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11 August 2008

Caring for the vulnerable

Over-reliance on family members can seriously weaken the very relationships we are going to need. Pl

By Jane Campbell

Our approach to care today is little more than a safety net, providing limited protection from the worst excesses of neglect, hunger, abuse, isolation and physical and mental pressures.

The best way to modernise public service care and support is to adopt an approach based on promoting equality and human rights. Then and then only would we guarantee the essential freedoms we want for everybody.

Many have concluded that publicly funded support is an unaffordable option in our ageing society, focusing instead on expanding the family’s role. But I would question whether the projected three million extra unpaid carers is economically or socially sustainable.

If we value our families and private lives as essential freedoms, we might arrive at very different decisions about the best balance of responsibilities between the individual, family and state.

As someone with a disability myself, I know that if my personal assistants go off sick and I have to rely on my husband for the support they provide, the main service we very quickly require is Relate counseling! Over-reliance on family members can seriously weaken the very family relationships we are going to need. People require support to maintain strong family life.

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The need for support is too often a trigger for the individual or a family member – more often than not women – to leave paid employment, bringing avoidable hardship. Families should be eligible for support, which optimises their collective opportunities for paid employment and mitigates the risk of poverty, including by extending working lives.

Progressive employers are already beginning to ask whether choosing to rely on unpaid care over developing our public services is in the best interests of productivity and growth.

There has been a number of recent disturbing cases of men with learning disabilities being targeted, tortured and murdered. Kevin Davies from Gloucestershire and Steven Hoskin from Cornwall died at the hands of people who had variously subjected them to physical and mental torture, beatings and confinement. In a number of such cases, the attackers had engaged in a lengthy period of ‘grooming’, exploiting the vulnerable situation in which these disabled people led their lives, isolated and largely unsupported, by becoming their ‘friends’.

Independent advocacy would help people with learning disabilities make better decisions about the people they befriend, so promoting their security without compromising their freedom to live in the community.

Currently those receiving a care package cannot transfer that package to another local authority area should they for example wish to move to take up a job offer or to be near the informal support of family members. We should finally free people from the long shadow of the Poor Law, allowing the ‘portability’ of care and support from one area to another to give those who require support the freedom of movement they do not currently enjoy.

Equality and human rights provides the best framework for creating a system which allocates and is seen to allocate resources fairly, and in the best interests of individuals, families and communities as we meet the challenges ahead.

Baroness Jane Campbell is Commissioner of the Equality and Human Rights Commission

For more information on care and support click here

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