More than 5 million people in England work as unpaid carers for a friend or family member. This is according to the NHS and compiled from figures which are nearly ten years old. The real number of carers is growing and it’s thought to have already reached 7 million across the UK.
Society owes carers its gratitude for the many sacrifices they make in their lives. Some are children who are having to make grown-up choices about their own education and future because they have to look after disabled parents or others who depend on their support.
All this care has a financial value which is estimated to be somewhere in the region of £120 billion per year. Carers are clearly people to be proud of, but many are arguably being forced into a position where they are doing jobs that ought to be provided by the state.
The UK appears to be taking on the mantle of a ‘Justgiving’ group of nations. It’s not just carers who are plugging gaping holes left open by the government. There has been a pattern developing in which injustices and inequalities become evident only for the government to dismiss them before doing a U-turn when public pressure becomes too much to bear.
The row over school meals is a good example of this. Firstly, the government rejected the call from Man’ United star, Marcus Rashford, for free lunches to carry on during the holidays. By the end of the autumn, his petition to end child poverty had a tally of over one million.
But it wasn’t only signatures which formed the response to Marcus Rashford’s call to level up the playing field when it comes to keeping children fed. Food outlets stepped in and rescued families battling to feed their kids during the autumn half-term. Even fast-food giant McDonalds got involved by donating a million free meals to poorer families.
This flood of kindness made the government’s stance appear even more mean-spirited, particularly because, at almost the same time, it promised extra billions to the Ministry of Defence.
And so, in another about-turn, the government agreed to give over £400m to support poor children and their families in England. This included a £16m cash boost to the country's food banks.
Although often forced to change tack when caught out by public kindness, the government has ministers who are more than willing to walk all over honourable people who block their agenda. The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, took umbrage at some she sneeringly referred to as ‘do-gooders’ and ‘lefty lawyers.’
These are actually people who do their best to legitimately look after the interests of asylum seekers, some of the most vulnerable in society. And, yet Ms Patel tried to abuse them, declaring they were united with people-traffickers in their willingness to prevent reform of the country’s ‘broken’ asylum system.
The Prime Minister backed her up but both faced the contempt of a string of respected politicians, judges and lawyers who demanded they apologise.
It was around about the same time that a Cabinet Office inquiry made its damning indictment of the Home Secretary. “Her approach on occasions has amounted to behaviour that can be described as bullying in terms of the impact felt by individuals,” it concluded.
Let’s not forget that five times more asylum seekers lost their lives in UK detention centres this year compared to those who died crossing the English channel. It’s a stark statistic and makes one question how safe these migrants are after getting to our shores only to find themselves in ‘the care’ of the authorities.
Captain Tom Moore, the hundred-year-old World War Two veteran, has stood out as another beacon of all that is good in humanity. He raised millions of pounds for NHS Charities Together during the pandemic. His astonishing achievement contrasts sharply with a string of moves taken by the government which it has then had to go back on.
Take the example of international migrant health workers and an NHS surcharge. Following resistance from MPs, Boris Johnson suddenly decided these highly valuable workers didn’t need to pay the extra fees after all. Tory peers and some of his own MPs had described the initial policy as being “mean-spirited and immoral.”
The UK has had to put with a whole host of U-turns and fiascos from the algorithms used in A’ level results to the debacle over paid parking for NHS hospital staff.
Whenever you pick up a paper, it seems there’s yet more news about further cuts in social care. Almost a quarter of a million older people, who were receiving social care pre-COVID, claim their support has been stripped back or cut completely, according to Age UK.
The charity Mencap says nearly 90 percent of those with a learning disability have had their care packages taken away during the pandemic. Tens of thousands of family carers say they’ve had no other option but to ratchet up the amount of care they can provide themselves. A lot of them say they’ve got to breaking point.
While all this is going on, the government would try and have us believe that the Coronavirus Act has actually been improving access to care. It seems very pleased to hand out honours to people who have flagged up its own failures at the same time.
It’s a fact that the UK may be one of the most charitable nations on the planet. There is a real risk that not only is the generosity of the population unappreciated, but also that famous personalities sense that they have no alternative other than to pile the pressure on reluctant politicians so that the state pays for services it should have been offering from the outset.