One in eight adults, 6.5 million people in the UK, are already caring for a family member or close friend who is frail or facing long-term illness or disability. Every day, 6,000 people take on caring responsibilities. Research done by Carers UK suggests that the number of unpaid family carers is predicted to rise to 9 million people in the next 25 years.
Surveys have shown that fewer than one in ten people can correctly state the true scale of this unpaid family care, meaning the extent of caring is often hidden. While most adults do not believe they will become carers in the future, Carers UK estimate that 60% of the population will have caring responsibilities at some point in their lives.
Unpaid family carers provide a vital part of the care needed by their family members but too many carers miss out on the support and advice that they need. Caring can often begin with a health crisis such as a stroke or a diagnosis of cancer. Starting caring following such a crisis can mean the person does not realise they have become a carer.
If carers are not identified by health professionals, they can struggle with their caring tasks. I have heard carers raise issues like having to buy a hospital bed to use at home and having no idea where to look. Others have talked about the continual cost of parking charges at hospitals when they accompany family members to hospital appointments or are visiting them in hospital.
Caring can be tough. Many people who are looking after family members put their own health second and they are not getting the help they need. The Care Act did give carers the right to an assessment of their needs, but this duty is on local authorities, not on health bodies. Macmillan Cancer Care has reported that only 1 in 20 carers of people with cancer whom they asked had had a carer’s assessment – and only 1 in 3 of the carers had even heard of a carer’s assessment. Yet, 70% of those carers came into contact with health professionals.
Managing work alongside caring responsibilities can also take its toll. One in three carers has had to reduce their hours or give up work in order to continue caring. As cuts to local authority budgets have come into effect, carers can find that the respite breaks they need to enable them to continue caring are disappearing.
This Government has failed to address these issues for carers despite campaigns by me and other MPs, and by cancer charities like Macmillan.
Labour has already said that we will scrap the bedroom tax, which penalises carers with a room which is not additional but may be essential to their caring. I am proud that Labour is once again pushing this Conservative-led Government to abolish this unfair tax. In addition to this, we will continue to push for action on the other issues for carers. We must ensure that those who are contributing so much to their families and communities are given the support and advice that they deserve.
Labour believes in looking after the people who care.