Today there has been an interesting debate around how the County Council supports family carers. It started with a series of interviews with Jeremy Sallis on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire based on a report to one of our scrutiny committees that showed that we had not hit our target for 2010/2011 for the number of carers assessments we have completed. That debate included Cllr Paul Sales and me appearing together. Paul is Labour Councillor for Arbury in Cambridge. Paul provided some challenge about making sure carers were given the right sort of advice when a family member is discharged from hospital - he also made the point that we are doing the right sort of things in terms of facilitating and dealing with discharges from hospital (this sort of productive approach from Labour Councillors is a massive contrast to the opportunism we get from Lib Dems at Shire Hall).
Firstly, I probably need to define what a carer is. This is the definition from the Carers Trust:
A carer is someone of any age who provides unpaid support to family or friends who could not manage without this help due to illness, disability, mental ill-health or a substance misuse problem.
Carers are entitled to support to help them - one of the ways we do this is by carrying out an assessment of their needs. In the year ending March 2011 we completed 2800 assessments for carers, in the year ending March 2012 we did 3000, so the number of people we are assessing is increasing - but we didn't assess as many as we would have liked. Additionally, despite tough financial circumstances, in the current financial year we have put an additional £100k into funding for support to carers. Overall, I don't think we have a bad story to tell - it's just that we didn't meet a target. I would argue that giving an organisation grief because they didn't reach a target is something that needs to be thought about. I want Adult Social Care targets to be ambitious - achievable but stretching. Making a public issue about failing to meet one will potentially make people fearful of ambition and lead them to setting simple, less rigorous goals. If we are not progressing well enough overall, or if we are going backwards - fair enough. But I am not sure it is right to criticise one target in isolation.
Identifying carers is really difficult. Many people don't accept they are carers and indeed thee is a suggestion that most people don't accept themselves that they are a carer for at least two years. At the scrutiny meeting his afternoon I repeated the message that I tried to get out this morning on the radio (but perhaps didn't put very well) which is that we need to get underneath our data, look at the various ways that people become carers and then look at where, within this, there is contact with people or agencies who can spot the approaching problem and give advice. If we can do this work, we can perhaps get more carers to come forward for assessment
Carers are very, very important. They are big-hearted people provide support to vulnerable, needy individuals solely out of love. In doing this they save "the state" money and prevent needs becoming worse. It is right that we do everything we can to identify them and give them the sort of support they need.
If you know someone who is a carer, please encourage them to come forward and undertake an assessment so we can give them the support they deserve.