Talking the Talk
Last Monday I went along to a consultation held by An East Sussex Charity, Care for the Carers. They are an excellent charity and it is no doubt testament to this fact that so many people turned up. To give you a flavour – one woman was caring for a husband who had no legs, one for a mother who had what sounded like pretty severe dementia, and one for both parents, each of whom had a variety of ailments. This points up to some small extent the range of problems being managed by friends and family, but also the fact that it isn't easy for them to find two hours in their week to turn up to be a focus group. They were all gathered together in front of a flip chart to engage with the county council about their Joint Carers' plan. There was a lady there who was head of something or other to do with carers and another who was there to write stuff down for each other. The writing lady was kept busy.
In theory the session was structured. We had all been given a synopsis of the strategy and were then talked through it in a bit more detail. Then we were supposed to go through four questions. The notion of splitting up into three smaller groups was totally abandoned as, shortly, were the questions. The reason for this has a great deal to go with the audience. At 31, I was by a long margin younger than almost every other carer in the room. They didn't want to answer questions and give feedback and stuff – they wanted a moan. The ladies from the council were set to be on the receiving end of every gripe they had and it was going to take all morning.
In fairness it is worth pointing out that they had a lot of good points to make. For example – there are plenty of charitable groups who will organise 'respite' for carers. They will do day trips and courses and weekend getaways and things of that nature. But who looks after the caree while they are away? There are places they can go, but all of these services are 'chargeable'. There is support from social services, but that's assuming you can get anyone to answer the phone or reply to your e-mails or answer phone messages. And that's assuming you can get through 9-5 Monday to Friday, when these people are at work. The increasingly beleaguered lady from the council pointed out that money was tight, but the old chap two seats along from me was having none of it.
Therein, to a certain extent, lies the rub. I heard a lady opposite me complain that 'everything's about money'. Sadly this is the case. And this isn't really the council's fault, or even the Government's fault. That's the world we live in. There was one thing I notice cropping up, however, that wouldn't be all that pricey to fix. Several times during the two hours, someone would complain about a problem they couldn't solve, and somebody else would pipe up with a solution. Numerous people had never heard of carers social care reviews, or the recently established carers' card, or a variety of other services, facilities and benefits available to them. I don't think I knew about all of the stuff on the sheet of paper I brought home with me. Sharing information doesn't require a huge budget or vast resources. It needs a website, and, for those carers who aren't computer literate or don't have access to the internet, it needs bits of paper. It needs coordination, so that if one group, charity or branch of the council offers a service, the people charged with disseminating information know about it. And it requires planning and effort. It would, I think, make a massive difference. Also, for goodness sake give them somewhere to lodge their complaints.
If you have knowledge, wisdom or insight you need, wish to share or may not even know you need, please drop in and say hello at Carers of H2G2.