Last week, the tragic story of Riven Vincent’s lack of council support in caring for her daughter (read the story here) once again brought the plight of carers to the publics’ attention. The flurry of news stories, and the country-wide outcry, forced the council into acting; having said repeatedly that they couldn’t help Ms Vincent, they are now back to having meetings about what the Vincent family need, with the Prime Minister muttering hurried apologies. Ironic that a party who put such importance on family and marriage would have allowed a family to be torn apart for the sake of a budget…
Perhaps even sadder than the story itself is that by next week, the Vincent family will have been forgotten again, just as carers always are. Yes, they get the occasional pat on the back, maybe an award at a ceremony that is more about celebrities trying to look selfless than it is about supporting the nominees, and parents will be told that what they do for their child is amazing, but it is all lip service. Empty words to people who desperately need more than a piece of plastic or a round of applause.
This was emphasised on Tuesday, when I received Bromley Council‘s proposals for “changes” to disabled services in the borough, based around the introduction of ‘personal budgets’, allowing people to manage their own care needs. Unsurprisingly, the ‘changes’ are riddled with cuts and increased charges to the service users; the Council have proposed introducing charges for day care used by the frail, elderly and specialist service users (eg. dementia patients), which have increased from nil to up to £40 per session, and also propose implementing charges for service users who require ‘Homecare’ at evenings and weekends. Additionally, services users will be, if Bromley have their way, expected to pay for their ‘Carelink’ and other ‘assisted technology’ devices, plus many other forms of help, all out of their limited Direct Payment budgets.
I was granted Direct Payments in late 2008, after being alerted to them by an EB Nurse Specialist. My mother was working part-time (three days a week at Bromley Council, no less), whilst also providing all of my multi-faceted care, health and personal. Bromley Council decided that my needs came under the banner of “exceptional” and allowed me to pay my mum for the personal care she was giving me, as it would be too difficult to find someone else to provide the care to the same standard.
In early 2009, my mum gave up her job and went back to being my full-time carer, not that she ever really stopped; whilst my mum was working, she would get up at 6am, wash, dress, eat her breakfast, measure and administer my medicines and liquid feed via the tube in my stomach, prepare the things I needed to wash, adjust any slipped dressings, help me get dressed and leave with me a drink; during her lunch, she would arrange my prescriptions, equipment deliveries and any hospital/doctor’s appointments; after work (at 6pm), she would make dinner, sort out the washing, then embark upon my four hour dressing change, before measuring and administering my medicines again, and helping me into bed. Whilst she was at work, my grandparents would give me any help I needed. It was a great concern to all of us that Mum was under such a huge amount of pressure (my dad does as much as he can, but changing my dressings etc is hardly practical, and he works full time in manual work), and in March 2009, she took a year’s unpaid leave. After leaving work, I was granted the budget to pay my mum for some of the health care she gives me, and thus she left her Council job permanently.
Now at the age of twenty-four, I am only just being given the ability to hire another carer, in order to give my mum some incredibly well-deserved and desperately needed respite. Not that Mum will agree! Whenever I tell her how much I worry about her, she just says that she loves me and wouldn’t be anywhere else, and anyway, I’d do for it her (which, of course, I would). But that is exactly why and how Councils and the government abuse carers, and exploit the love carers have for the people they are caring for. I know that, despite caring for my faultlessly and with more dedication than any child or adult could wish for, my mum still feels having outside help with my care means that she is letting me down.
Most parents of able-bodied children complain about how draining it is, how they often feel bound by being a parent and have their freedom taken away, but for my mum, she is still is that position even though I, her youngest child, am an adult. I still need help with washing and dressing, I need to be cooked for and sometimes fed, I need to be put into bed (thanks to the copious amount of eye ointment needed to stop my corneas blistering at night), I often need to call her in the night for various reasons, and she still stays in hospital with me, camped out on the floor beside my bed. She is my nurse, my cleaner, my cook, my therapist, my grief counsellor, my personal shopper, my PA, and she is also one of my best friends. But Mum didn’t decline help from the Council throughout my life, she was just never offered it. And if she was, it was quickly withdrawn once the extent of my needs became apparent, as happened with the district nurses, for whom my care was impossible to fit into their already overstretched schedules.
My mum said recently that she doesn’t do her job, caring for me, because she loves it; she doesn’t love seeing me cry during dressing changes, or watching me go through one medical procedure after another, or helping me because my hands won’t function, or engaging in the indignity of helping me clean myself after I’ve been to the loo. She does it because she loves me, plain and simple.
Now Bromley Council tell me that they are proposing to cut the hourly rate paid for care, via Direct Payments, from £14.80 per hour to £11 (both minus tax). The proposal makes me absolutely furious, as it yet another example of how the work of carers is held in contempt. My mother works twenty-four hours a day, more than she is (we’re told) allowed to be paid for according to EU laws, and now they want her to work for even less. The fact is that my mum asks to be paid for caring for me purely to make ends meet. She’s not accumulating a nest egg, or jetting off on expensive holidays, but paying the bills and helping to put food on the table.
The Chief Executive of Bromley Council earns (as of September 2010) £188,785 per year – £46,000 more than the Prime Minister – and yet I doubt he works twenty four hours, is sleep deprived or camps out on hospital floors. Where is the justice?
It is this kind of treatment, and much worse, that leads carers to take drastic measures, whether asking for their child to be taken in to care, or taking theirs and their children’s lives. Every time those stories hit the news we shake our head, say “how terrible”, and hear hollow condolences from politicians, local and national.
Now is the time to tell them that we will no longer accept the debasement of carers and their work. The government is targeting the disabled and their carers because they see us as an easy target. How wrong they are!
This is a call to arms – we must protect our rights to have care, and the rights of those who provide it. Please tell your stories, whether you are the cared for or the carer. We can stop this injustice and degradation, but only if we all work together.
Thank you for reading once again. I’m going to hug my mum, say thank you, and then we will both carry on fighting.
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