I Couldn't Care Less: Counting the Cost

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A hypodermic needle and a vial

Counting the Cost

I've been a busy little bee the last seven days. On Thursday I was at a support group for carers looking after people with mental health difficulties. We spent pretty much the entire session discussion how the charity (but of course) running the group could reach out to more carers in the area. The thing is that their ability to do what they do is dependent on local government subsidy which will be taken away if the charity can't prove that they are doing their job. It was taken away from the last lot, and what this means in practise, from a selfish point of view, is that an inconsistent and periodically non-existent service is delivered by a series of groups who keep losing their funding in the search for better value.

The proposal put to us, among others, was not one I have heard before but was, in itself, pretty obvious- let's advertise the fact that we're here. It was proposed to the commissioners (the people with the money) that they be allowed to put a substantial chunk of their budget into radio and print advertising. It has also been mooted that a conference be organised in which the people who decide where money is spent supporting carers in the region get to meet – wait for it – carers in the region

While you bask in the enormity of that idea, let me take you to the other place I spent my time this week. I was at a ‘how to work with abuse survivors' training day in preparation for my further involvement in a local childhood sexual abuse survivors support group later on in the year. It was filled largely with counsellors wanting to hear all about this child abuse thing with which they were suddenly being confronted so much. That sounds a touch facetious, and I don't mean it like that, but I was surprised how much of what they were being told was old news to me. In a role play session I found that I make a very clumsy counsellor, but one thing the rest of the day taught me was that I do have some useful experience in supporting victims of child abuse. Several times I found myself chipping in with my thoughts or experience on certain areas of discussion.

People are constantly banging on about how marvellous carers are, as you may have noticed. It's a vogue thing at the moment, we save the taxpayer eight hundred trillion pounds a week, or something. I personally have saved every taxpayer in the UK enough money to buy a two year old Honda Civic. What's not mentioned so often is the vast reserve of knowledge we have. We have to, it would be impossible to do the wide range of jobs we do if we didn't have some understanding of what we were dealing with. There's no arguing that we can match the professionals for in depth knowledge of the conditions in question, but we are unrivalled in our understanding of how to confront these problems in the day to day world. Put ten carers in a room and they will all have information the others need to hear, and between them they could probably teach one or two things to counsellors, councillors, doctors and a whole range of specialists who can explain in detail why the hand doesn't grip properly in arthritis but don't have any ideas about how you can get an arthritic person to open a jar of jam.

So what am I saying? Well, connecting carers with people who spend on their behalf is a decision so basic it shouldn't even need articulating. This should be true for more or less any specific sector of society. How do we spend our money allocated to inclusion for Muslims within this area? Shall we ask the Muslims? I'd like to say I'd be amazed if they didn't already do that, but I wouldn't really. Anyway, that's only part of what I'm saying. What I'm also saying is that as well as providing proxy services for the government, carers can also, if they have the time, provide direct services which you won't get anywhere else. They can be what was recently described to me as a human library. That's got to be worth a couple of quid, hasn't it?

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