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Everywhere and nowhere – the General Election manifestos and carers

Twenty million people, the equivalent of the population of Scotland and the North of England combined, will become carers over the course of the next UK parliament.

People of all ages, backgrounds and political persuasions. Though it will go largely unnoticed, they will have a significant say in who is voted into power next week and ultimately how successful that party is in delivering their proposed plans.

In fact, we calculate 185 seats could be swung by carer voting power alone, which highlights just how much carer votes matter.

This month saw a rush of manifestos (…and one contract), with each party outlining what they would do in Westminster if victorious.

These documents – varying between 28 and 136 pages across the seven key parties – hope to convince, reassure and inspire potential voters that the nation and the critical issues it faces are best placed in their hands.

Often there are questions over whether a party has gone far enough in their ambition, or if what they have proposed is realistic, affordable and costed. So what of the political offers to the 20 million, or indeed the seven million who hold increasingly complex caring responsibilities in the here and now?

Disappointingly, not all parties gave a specific focus to carers, instead choosing to stick to more common territory around the NHS when thinking about the health and wellbeing of the nation.

Meanwhile, social care and welfare were placed squarely in the ‘too difficult’ pile by both main Westminster parties. This will leave many again believing that carers are everywhere but also nowhere in the thinking of our leadership, and I certainly think they could have been bolder and braver.

There are reasons for optimism, however, either for initiatives directly aimed at carers or which could benefit them and those they care for if implemented fully.

At Carers Trust, our election demands fall into three categories – to stop pushing carers to the limit, end carer poverty and provide a fair future for young carers.

So, how do the main party manifestos measure up?

Stop pushing carers to the limit

The Conservatives plan to implement the already enacted cap on social care costs from October 2025, give local authorities a multi-year funding settlement to support social care and take forward the reforms in their “People at the Heart of Care” White Paper.

Labour would begin work on a programme of reform to create a National Care Service.

There was no specific reference to unpaid carers in Labour’s manifesto, but the Fabian Society report, which has heavily influenced Labour thinking and to which Carers Trust is connected, does make lots of references to carers which link closely to Carers Trust’s election calls.

On health, Labour says it would deliver an extra two million NHS operations, scans and appointments.

The Liberal Democrats propose to introduce free personal care for adults based on the model adopted in Scotland.

They would make caring a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 and create a statutory guarantee of regular respite breaks.

This latter point echoes Carers Trust’s call for a ‘right to respite’.  On health, the Liberal Democrats would give everyone the right to see a GP within seven days (24 hours if urgent).

The SNP has committed to increasing investment in public services. It has committed to calling for the reversal of plans to stop international care workers bringing their families with them.

Ending carer poverty

A limited focus on financial hardship has been shaped by political anxiety around the economy and hesitation to increase taxes.

The Conservatives would reform disability benefits so they are better targeted and reflect people’s genuine needs, while Labour is committed to reviewing Universal Credit so that it makes work pay and tackles poverty. It wants to end mass dependence on food parcels.

The Liberal Democrats would increase Carer’s Allowance by £20 a week and expand its eligibility in line with many of the calls we have made as part of the Carer Poverty Coalition – a campaign group of over 130 organisations.

The SNP and Plaid Cymru both highlight an ‘essentials guarantee’ for items such as food, heating and transport costs.

Labour would bring JobCentre Plus and the National Careers Service together, focused on getting people into work and helping them to get on at work.

The Liberal Democrats would empower more people (including carers) to enter the job market through greater use of flexible working. They, along with Plaid Cymru, would also encourage paid carer’s leave.

Commit to fair futures for young carers

The Liberal Democrats would introduce a Young Carers Pupil Premium as part of an ‘education guarantee’ for young carers, which again appears to be a direct response to Carers Trust’s calls to action.

They would tackle persistent absence by working to remove the barriers to attendance and reinstate maintenance grants for disadvantaged students.

The Conservatives would work with schools and local authorities to improve school attendance, including through more mental health support.

Labour would introduce free breakfast clubs in every primary school. It would provide access to specialist mental health professionals in every school.

Plaid Cymru would campaign for universal free school meals to be extended to secondary school.

Ignore carers at your peril

Elections are often about the here and now, and much focus will be on the first 100 days of Government. But there are significant gains to be had by prioritising carers, and huge problems if they are ignored.

As the Fabian Society’s roadmap to a National Care Service warned, by 2035 there will be demand for eight million unpaid carers but only six million will be available.

The potential shortfall in unpaid carers over the next decade is a critical and under-discussed public policy challenge.

A big role for Carers Trust, our network of local carer organisations and those we work with will be to support whoever forms a new government to understand how integral carers are to their ambitions.

An all-ages UK Government Carers Strategy, produced in partnership with carers and funded to meet its objectives is desperately needed to bring these elements together.

A lack of serious and swift intent around social care will require even more from carers already pushed to the limit. Similarly, pressure downwards on immigration and the associated gaps in paid care workers.

Expectations around economic growth would do well to consider the 25% of economically inactive carers, many of whom have no choice because of the demands of their caring role or inflexibility of employment options.

 

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