• How the pandemic is causing a Devon explosion in unpaid carers and distress

    10th February 2021 | News | Claire
  • I have always taken an interest in difficulties facing unpaid carers.

    Having heard from many unpaid carers during my role as a councillor, my heart goes out to them in what is often a hard and lonely job, often fraught with struggles to access the financial help they are entitled to.

    I proposed a Health Scrutiny review into this issue several times during 2018/19 before it was eventually agreed in 2019, when I chaired a six month spotlight review.

    The review was published last January. Our recommendations, partly locally focused with some nationally focused, were fully endorsed by Devon County Council’s cabinet.

    Some progress has been made on the locally based recommendations, while others have been delayed due to the pandemic.

    Unfortunately, on the issues that would really and hugely change things for carers – the national ones, no progress has been made, we are told because of Covid-19, although some local work relating to improved pay and conditions is being undertaken.

    But the matter is horribly urgent and spiralling out of control. The latest statistics published in last month’s Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee papers are incredibly worrying:

    The Office for National Statistics estimates that the unpaid carer population in the UK has increased by an alarming 50 per cent due to Covid-19. This means that the unpaid carer population in the Devon County Council footprint will have increased to 130,000.

    National research shows a worsening position for carers too.

    Only 12 per cent said they received enough support from social care.

    The proportion (64%) providing 50 hours care or more a week has almost tripled, compared with the 2011 census.

    54 per cent have given up or reduced paid work because of caring.

    16 per cent reported that lockdown or closure of local services had forced them into caring for an additional 40 hours or more per week.

    Despite these grim statistics and the lack of support available for unpaid carers, it is estimated that since the start of the pandemic, carers have provided £135bn of care across the UK. A rate of £193bn in a full year. In Devon it is calculated that these figures would be £1.75bn and £2.5bn respectively. 

    National research indicates that at any one time, 40 per cent of carers are at risk of breakdown with 10 per cent of that number would require complete replacement of the care and support they provide passed on to the local authority.

    This means anywhere from 3,560 to 5,200 people needing either a care home placement or very high levels of care in the home, with a potential upper cost in the range of £128m to £187m for Devon County Council.

    Locally, officers say they are seeing increased carer distress and an emphasis on take up of contingency planning, revealing that that a substantial group of carers are caring without any family other back up who can be nominated as contacts in the event of need.

    On his first day as prime minister, Boris Johnson stood on the steps of Downing Street and promised to sort out the crisis and horrible injustice facing adult social care funding.

    18 months later, nothing. Nothing has been done. It is a disgraceful travesty blighting more lives every single day.

    I have time after time raised this issue at Devon County Council. And have been working with the Local Government Association on it for years.

    During this agenda item at last month’s Health and Adult Care Scrutiny meeting I proposed the committee take another look at the difficulties facing unpaid carers, however, this was rejected in favour of the Partnership Board examining the issue with carer representatives.

    This meeting will be on 4 March and I will be present to hear testimonies and ask questions.

    The continued lack of government action is simply political cowardice.

    The Heath and Adult Care paper I quote from with the recommendations and their progress can be found here starting from P183 – https://democracy.devon.gov.uk/documents/g3870/Public%20reports%20pack%2026th-Jan-2021%2014.15%20Health%20and%20Adult%20Care%20Scrutiny%20Committee.pdf?T=10

    Pic: Asking questions at the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee before things went online last year.