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Geoff Hinkins

No shortcuts to finding out how best to support carers

It’s Carers Week 2019. Through our work with local authorities across the UK we know that councils are acutely aware of the vital role of carers, and the challenges they face. According to the NHS, there are around 5.4 million carers in the UK, with 58% providing care for more than 35 hours each week – the equivalent of a full-time job. CarersUK puts the number of carers at even higher.

Most people want to stay living as independently as possible in their own home as long as they can. For that to happen, it is essential to ensure that carers have access to support when needed so that they are able to maintain their role. Councils we work with regularly ask us what works in terms of support for carers – and which authorities are getting it right.

In response to a request from one client, we recently looked at research (including the most recently published Survey of Adult Carers in England, and the Adult Social Care Activity and Finance Report) to try and build up a national picture of support for carers. This was easier said than done, for three reasons:

  1. It’s difficult to understand what each council is doing for carers and how much they are spending. Councils can categorise spending on support for carers in a number of different ways. Reported spend on support for carers varies between councils from zero to £138,000 per 10,000 population across England and Wales.
  2. Spending more doesn’t guarantee a bigger impact. There appears to be no correlation between the amount a council spends on dedicated support for carers and the experience of carers in their area. Carers in high spending areas didn’t report greater levels of satisfaction with the support they received; and were no more likely to report that they were looking after themselves. Some councils spend high amounts whilst achieving significantly below average outcomes.
  3. There is a lack of national research on what works in support for carers. There are numerous case studies, some evaluations of individual projects, but very little empirical evidence that councils can use to be confident that a specific intervention is worth adopting.

This suggests that how councils spend money on carers services is at least as important as the amount they spend. Some councils appear to be making a great impact without spending significant sums on dedicated support for carers. Many of the most important things councils can do cost nothing. This includes ensuring all staff are having conversations with carers that are about their own life, and connecting them to support available in their community.

Every community is different, and what works in one area might fail completely in the county next door. There are no shortcuts to understanding what will work in your locality. Use your carers’ survey results to understand what is working in your area and where there are areas for improvement; then remind your staff to keep having regular conversations with carers and share their stories regularly. Only then will you begin to understand what carers in your area are looking for.

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