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Scottish Parliament Speech: Unpaid Carers (June 2009)

See this speech in context on They Work For You.

As R A Butler said: "Politics is the language of priorities". One is always in the position of judging particular commitments. As a carer of two parents who are both now 91, I, too, am committed in this matter. I recognise many of the feelings that Sarah Boyack mentioned. That has come with the particular job that we do.

Earlier today, I was helping organise lobbying for boys who suffer from Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which is a tragic and wasting malady that kills most of its victims before they are out of their youth. Costs of optimal care have been put at £200,000 per patient per year. Obviously, only a fraction of cases will get anywhere near that income, but it gives one a frightening statistic for what would be the full costs of care were it to be priced into the system. As Sarah Boyack said, the contribution of unpaid carers saves the taxpayer an estimated £7.6 billion each year.

Sarah Boyack referred to statistics. Projections suggest that by 2037, there will be 1 million unpaid carers, including the parents of boys who suffer from Duchenne muscular dystrophy and people who look after disabled or elderly friends, neighbours or family members. As she said, the financial, physical and mental strain on unpaid carers is immense. I trust that the Scottish Government's "Strategy for Carers in Scotland" consultation will help to improve the situation - that it will improve the financial support and assistance.

However, it might be worth our while to consider unpaid care within its broader social context. On demographics, we in Scotland are medically, socially and economically a nation that is in need of care. It is not an optimistic outlook. I attend too many meetings that are connected with churches or political and cultural bodies and at which, at 64, I find myself to be at least the average age and sometimes the youngest person in the place. Our committed generation is an old generation - it is a grey-haired generation. Nineteenth century national movements called themselves "Young Ireland", "Young Italy" or even - rather late in the day - "the Young Scots". The welfare economies of western Europe are ageing. Demographics suggest that, by 2037, Scotland will depend on 1 million unpaid carers. The need to involve the younger generations is obvious.

In much of Europe, young people make caring part of their education either by way of a sideways move from national military service or on a voluntary basis. For example, in Germany or Denmark, young people can spend a "social year" - or more than a year - in the community, helping in education, care for disabled people and the elderly, or on environmental conservation projects. In Scotland, such a year would straddle the period between highers and university or school and apprenticeships. I tried to sketch that out in a recent paper for the Scottish Urban Regeneration Forum. Such an approach would act mutually by relieving and supporting unpaid carers, creating social integration and providing competence and training for young people in the period between school and higher education or work. Ideally, young people could accrue some sort of education credit for their first year in higher education or apprenticeship. We could plan things in such a way that caring would become part of education. There is no question but that people who have been through such experiences are more receptive to the idea, and intelligent in making the argument, than those who are deprived of it.

The billions of pounds that such unpaid work would save could flow from our national accounts into the real Scotland, not some ad-man's fantasy of easy money and continuous enjoyment.

 
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