Activities outside Parliament

The Carers Revolution - A New Revolution for Carers

3rd December 2004

Today - National Carers Rights Day - is about the future. For me, and for everyone present here today it is about ensuring that carers have the same rights - equal rights - as everyone else. Nothing less, nothing more.

And to achieve that following the implementation of the Carers Equal Opportunities Act 2004 – there needs to be an attitude change, a revolution, in the way everyone relates to carers, particularly those engaged in service delivery.

Welcome and Thanks

But before I talk about revolution, I want to begin by giving a big thank you to local carers and carers organisations for all your support over the last year: without that support we would not have this new legislation.

I should also thank Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council especially the Social Services and Education Departments; the Local Health Board and our local Council for Voluntary Service. Equally important was the support I received from Jane Hutt AM of the Welsh Assembly Government, Carers Wales and Carers UK.

All these bodies were essential to the success of the progress of the Bill and now that the Bill is an Act will have an even more important role to play in breathing life into the legislation from April 1st 2005 because they will now need to work together, legally, to make the difference for carers which we all want to happen.

When we launched the Bill in Parliament in January the Mayor of Neath Port Talbot CBC, Councillor Peter Lloyd reminded me that we had the greatest number of carers per head of population of any county in the UK.

One year on

One year ago - on National Carers Rights Day 2003 - I met a group of carers of children with disabilities at an event organized by CVS' Enablers' Project. They told me they wanted a life beyond their caring responsibilities, they wanted information, they wanted to return to education, they wanted to work.

That meeting a year ago profoundly affected me and shaped the legislation which very soon became known as the Carers Equal Opportunities Bill.

Early on in our parliamentary progress I wrote an article in March for the journal Adults Learning entitled 'Out of the Shadows' which ended this way:

'But before we get carried away with what we can be achieved, we are only half way along our parliamentary journey of hope. Once we complete that journey, the real work will begin. It is only then that we will start to address equal opportunities for carers in their lifelong learning needs by ensuring that a democratic dialogue between carers and providers is created' [My emphasis].

That democratic dialogue is what we are about today and what carers have been engaged in locally since July 22nd when the Bill received Royal Assent. But before I say anything more I want to go over the key elements of the Act.

What the Act will do

The long Title of the Act is: an Act to place duties on local authorities and health bodies in respect of carers; and for connected purposes.'

The principal aims of the Act are to:

Ensure that work, life-long learning and leisure are considered when a care is assessed;

Give local authorities new powers to enlist the help of housing, health, education and other local authorities in providing support to carers; and

Ensure that carers are informed of their rights.

All this provides a new platform for carers.

What we have done in England already

Carers UK and NIACE launched in Parliament last month a pamphlet called 'Carers and learning'.

I have had meetings with several universities to begin initiatives to help carers into Higher Education and we are planning a seminar in the New Year involving the National Extension College.

I have also had meetings with Carers UK to plan the launch in January of al All Party Parliamentary Carers Group.

What we have done in Wales already

Immediately the Act received Royal Assent, Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council and I convened a meeting to run pilot schemes based on the partnership principles of the Act, Neath Port Talbot College, the Open University and the New Learning Network have all been centrally involved.

It was agreed from the outset that carers would democratically shape these pilot schemes and this gathering is the first taste of what has been proposed. I believed that different groups of carers needed different support. For example young carers' needs are very obviously different from older carers.

In February, Rhodri Morgan and I will be speaking at Carers and Employment Conference.

And in April I will speak at a Carers Summit with Jane Hutt.

The Way Head: A New Beginning for Local Carers

The way ahead is through local democratic partnerships which we have already started to build. I believe in Neath Port Talbot through strategic democratic partnerships between the local authority, the local health board and CVS, with other key bodies like Job Centre Plus, the OU and the Local College and local employers we will make difference.

Supportive employers, like Centrica/British Gas, are vital to our success. Centrica has shown the way by sponsoring the pilot schemes and pioneering support for carers nationally.

We will only make a difference if we achieve a cultural and attitude change which places carers at the centre of negotiation and decision-making.

That is what the Prime Minister said last May when he recognised that in building a new Work-Life Balance in the future, carers' own needs – their equal opportunities as human beings – must be met.

Let's breathe life into the new Act for the sake of all carers.

And let's be sure that what we build locally with these pilot schemes will be seen as an example of best practice: a model to be followed throughout the country. Neath Port Talbot carers today, the world tomorrow!

The vital questions are these and I leave you with these thoughts:

How can educational bodies, employers, health bodies, the new sector skills councils and all other agencies change their ways to meet the diverse needs of carers? How can the world became more carer friendly?

When we talk of the importance of Work-Life Balance and the increasing importance of childcare, in the new era of the Disability Discrimination Act how can we ensure that carers are a central part of this new more hopeful world? Should we be talking not just about children's centres but also of day care centres for all age groups?

These then are the questions which flow from the new legislation and we must begin to answer today.

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