Unpaid carers make a vital contribution to ensuring that people throughout Scotland get the care they need.
The COVID-19 pandemic created significant difficulties and hardships for many carers. When support services closed or reduced capacity as part of the first lockdown in March 2020, carers stepped into the gap to support vulnerable friends and family members. For many people, this was never planned, but was utterly essential. The number of people providing care increased and many existing carers took on more intensive caring roles, while also losing the opportunity to take breaks from caring.
To add to this, Scotland is now facing the most severe economic upheaval in a generation with the current cost crisis, which is putting livelihoods, and lives, at risk. It is a humanitarian emergency, and as with the pandemic, carers are being affected disproportionately.
Many carers are standing up to draw attention to the challenges they are facing. We know from their eloquent and passionate testimonies that many of the effects of the pandemic are still being felt even while the burden of the cost crisis affects almost every aspect of life. The stories carers tell are varied and unique to their own situation, but they share many similarities. Too often they involve a struggle to get the right support, with carers themselves often having to navigate complex services that do not always seem to work together.
We know from listening to carers that they must take on these challenges while working, attending education and trying to lead their own lives. We know that sometimes their own aspirations are sidelined because they do not get the support they need. Most importantly, they must do all this while continuing to care for their loved ones. If there is one constant in all of the experiences carers share, it is their commitment to provide the best possible care, regardless of the obstacles they face. When carers talk about their lives, their focus is always on the person for whom they are caring.
Carers should not have to fight to ensure their loved ones get the support they need, they should not be required to put their own ambitions on hold and they should not have to campaign to demand basic services.
The pressures of the past two years have left many carers at breaking point. Many are now in acute need of support to alleviate their caring roles, enable them to have breaks, support their own mental health and reduce isolation. More than ever, the contribution made by unpaid carers has to be recognised and steps taken to address the problems caused by the pandemic as well as the long-term, systemic issues that continue to affect unpaid carers.
It is with the lived experience of carers in mind that this strategy has been developed, and its implementation will be shaped by those who best understand the experience of being a carer.
For individual carers, the practicalities of our health and social care, education, housing, transport, social security and employment systems shape the intensity and experience of caring and their ability to balance caring with satisfying lives beyond caring.
Now is the time to set out a fresh vision for how we enable people to provide care for loved ones in a meaningful and sustainable way while still being able to work, attend education and have full lives away from caring. This strategy sets out a comprehensive range of actions to address five different aspects of unpaid carer support. It includes existing initiatives as well as new proposals, but the key is that we take a strategic approach to supporting carers, ensuring that their experience as carers is reflected in all of the services they use.
We want Scotland to be a place where all carers are recognised and valued for the contribution they make, where they are enabled to provide the right support for the people they care for while living full, rounded lives. No-one should need to put their aspirations and ambitions on hold because they are providing care to a loved one.
There are several key principles that must be central to our approach. We must make sure that providing care does not mean that someone needs to give up their job or reduce their hours, that it does not plunge them into financial hardship or social exclusion. All carers must be seen as equal partners in care, and involved in decisions relating to their caring role. We must ensure that the importance of unpaid care is recognised and that its value is acknowledged and respected, by the public sector, employers and by society. As part of this strategy, we will work with local carer centres and young carer services who play an integral role in helping unpaid carers access help and support, including raising awareness of carers' rights, helping people to recognise themselves as carers and to destigmatise the term.
Unpaid carers are now, and will remain, fundamental to building strong families and partnerships and resilient and cohesive communities. We have a shared responsibility to support carers, to raise the profile and value of care and to work in partnership with everyone who has a responsibility to carers to ensure that carers receive the support they rightly deserve.
Kevin Stewart MSP
Minister for Mental Wellbeing and Social Care
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