Monday 26 July 2010

H&F Carers' Centre To be Sold Off - Unpaid Carers Campaign To Save Service

Somewhere in the back of our minds all of us have a fear. A fear that at some point in our lives we, or someone close to us, could become debilitated by serious illness or an accident. When that happens we, or our friends and family become unpaid carers.

There are carers in our borough that are in their 90s and many more are teenagers. The youngest I know of is just 10. No matter what your age or background, becoming a carer is often a harrowing experience requiring much support and advice. Last month H&F’s Conservative Administration closed the Carers' Centre and ended the support coming from that institution.

The Conservatives admitted that they had the building valued at £1.7 million and that they put it on a list of buildings for sale two years ago. It is also clear that before the local elections the H&F Carers Centre were given every indication that they would maintain the contract after the Administration asked them to retender. Now it’s closing down and the affected carers have been running a vigil for over a month.

There are 6 million carers in the UK. Each year over 2 million more people take on a caring responsibility. There are people supported by the Hammersmith and Fulham Carers Centre who have spent a lifetime caring for a child and there are those suddenly confronted with the need to care for a loved one struck down with illness.

Unpaid Carers are the very definition of David Cameron’s Big Society, so it speaks volumes about the Conservatives lack of any genuine commitment to this idea when his Tory colleagues in his favorite council are taking an axe to such a high profile and vital support service.

Cllr. Rory Vaughan, the Shadow Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Services, set out what H&F Conservatives doing in this speech.

“I would like to begin by paying tribute to our carers in Hammersmith and Fulham. There are 11,500 of them according to the most recent census data. They care for loved ones with a wide variety of conditions day in, day out – and many of them may not be in greatest of health themselves. We have seen some of them earlier tonight and I would like to say thank you to them for all they do – their selflessness provides a humbling example to us all.

However, we must recognise that caring can be a struggle. The in-house review of the carers strategy that was produced last year showed the pressures on carers in coping with the needs of those that they care for. One example was of a resident who suffered from severe depression in caring for his wife who had a physical disability and mental health needs. Fortunately, he now benefits from services in attending a Carers Support Group and benefited from a small Carers Support Grant. Both of these outlets have allowed him to escape from the some of the stresses of caring.

So, carers are immensely dedicated individuals, but caring is a stressful business. And one of the key things that carers themselves needs and asked for from us and care professionals in the carers strategy review was for 'greater understanding, dignity and respect to be afforded to carers'. They were quite right.

And that is where our debate tonight starts. Around 1,000 of our carers use the Carers Centre run by the Princess Royal Trust for Carers in Hammersmith Road. They were told very soon after the election in May – by an administration that has spent four years cutting adult social care, introducing charges and selling off voluntary sector premises – that this Centre would be shut by the end of June. These selfless individuals, who rely on some of the support of the Carers Centre were devastated by the news that these services were to be cut. In light of the timing and the administration's record, subsequent announcements that alternative services would be put in their place have failed to reassure carers that their services are not being downgraded.

Further events have been less than convincing. The Carers Centre has now had a further extension until the end of July when the Council will put in place 'in-house' provision until a new provider can be found. I understand (from the Director of Community Services) that this will not be until April next year at the earliest. This 'Plan B' does little to inspire confidence.

This has come about because, whilst there were 37 expressions of interest in providing carers services from outside agencies, only one organisation – the current Carers Centre – actually put in a tender. This begs the question that, if expert, experienced organisations that provide these services elsewhere in the country do not feel able to bid, then how can in-house provision meet the specifications? And, in particular, how can carers and we have confidence in in-house provision that is only providing a stop-gap until a new provider can be found?

And we must also address the issue of timescales. Can we really be confident that a suitable new provider will be found by next April when Community Services are only at the stage of going back to the potential providers to find out why they did not bid? This bureaucratic muddle could be avoided if current services are maintained until a comprehensive new arrangement is put in place, particularly when there have been 'previous lengthy extensions' to these arrangements.

All of these questions show the administration's policy and strategy on carers to be a complete shambles. They have devastated over 1,000 carers and lost their trust by removing their current services at short notice. They have then asked them to accept a stop-gap service provided by the Council with highly uncertain prospects for future provision.

Our carers deserve understanding, dignity and respect. Closing a set of services that people currently both need and use whilst providing them with hastily planned stop-gap arrangements is shabby treatment of some of our most inspirational residents. Carers deserve the little that they asked for from us, their elected representatives: understanding, dignity and respect. We should give them that understanding tonight by agreeing this motion.”

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