more to identify, reach out and offer preventative support services to struggling carers before they reach the point of crisis. And central government must provide the resource and leadership councils need to support carers more effectively. The Budget must inject much needed short term funding into the care system, with the Green Paper offering a clear opportunity to put plans in place to really improve the lot of carers. It is an opportunity that we cannot afford to miss.'
Glen Garrod, President of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, has responded to the report, saying, 'This is a valuable contribution to the debate about the importance of social care and is timely, given the anticipated publication of the Government's Green Paper later this year. It recognises that councils play a crucial role in supporting carers and colleagues across the country will take this responsibility seriously. We would encourage carers to identify themselves to councils who can provide advice and information and help assess their circumstances to see how best they can be supported.
'The support from unpaid carers has been and remains incredible...But carers also have their own needs, wishes and aspirations. There are great examples of council care teams that work hand-in-hand with carers as people often prefer to receive care from those they know, and councils assess the needs of carers to ensure they are supported to continue.
'It is deeply regrettable that Adult Social Care Directors find themselves facing difficult choices, against a backdrop of insufficient funds to support carers in their area to the extent they would like to be able. This is one of many reasons that the government should bring forward its green paper, complete with a long-term funding solution for social care, as soon as possible.'