Reforms bring no extra help to most carers

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Four out of five carers believe that the Government's care in the community reforms have made no difference to them or services have deteriorated, a survey for the Carers National Association reported yesterday.

Better Tomorrows?, which contacted over 2,300 carers, calls for "dramatic improvements" to the information available to carers and to services and support. It said that over 60 per cent did not even realise that they can ask social services to have their needs assessed.

There are almost 7 million carers in Britain looking after a frail, disabled or ill child, relative or friend. Women account for 70 per cent of carers, and nearly 80 per cent are aged between 45 and 74. Nearly 70 per cent had disposable incomes in the lowest 10 per cent of 1993 earnings.

The views of social services departments, which were also contacted, showed a sharp division in perception. While nearly 90 per cent of social services departments say they confirm community care assessments in writing, only 40 per cent of carers said they had written confirmation.

The carers questioned wanted a legal right to an assessment of their needs and respite care. This was finally put on the statute books last week as the Carers' Bill completed its parliamentary stages.

They also want a guaranteed package including a regular weekly break of at least four hours; occasional weekend breaks; an annual holiday of at least one week; access to a 24-hour helpline and membership of a carers support group.

And a MORI study published at the same time puts public support firmly behind the carers, with over 90 per cent wanting more public funds to be used to provide carers with services free of charge. Eight out of 10 considered that carers received little or not much help and support from the Government.

Norman Warner, senior research fellow at Kent University, and author of the report, said while for some there had been limited improvements, these did not go nearly far enough.

"We urgently need to recognise that supporting carers makes sound practical and economic sense - if just one in 10 carers felt unable to continue caring, the cost of funding alternative care would be pounds 2bn a year."

A spokesman for the Department of Health said that the number of those who felt the changes had made no difference had dropped 10 per cent from 79 per cent last year. "It's obviously showing these reforms, which take many years to work through, are starting to improve for carers."

He added that it was local authorities' responsibility to look at help on an individual level for carers and that pounds 30m - pounds 10m more than last year - had been allocated for local authorities to spend on home and respite care.