The Care Act is failing to support carers Paul Burstow

Have carers noticed any difference since the Care Act came in? That is the question the Carers Trust asked me to try to answer. Over the past six months, I’ve been working with a small team of experts by experience and professionals to take the first snapshot of the impact of the act.

Carers provide the bulk of care in our country. Three in five of us will become carers at some point in our lives. Without carers, our already stretched NHS and social services would be overwhelmed. But many carers pay a heavy price for their role in both their health and their wealth.

During our inquiry, we were told by many of those who contributed that the Care Act is an important piece of social reform but its potential is far from being realised. The Care Act puts carers on an equal footing with those who have care needs. This parity in law is new, some even say revolutionary. Councils have a duty to promote the wellbeing of carers and to prevent burnout and crisis.

What we found is a mixed picture. There are beacons of good practice, but there is plenty of darkness too. For many of the carers who responded to Carers Trust call for evidence the response was stark: no, the act had made no difference. Indeed, for many it was news to them that there were new rights.

Some say it is too early to review the impact of the act. I disagree. This was never going to be a full-blown evaluation but it is a first snapshot, a baseline, that can be used to measure progress. It also offers the opportunity to provide encouragement and warnings about the ongoing implementation of the legislation.

We heard during the course of our evidence gathering that the 1948 National Assistance Act, which the Care Act replaced, took almost a decade to become embedded and supplant the outdated mindset of many charged with its implementation.

The same can be said today about the Care Act. More work is needed to impress upon those responsible for the day-to-day implementation of the act that business as usual is not good enough. The Care Act raises the bar. It expects decision-makers to look at the wellbeing of the carer and, where necessary, take a “whole family” approach.

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

So where should we be by 2018, three years on from the act coming into force?

Based on what we have heard and the evidence we have collected, the commission believe that at a minimum carers should be reporting satisfaction with the assessments and personalised support they receive, have access to the services they need and have an understanding of their rights under the Care Act. Social workers and other care practitioners should be able to evidence that they are applying the act’s wellbeing principle in all their adult social care decisions. The number of carer assessments in 2018 should reached at least 360,000 in line with the government’s own estimate.

Along with my fellow commissioners, I remain optimistic about the transformative potential of the Care Act. Our report (pdf) should be essential reading for directors of adult and children’s services, and directors of public health. It has messages for the NHS too. Above all, it is about making improvements for carers themselves.

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