Earlier today I visited one of my supporters who is a fulltime carer. She’s a wonderful woman, always positive about life, although hers is now dominated by the needs of her husband, who has Alzheimer’s. She so rarely complains about anything, that when she does, you take notice.
Last week her husband had a hospital appointment; she got him ready and they waited an hour for the ambulance. When the ambulance came, they had a seat for her husband only; but of course he could not go without her. So the appointment had to be rescheduled, the ambulance time was wasted – and all through a lack of care for the people who need it most.
One in eight adults in Britain is already a carer; over the next 30 years, the numbers will rise to one in five. There are so many carers I know here in Islington, through church, community groups and among my neighbours – the woman of an age to deserve care herself, who looks after her learning-disabled son; the man who uses his rare time off from caring for his partner to look after his elderly father; the mother of two sons with care needs, who is a powerful advocate for other carers.
Carers don’t clock on and off – it’s a state of being, not a job. It’s all-consuming in the way that politics or another passion can be, yet it’s rarely by choice: carers end up being carers by extension from being wives, mothers, daughters, husbands. They don’t do it for the money – and just as well. The national carers’ benefit works on the basis of £45 for a notional 35 hour week. That’s £1.26 an hour: maximum devotion for less than the minimum wage.
I’m glad that Lib Dem conference last week committed us to review the Carer’s Allowance as part of our wider anti-poverty strategy. But what does it say about ten years of a Labour government, that carers are valued so little?