One year on from the Care Act, how are unpaid carers faring?

A woman in a wheelchair shares a lighter moment with her companion at RHS Wisley in Surrey. Photograph Gareth Williams on Flickr
A woman in a wheelchair shares a lighter moment with her companion at RHS Wisley in Surrey. Photograph © Gareth Williams on Flickr

Is the law working? Vicky Peace assesses the practical impact of this critical legislation

It’s a year since key parts of the Care Act 2014 came into force. A number of our research projects are bound up with the act and this critical area of policy.

We thought it was a good time to assess its impact on the army of unpaid carers, share lessons we’ve learned, and identify areas where the new legislation could work harder.

What the Care Act hoped to achieve

An unpaid adult carer is someone over the age of 18 who provides care by looking after an ill, older or disabled family member, friend or partner. It could be a few hours a week or round the clock.

The Care Act 2014 is made up of five main parts. This article blog focuses on the legislation in Part 1 – Care and Support. Age UK sum up the main parts well here.

Why is it so important?

Legal support
Previously carers weren’t legally entitled to receive any support. So the support varied depending on the area you lived in.

Strengthen carers’ rights
For unpaid adult carers, the Care Act intended to strengthen the rights of carers by setting out carers’ legal rights to assessment and support.

Information and support
Local authorities now have a legal obligation to provide information and support to people in unpaid carer roles, in order to receive this help. Councils must undertake Carer’s Assessments.

In this way the Care Act aimed to recognise the rights of those who take on caring responsibilities (in excess of 6.5 million people) and also provide some consistency in the support the receive as part of their role.

What is working well

Since 2014, we have undertaken six research projects connected to the Care Act and its impact on unpaid carers.

We have conducted qualitative research with unpaid carers in the Eastern and London regions, and quantitative research across the UK.

The main positives we have found are:

  • The Care Act is taking us in the right direction, in that carers’ rights are being recognised
  • Some receive carer’s allowance to help financially
  • Some have had positive experiences using advocates
  • Charities are promoting the Care Act
  • Councils have information on their websites about what the Care Act entails
  • Councils provide literature such as leaflets and booklets about different aspects of the Care Act.

Room for improvement

Our research also identified key areas where the Care Act was falling short.

  • The numbers of carers undergoing carers assessments are low
  • It can be difficult to find information and advice as a carer
  • Support groups are important for unpaid carers, enabling them to concentrate on their own needs for a couple of hours. Yet they remain few and far between (particularly for carers of people with mental health conditions). We found many carers didn’t know about them. If they did they often have to travel fair distances to attend, and caring duties often meant they missed sessions
  • Some carers said the assessment process is too arduous and this puts them off
  • Others would like it to be called a carer’s needs assessment, so there is no feeling that the carers themselves are being assessed
  • There is a lack of consistency across local authority areas
  • The wait for the outcome of assessments is too long
  • There is a perceived lack of support for people caring for someone with a mental illness, particularly if their loved one does not have a diagnosis
  • In light of budget cuts, carers find it difficult to see how councils can meet the obligations set out in the Care Act.

Carers UK published their research into the Care Act this month; here you can read about what they found out.

What should happen next

From our in-depth research with carers and others, we have identified three key ways to ensure the policy ultimately achieves its aims.

1. Raise awareness about carers
People caring for a loved one don’t always refer to themselves as carers, or even consider themselves to be one. You might not even realise that someone is a carer, a role that often comes on top of running a family and holding down a job.

2. Improve communications
It’s crucial that any rights carers do have are communicated with them unambiguously. Support groups and charities promote the available help, and they must be supported by other relevant agencies. This work is critical if, as more of the Care Act is rolled out in 2016, we are to end confusion about carers’ eligibility for support, make it easy to apply and clarify exactly what carers and their loved ones should expect.

3. Carers need to be provided with the right information
Carers need to know what they may be entitled to. Until there is an obvious point of contact or information source, carers could be suffering unnecessary stress and hardship, detrimentally affecting their own health and mental wellbeing.

As someone who provides care for my mum, who has bi-polar disorder, I know from first-hand experience how important it is for carers to get the information and support they need.

Want to know more?

It’s mental health awareness week this week (May 16-22, 2016) and this year it’s focused on relationships – click here for more information.

Carers Week runs from June 6-12. It is an annual raising awareness campaign to highlight challenges which carers face – click here for more information.

 


  • Vicky is a Research Executive at Qa Research: vicky.peace@qaresearch.co.uk