A view from the top
Heléna Herklots

Heléna Herklots is Chief Executive of Carers UK.

Reflections on the last decade

It’s been tough for many people who need social care; and those who are charged with commissioning it and providing it. The frustrating thing is that we know so much more about how vital social care is to our society; how to provide good quality care; and how we should train and support people to do this. The Care Act 2014 sets out a positive vision that has wide support in the sector, but there hasn’t yet been the political will to recognise the importance of social care and invest in it properly.

We are a caring society. Most care in this country is provided, unpaid, by families and friends – 6.5 million in the UK and growing. But too many are finding this increasingly difficult as they’re hit by the impact of cuts to benefits; cuts to social care; and pressure on the NHS.

Projections for the next decade

I have two sets of projections – one with my glass half full; one with it half empty. In my optimistic view, by the end of the next decade there will be recognition of the role and contribution of unpaid carers in our society, where carers are respected, valued and supported. Our industrial strategy will invest in social care as part of the vital infrastructure of our country, and it will have become a career of choice, with the status it deserves. Social care will be integrated with health and housing, with the right links across into employment and the social security system. We will, though, still be having debates about the affordability of public services…

When my glass is half empty, I see a lack of good quality, affordable care; a series of ‘sticking plaster’ measures applied as we’re met with winter crises; the shocking findings of undercover documentaries; and unbearable pressures on the NHS, with more and more being expected of unpaid carers whose health and wellbeing worsens each year. Whilst the pessimist in me thinks that we will be closer to the half empty version, the campaigner and optimist will continue to push for the half full version.

Insight

I started my involvement in the social care sector at 18. I took a year off before going to university and signed up with Community Service Volunteers as a full-time volunteer in what was then called ‘an old folks home’. I learnt a huge amount from my time there, and remember to this day some of the conversations I had with the residents, their families and friends, and the staff. The experience stayed with me, and influenced my career direction – from running a day care centre, to developing new services, then carrying out strategy, public policy and campaigning work to change things for the better. As Chief Executive of Carers UK, my role combines many of these things and I can see the difference that the charity makes, and I feel fortunate to work with so many inspiring people.

At Carers UK, we provide information, advice and emotional support; campaign on the issues that matter most to carers; champion carers’ rights at work and support from employers; and provide expertise and help to those who seek to support carers. We are committed to working in partnership and lead two major awareness raising campaigns, Carers Week – 12th to the 18th June this year, and Carers Rights Day – 24th November.

Influences

Many and varied. Certainly, family and friends, as well as the experiences of carers and their everyday battles to get the best for those they care for.

Lessons

‘Speak truth to power’ was the mantra of my first manager at Age Concern England, and it is very important to me – particularly in this role, when I need to represent the experiences of carers. What I continue to learn is all the different ways to do this, from the diplomatic to the more forceful.

Advice

I hesitate to offer advice, but I think ‘lead by example’ would be one. It’s difficult to live up to, but I think it matters that you try. The other is to have a combination of passion and persistence – I think you need both to be effective.            CMM

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Heléna Herklots, Chief Executive of Carers UK

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