Activities outside Parliament

Carers Wales - The Carers [Equal Opportunities] Act 2004, Annual Members' Conference, Gwbert-on-Sea

Friday 10th September 2004

Words of thanks / Geiriau o ddiolch

I am delighted to be with you to thank, formally, officially and in person, Carers Wales for its support in achieving our Carers Equal Opportunities Act 2004.

I want to emphasise how important Carers Wales and Carers UK have been in this success. This is a policy and political achievement for carers and carers organisations, specifically in England and Wales, but also for all countries of the United Kingdom.

I cannot emphasise enough how significant Carers Wales and Carers UK have been in the progress of the Bill from December 2003 to July 2004.

I want to explain how we worked in partnership to achieve what has been called by one academic, "one of the most important pieces of social legislation of this Labour Government".

Working in partnership with Carers UK and Carers Wales

Let me tell you why I think carers organisations, local and national, have been important for this Bill.

The day after I came second in the Private Member's Bill ballot was December 6th 2003 - National Carers Rights Day. I was with members of the Carers Enablers Project at Neath Port Talbot Council for Voluntary Service. Carers talked to me about their hopes, their dreams, their fears and their rights – equal rights – to what one carer, Lynn Coleman, "an ordinary life".

Access to information, education and work were the big issues for them.

That discussion focused me. Mair and I knew from our personal experiences as carers between 1980 and 1997 that these were big issues. I had said as much in my Maiden Speech in Parliament in June 2001 and I was aware of the work of Carers UK, Carers Wales, local carers organisations and the growing attention given to carers issues by the Government in Westminster and the Welsh Assembly Government.

That local discussion, my subsequent discussions over the next hours, days and weeks with Carers UK, Carers Wales, the Welsh Health Minister Jane Hutt and the Westminster Minister for carers, Dr. Stephen Ladyman, led us to a Bill which was to address some of the big difficulties facing carers today. What we have achieved is an Act which

Ensures that work, life-long learning and leisure are considered when a carer is assessed

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

Ensures that carers are informed of their rights

Mobilising inside and outside Parliament.

My task as a Member of Parliament taking through my Carers Bill was to achieve the maximum possible support within Government, across all Parties, across the two Houses of Parliament, within the Welsh Assembly Government and within the Civil Service in Westminster and in Cardiff.

The task of Carers UK and Carers Wales was to mobilise support from carers organisations, other bodies (like employers, local authorities, unions and educational bodies). Over three hundred organisations of all kinds e-mailed and wrote letters of support to me, individual carers did so too, in large numbers.

Carers UK, with vital input from Carers Wales, did the initial frameworking of the Bill itself and pointed me in the direction of sympathetic Ministers, Members of Parliament and Peers. Carers UK, particularly Imelda Redmond and Emily Holzhausen, undertook research , helped with the speeches, organised meetings with MP's, helped set up my Cross-Party Bill Team and negotiated with Government Civil Servants and Parliamentary officials. In Wales, I know that Roz Williamson and her team were doing the same, contributing to all of these briefings.

From beginning to end it was a vital partnership between Carers UK and Carers Wales and my Parliamentary Bill Team which I deliberately made strongly cross-party, with Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and Ulster Unionists and of course my Party, Labour but I also made it strongly cross-country (so to speak) with Members of Parliament from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the North, Midlands and the West Country all of whom worked within local carers organisations, and local press to raise awareness about the Bill.

I was particularly grateful for the leading role of Members of Parliament from Wales – Hywel Williams of Plaid Cymru, Roger Williams of the Liberal Democrats, Nigel Evans for the Conservatives and Martin Caton, Wayne David, Huw Edwards, Dai Havard and Betty Williams from the Labour Party.

In many ways this was a Wales and England Bill – not an England and Wales Bill : the Carers Minister in Westminster acknowledged this by saying the Bill had its roots in the lived experiences of Carers in Wales.

Think global, act local

I have always been committed to the idea that the personal is the political and that we should 'think global and act local'.

Our personal and family experiences – Mair's and mine – have shaped this Act. Hence the name it has acquired, Sam's Bill, Sam's Act. It has also benefited from the insights, experiences and problems of the communities I represent – which have the highest proportion of carers of any county in the United Kingdom. Neath Port Talbot has over 20,000 carers, 600 of whom are young carers.

My Local Health Board, my Local CVS, my Local County Borough, and carers organisations all worked with me on the Bill and are now working with me on pilot schemes. And this work is being assisted by Carers Wales in a very significant way. One local carers organisation, SNAC, was even planning a pilot scheme before the Bill had become an Act!

This has been an inspirational experience for us because we have worked in partnership. Carers UK's vast experience, enormous respect for its professionalism and integrity was vital for that success; Carers Wales' detailed knowledge of carers needs and carers organisations at grass roots level has been vital too as has its close working relationship with the Welsh Assembly Government. I was especially grateful to Roz Williamson for arranging a meeting at very short notice with Welsh Assembly officials at the very beginning of our journey.

Together we have all made a difference in getting this Bill on the Statute Book.

Together we will make a difference to carers' lives if we continue to work in partnership and ensure that we breathe life into the Act and implement it fully everywhere. And I look forward to working with Carers Wales, Carers UK, Crossroads Wales and the Wales Carers Alliance to make this happen. Next Wednesday I will be speaking in Belfast to spread the gospel there.

And there are many other challenges. I am particularly concerned about issues around palliative care. And I would be happy to come next year to talk about that.

Diolch yn fawr am eich cefnogaeth, eich croeso ac am wrando mor astud.

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