May 30, 2017 : Heather Noller

Links with Europe vital for carer campaigning

Like many working in public affairs, I’m guilty of trotting out lots of statistics to support my organisation’s policy objectives and calls to action.

There are 759,000 unpaid carers in Scotland, and on top of that there are the hidden carers that we can’t measure through the Census. I appreciate the number more than the percentage – it’s 17 per cent of the adult population, which doesn’t seem like a lot. But that’s more than the population of Glasgow and Dundee combined, and it’s difficult to really visualise the sheer scale.

So when, as part of the SCVO delegation to the European Commission earlier this month, we heard about the challenges of coping with an ageing population across Europe, the statistics were even more staggering. Eurocarers estimate there are 100 million unpaid carers in Europe. While it’s difficult to estimate accurately across all member states as there are such differences in formal support structures, this means that across Europe, unpaid carers are by far the largest providers of support to their family and friends.

Additionally, the UK’s paid care workforce comprises thousands of non-UK EU nationals, and at the time of writing their situation remains uncertain which will place even greater pressures on an already strained system. Social care workers and unpaid carers rely on each other, and when the sheer numbers of people involved are presented, it’s easy to see why proper investment in both these groups is vital but also a daunting prospect.

Scotland is a European leader when it comes to carer support, with recognition and rights for carers a key part of the policy and legislative landscape for many years.  However, the country’s own demographic change and ageing population means that the pressure on unpaid carers remains. Unpaid care is recognised as central to the sustainability of health and long term care systems, and as such it requires decent resourcing to help carers maintain their own health and wellbeing. Announcements like that made earlier this month in the Conservatives’ 2017 Election Manifesto, offering people up to a year’s unpaid leave to provide care, don’t help to truly tackle the complex issues around health and social care service provision. As demographic change increases demand, the ‘balance of care’ can increasingly shift to informal and unpaid care. Women are disproportionately affected and are more likely to give up employment to care.

There is a lot of value in information-sharing. Carers Trust Scotland and the Scottish Young Carers Services Alliance are partners in EPYC, a pan-European project that is developing a new tool for professionals and others to assess the impact of a caring role on a young person. Learning from and sharing our knowledge with our European friends is leading to real innovation when it comes to supporting carers of all ages, and these discussions and summits always reinforce the message that caring has no borders. The 2nd International Young Carers’ Conference is taking place in Malmö this week (29-31 May), which aims to strengthen collaborative policy-making and practice development, and we’re pleased to say that Carers Trust’s campaigning work on supporting young adult carers is being showcased here.

Retaining links with other European countries is vital for us to continue campaigning for carers, valuing their contribution and ensuring that support is available for those who need it.

Important: Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own and don't represent those of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.

by Heather Noller