Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey writes:
Coronavirus teaches many lessons. For me, one stands out: the importance of caring and carers – in care homes, supporting vulnerable people at home and millions of unpaid carers looking after loved ones.
People who’ve never appreciated how the NHS and care sector needed to work more closely together have seen that all too clearly, with the tragedy of COVID care home deaths.
As someone who’s a carer now, after being a carer in my teenage years, the need for our society to value caring and carers properly has always been a personal driver.
My young carer experience began when I was 12. My Dad had died when I was four, so when Mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer, my brothers and I nursed her at home for three years.
From looking after her personal care needs to cooking her food, from administering morphine for her pain to talking with her for hours, we were left to it, albeit thankfully with the help of family and neighbours. Still today too many young carers bear the burden alone, isolating them and affecting their education and life chances.
Of course, people can end up with caring responsibilities at any age. Most unpaid carers are adult women, and people from our black and ethnic minority communities are disproportionately employed as carers on low incomes: issues of equality are firmly bound up with the caring revolution we need.
A caring revolution isn’t only the right campaign, it’s smart politics too. Carers UK estimate there were around 9 million carers in the UK pre-COVID, and that as many as 4 million more people have become carers during the pandemic.
So I’m determined Liberal Democrats offer far more to this huge group. I’m starting today by introducing a new Bill in the Commons to secure more flexible employment rights for carers, alongside my five-point plan for carers:
- Employers would have to make reasonable adjustments for carers - helping carers who wish to work to combine a job with caring
- Carers Allowance would be boosted immediately to £75 a week - a 12% increase
- The amount carers can earn before losing out on Carers Allowance would rise from £128 a week to £160 a week
- Young carers would receive free travel on all public transport
- Carers would be made a protected characteristic in the Equality Act - securing equal rights and protections for carers in the workplace and beyond
This would be only the start: we must build a caring society to stand the test of time.
My 12-year-old son John has an undiagnosed neurological condition, meaning he can’t walk or talk properly. He needs care 24/7. As his condition isn’t degenerative, he’ll live far longer than my wife Emily or me. Our single greatest worry is how he will be cared for after we’ve gone. Huge numbers of parents live with similar anxieties.
As Liberal Democrats, we must champion a more caring society that rewards the role carers play and face up to caring’s long term challenges.