Forgetting Young Carers

The constant stream of news coming out of the party conference hasn’t exactly left me impressed with the Tories this week, but here’ s at least one conservative that I can find some agreement with.

 

The children’s minister has warned colleagues that the government’s welfare changes “appear to undermine” ministerial commitments to support children of disabled lone parents by cutting as much as £3,500 a year from benefit payments.

In a letter seen by the Guardian, the education department minister, Tim Loughton, points out to Lord Freud at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that the “planned changes in the welfare reform bill appear to undermine our efforts to ensure young carers are recognised and supported”.

The letter – between two Conservatives – exposes divisions over how heavy a burden the poor and vulnerable should bear from the budget cuts. Many argue that slashing welfare payments to disabled lone parents means their children will be forced to spend more time caring and less time growing up.

 

In Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) we see a disproportionate number of young carers. They’re more likely to be depressed or anxious; they’re often more isolated than their peers; all too frequently they’re from low-income families. In some instances, they’ve dropped out of school to look after their physically or mentally ill parents.

In many cases they’re clearly dealing with far more responsibility than any child should. Some of them talk with the maturity you’d expect from somebody twice their age. More than a few of them look absolutely knackered as they do so. In short, they’re a very vulnerable group.

Fortunately, my local area has some very good young carer services. The support they provide can vary from counselling and therapy to simply taking them out with a bunch of other kids for some bowling or a KFC – basically a chance to act like a child rather than a carer. We’ve referred quite a few kids over to those services, and they do good work with them.

Increasingly, as CAMHS become more stretched due to cutbacks, the pressure on us is to do a referral to a young carer service and then discharge them. Which is fine until you remember that those services are also becoming more stretched, because they’re being hit by the cuts too.

I suspect that young carers, as with so many other vulnerable client groups, will be hit by a double whammy of a loss of income combined with support services drying up at the same time.

Big Society vs Actual Society

In the week that the Conservatives are holding their annual conference, an opinion poll of voluntary sector workers was published. The poll asked whether they thought Cameron’s Big Society initiative had resulted in an increase in volunteering.

95% of those polled said no.  If they’d seen any increase in volunteers, it had been as a result of people needing something to do with their time because they’d been thrown out of work.

Well, yeah, it’s an absolute shocker, isn’t it? Who would have thought the Big Society would turn out to be empty window-dressing? A meaningless lecture from a bunch of career politicians, lawyers and PR types, intended to make the decimation of our public services slightly more palatable.

Meanwhile, there are those of us who have invested our time and careers in society – doctors, teachers, social workers, nurses, voluntary sector workers. Some of us were doing it while Cameron was busy trashing restaurants with the Bullingdon Club. We’re starting to see the headlines about public sector cuts translating into services shrinking and in some cases disappearing.

I’m a worker bee in an NHS trust. Whether I speak to colleagues in my own trust or neighbouring ones, I hear the same words being uttered. Talk of recruitment freezes, of posts being deleted when people quit, constant memos offering voluntary early retirement schemes, offers to “buy” extra annual leave in exchange for a pay cut. No talk of actual redundancies…yet.

Part of my job involves liaising with other agencies – social services, schools, voluntary agencies. I hear the same talk with them, except in their case it’s even worse. We heard a lot of comforting assurings in the run-up to the general election of how the NHS would be “protected” from the cuts. In practice, “protected” has turned out to mean “a bit less awful”.

This blog will be about the actual society. Not the “Big Society” dreamed up by a political PR machine. It will be by and for those who work in or use health and social care services. Other authors will be joining and introducing themselves in the next few days.

The social consequences of the economic crisis have been severe, and there’s likely to be more to come. We intend to provide the dispatches from the front line. Watch this space.