Care Act 'failing millions of unpaid carers'

The Care Act has failed to make a difference to the lives of millions of unpaid carers and in many cases, the rules regarding assessments of their needs are misunderstood or ignored by local authorities, a charity has warned.

A review looking the first year of the act, led by former care minister Paul Burstow for charity the Carers Trust, found a "mixed picture" with some good practice but cases where carers had not even heard about the measures introduced to support their needs and wellbeing.

There are around 5.4m carers in England and their unpaid work looking after family and friends is estimated to save the economy £132bn a year.  

Only 21 per cent of those surveyed for the review felt things have changed as a result of the act, while almost two-thirds said they have not had an assessment by their local authority to determine their needs.

Carers' rights under the act, which came into force on 1 April 2015, include taking into consideration their health and wellbeing, family relationships and the need to balance home life with education and work.

All local authorities must also provide advice and information, and prevent carers' needs from getting worse.

Prof Burstow said: "For many of the carers who responded to Carers Trust's calls for evidence, the response was stark - the act had made no difference. It was news to some that there were new rights as they simply hadn't heard of them.

"We found evidence that when it comes to an assessment, the law is either poorly understood or ignored by those responsible. Too often it appears that carers are fobbed off with a one-off payment by local authorities as if that discharges the obligation to promote the carers' wellbeing.

"We know it's early days, but more work must be done to impress upon those responsible for the day-to-day implementation of the act that business as usual is not good enough."

The review is calling on local authorities, the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services to work with carers and service users to develop a self-assessment tool that will monitor their progress in implementing the act.

As part of this, it adds, they should urgently review carers' assessments waiting times and recording systems to ensure people get timely support.

Gail Scott-Spicer, chief executive of the Carers Trust, said many carers don't see themselves as such, which poses a problem in identifying and supporting them.

"The Care Act was widely welcomed when it was introduced, but it's clear from our report that it is not being implemented fully everywhere and carers are not getting the support they need," she added.

Responding to the review, Cllr Izzi Seccombe, community wellbeing portfolio holder at the Local Government Association, said "The whole sector needs to work together to identify carers, support carers in employment, and ensure they are able to maintain their own health and wellbeing, while raising awareness amongst the wider community of the vital work they do.

"However, the continuing underfunding of adult social care by Government has limited councils' ability to provide support to vulnerable people and their carers. Less than a third of councils say they are confident there is enough money to meet growing levels of need this year and beyond.

"We therefore call on the Government - at the very least - to bring forward the £700m of new funding earmarked for social care through the Better Care Fund by the end of the decade to this year, which has been called for by councils, care providers, charities and the NHS."