This Carers Week, carer organisations across the UK are calling on their respective governments to support a Recovery and Respite plan for Unpaid Carers – outlining additional support for carers across a range of areas, including breaks and respite care. We welcome this focus on breaks from caring for both carers and those they care for, who have suffered immense hardship due to COVID and the suspension of many of these vital services.
Drawing on the experience of carers leading up to and during COVID, the 2021 Independent Review of Adult Social Care in Scotland (IRASC) recommended that carers should be given a new ‘right to respite’, and that a range of options for short breaks should be developed to address gaps in provision and to cater for growing levels of need. This recommendation was welcomed by carers as positive recognition of their contribution to society, particularly over these difficult few years. For us at Shared Care Scotland this new right is potentially a significant step towards our vision of a Scotland where everyone who receives or provides unpaid care has access to the regular, meaningful breaks from caring that support their health and wellbeing. However, we have concerns.
Although the Scottish Government consultation on the new National Care Service (NCS) included the establishment of a right to have breaks from caring, the lack of detail on the IRASC recommendation for development of a range of break options was a concerning omission. If the new right to a break is to be effective and deliver the improvements expected, we believe there is an urgent need to consider the current availability, viability, and variety of short breaks provision across Scotland. After all, ’what carers have told us repeatedly is, ‘We can’t access what doesn’t exist.
We know that many short break providers are facing major challenges in being able to continue to provide viable services in the face of rising costs, staffing shortages and a very uncertain funding environment. And while Self-directed Support has gone some way to giving carers more choice and control over short breaks, the reality for many is that this choice is rather illusionary with extremely limited or no suitable provision available, or long waiting lists.
The development of short breaks capacity and choice must therefore not be overlooked in local and national strategies, and this needs to be considered well before the establishment of the NCS. Action needs to be taken now to develop strategies that promote a clear vision of the mix and levels of provision that will be needed in the future, and what actions will be taken to achieve this. As a matter of urgency, we need to address the lack of what is often regarded as more expensive or difficult options such as overnight or weekend respite, and holiday provision for disabled children and young people, particularly for those with more complex support needs.
Furthermore, we must not lose sight of the fact that a lack of a legal entitlement or availability are not the only reasons that carers have been unable to access the breaks from caring: lack of information and support, excessive bureaucracy, lengthy decision-making, and in some cases, carers even being discouraged from seeking statutory support, are all further obstacles in the way of carers getting the breaks they deserve.
Shortly, Scottish Government will set out in draft legislation how a new right to a break will be implemented and who will be responsible for making it happen. Collectively, we must ensure that as this legislation goes forward it is shaped and informed by carers, and that the new right is not then undermined by a lack of investment in developing short breaks capacity, or through a lack of effort to address these other obstacles. We must also engage effectively with those responsible for developing the NCS. This new body will play a key role in how care and support services, including short breaks, are planned, resourced and delivered in the future.
We look forward to unpaid carers having a new legal ‘right to a break’ but we must now make sure this becomes an effective and meaningful right that is implemented consistently and delivers a measurable improvement for carers and those they care for.
Shared Care Scotland
8 June 2022