|Raising Your Voice|
Caring Matters caught up with part of the dedicated Reps group to find the answers. "You can see change taking place", they tell CM. "You can put you frustrations to good use, meet other Carers with similar and different problems. You meet some amazing people."
Deborah Livingstone, Daphne Sanderson, Tony Burton, Brenda Barton and Sue Russell are Carer Reps, in the fullest sense of the words - Carers first in their own lives but also volunteer Representatives of other Carers, giving their time and energy to further the cause of Carers in Gloucestershire...
What is a Carer Rep?
(Sue) Carer reps are in place to represent Gloucestershire's many Carers. They are nominated by other Carers and sit on statutory and voluntary Committees to ensure that a true Carer perspective is fed into various discussions on services.
(Deborah) I meet with Carers and listen to their opinions; Carers also phone me if they have any concerns or if they want information. I try to keep up to date on Carers issues and I attend lots of meetings to put forward the Carers' point of view. I am available for Carers to talk to me, whether that is at Carers' Forums, Parent Carers Council, Carers Gloucestershire or just walking down the street.
(Daphne) A Carer representative is mandated by other Carers to become a spokesperson for many Carers. They not only speak to their own specialist experience of Caring but to the priorities of the Carer movement agenda
Why do Carers need a voice? And what do they say?
(Tony) Carers need a voice so that local service providers take notice. Also, we need to contribute to national issues.
(Deborah) I don't think Carers in Gloucestershire differ greatly from Carers elsewhere in the country but it is important they have a voice so they are recognised and respected for the invaluable service they provide. By having their voice heard Carers can improve services and be empowered.
(Brenda) Due to the pressure on most Carers, it's not always possible for them to attend meetings and forums. We can help express how they feel about Carers Allowance, lack of respite care, lack of clarity on benefit entitlement... the list is too long!
What have the Carer Reps achieved?
(Sue) I think Carers have a higher profile amongst the NHS Trusts within Gloucestershire and Gloucestershire Social Services, and Carers issues are now included in many policy documents.
(Brenda) I believe the Reps have helped achieve a more ‘involved' role for Carers within local services; having a presence in recruitment of staff, consultation with service providers and influencing the setting up of the Emergency Card Scheme.
(Deborah) I have seen a lot of changes since I became a Carer Rep. Carers have a stronger collective voice and there is broader representation across the county; an example is that there are a lot more parents involved in Commissioning services and in training Social Workers.
(Daphne) And we have been involved with appointment committees of Senior NHS Managers & Care Workers. This was unheard of in the past. This has resulted in a more Carer aware service.
(Deborah) I think the Reps have helped increase awareness about Carers and their concerns. However on a more mundane level, being a Rep is about being in the right place at the right time when a Carer needs some information, support or just someone to listen.
What would happen if there were no Reps?
(Tony) Improvements would take longer, if at all - and gains made might be lost if we are not organised to resist!
(Daphne) Nothing would ever change. People would not know or care about us.
(Sue) I think recognition of Carers locally would decrease and there would be very little Carer input on the various committees of the statutory bodies in Gloucestershire...
(Deborah) ...Which would be terrible. There would be much less laughter and a lot of Carers would feel far more isolated, those at breaking point would have no-one to turn to, accessing information would be much more difficult, Carers views would not be so representative (those who can shout loudest would be heard), and there would be less unity and therefore less strength in trying to improve Carers' lives.
Why should someone reading this consider becoming a Rep?
(Brenda) There's always room for new ideas, new skills and a fresh pair of eyes - including the need for more ‘physical bodies' around the County...
(Deborah) It is really rewarding, you can help change the system and Carers' lives for the better, you learn a lot, professionals respect your opinions and request your views, you work with wonderful people and it is fun.
(Sue) It's about being part of a group with a collective voice to influence services and help other Carers.
(Deborah) And about empowering people; enabling Carers to access information and services is fulfilling, developing services which are responsive to need is worthwhile, networking and supporting each other feels good.
What's the One Big Thing you want to see for Carers?
(Sue) To reach out to all those individuals who may not recognise themselves as Carers and offer support.
(Tony) Recognition of Carers as ‘Experts by Experience', to be really listened to by those who think they know what's best for us, either on a personal level or as a group.
(Deborah) I would like to see clear and transparent decision making, with professionals held accountable for their attitudes and inaptitude as well as their actions. Workers who see themselves as gatekeepers to essential services and support, that Carers depend on, should be outlawed.
(Daphne) And every Carer should have an equal opportunity of recognition as a Carer and a right to all the information, whether rich or poor.
(Brenda) The bottom line is we want full recognition for the valuable service we provide as unpaid Carers and a more realistic ‘wage' for the long hours we spend caring, saving the government millions of pounds a year.
At Carers Gloucestershire, we would like to extend a heart-felt ‘thank you' to all the Carer Representatives and members of the Parent Carers Council who give their time to help the cause of Carers in Gloucestershire. We will continue to support and help facilitate their work and the Reps would not only like to hear from you, the Carer, about your concerns and issues but would be very happy to talk to you about the role of the Reps and how you can get involved.
If you have any issues you want them to take up talk to them at the Carers Forum or contact Kellie Beresford at Carers Gloucestershire who will pass the information on to them (01452 872248).
"Being a Rep is about being in the right place at the right time when a Carer needs some information, support or just someone to listen."