Caroline Abrahams: Carers need a combination of support to fulfil their vital role – here’s how the Government can play its part

12 Mar

Caroline Abrahams is the Charity Director at Age UK.

In the week during which International Women’s Day falls I want to focus on an experience which, if not quite universal among older women, is extremely common, and that’s of being a carer. By this I mean taking on the role of looking after someone else, typically a partner or parent, on an unpaid basis. Some people are carers over a lifetime for their adult children with learning disabilities, while others, so called “sandwich carers”, find themselves caring both for younger and older relatives at the same time – an onerous responsibility indeed.

I am a carer myself, for my 92-year-old mum, who was fit and well until she had a tragic accident four years ago, robbing her of most of her mental capacity in an instant and making her dependent on others for all activities of daily living. I am now doing the “hardest yards” of caring, helping to care for her as she approaches the very end of her life. Like so many others, my caring role will come to an end when the person I am caring for dies. Then I will have to rebuild my life again.

I didn’t become a carer for my mum from a sense of duty, less still because of exhortations from some policymakers that “families must do more”, but because of a feeling of reciprocity. We have been the best of friends and my mum would have done anything to help me, whatever it took. Therefore, I wished and wish to do the same. It has been an amazing experience, one I took on willingly and with no regrets.

But I would also be the first to say that despite the tragedy that befell my mum I have been immensely fortunate to have been able to make the system work for her and for me, since I knew my way around it owing to my professional role. I have also been able to combine my caring responsibilities with continuing to work, because Age UK has been a marvellously sympathetic and flexible employer. Most people are not nearly so lucky in either respect.

What would most help older women, and men too, who care? Not one thing but a whole raft of measures. Above all a properly funded and effective system of social care would back up what unpaid carers do and make caring a less scary and lonely experience. I am thinking especially here of the legions of older people who care for a partner with dementia; something that is both extremely challenging and also often very isolating for them. Too many are left without the support they need, in the most heart-breaking of circumstances.

As Danny Kruger has observed in his recent report on the future of social care, produced with Demos, many people who need care get it from a combination of informal, unpaid support from family and sometimes friends, plus the input of formal care services. This is important because the debate about the future of social care often erroneously assumes it’s one or the other. This reality, that it’s both, reinforces the importance of formal services wanting and being able to work collaboratively with unpaid carers. From what we hear at Age UK, sometimes this happens but not always.

The same is also true of the local NHS. The vast majority of older people with care needs also have health needs, so if you are a carer for an older person you are highly likely to find yourself interacting extensively with GPs and their teams and district nurses and the like. Some health professionals are great at working with unpaid carers, but it’s not a given.

A more collaborative, properly funded approach between formal services and unpaid carers would also remove a disincentive to informal caring: that is the sadly legitimate fear that if you take on a caring responsibility you will be “dumped on” and formal services will back off, leaving you to it. We hear many examples of this at Age UK and while its wrong that it happens it is scarcely surprising, given that social services are stretched beyond endurance in trying to reach all those in need.

What I have just described is a form of “rationing” by formal services, something that manifestly happens in many other ways within social care too. Access to state-funded help with care is invariably a tortuous process, requiring resilience and staying power – often from the unpaid carer if the person needing care is unable to advocate for themselves, as was the case with my mum. Both NHS continuing healthcare and council care are underfunded and when applying for them it is not unusual to encounter barriers that may or may not seem fair or based in law – with few apparent opportunities to challenge them. This piles huge additional stress onto carers.

The fact is that the decisions about social care, or lack of them, in Whitehall eventually result in unpaid carers as well as the people for whom they are trying to do their best losing out financially as well as in terms of the quality of life they are able to lead while caring. The financial hit on unpaid carers who give up work to care is huge, often condemning older women to penny pinching in retirement. Capping very high care costs would help, but for full-time unpaid carers not enough on its own: the benefits paid for caring must go up too. They are currently below those for the unemployed – a travesty.

Then there’s flexible working. It is invariably in the best interests of a carer to stay in employment, both in terms of their quality of life and their finances. For older women like me, once caring ends you may be unable to get another job, leaving you in a real financial mess if you gave up work to care. The pandemic has seen a sea-change in attitudes towards and experiences of working from home and other forms of flexible working. I would like the Government to solidify this cultural change through amending the law to increase access to flexible working, from day one in a job.

When he entered office the Prime Minister promised to “fix social care” and he has repeated that pledge many times since. I sincerely hope we will see his promise bearing fruit later in the year and, if and when it does, that it fully factors in the need to support our carers, including our older women carers. And I believe most readers of this and other articles on ConHome would say they – we – deserve it.

Adrian Pascu-Tulbure: As the recent US election showed, the minority vote is no longer automatically Democrat

11 Nov

Adrian Pascu-Tulbure is the Director at FTI Consulting.

The President-elect may well come to regret his offhand comment in a radio interview earlier in May, where he joked that “if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black”.

In one sense, he was right: black voters did overwhelmingly vote Democrat. And yet exit poll data shows that Donald Trump doubled his vote among black women. The number of black men who voted for him increased by 25 per cent. More Hispanic American men voted for him this time round; and Hispanic American women, and American Muslims, and white women. The influence of the Cuban vote in Florida has already been the subject of extensive coverage. In an ironic twist, the major demographic shift towards the Democrats came from the much-derided category of white men.

It would be disingenuous to suggest that the GOP has somehow morphed into the party of minorities. But, aside from being the highest Republican share of non-white voters in a presidential election since 1960 (quite the result for someone it’s long been fashionable to dismiss as a white supremacist), these results show that increasingly, the minority vote is no longer automatically Democrat.

The coming months will doubtless see much soul-searching about why the Democrats failed to make electoral inroads into these demographics. Some conclusions will be sensible and some will be ugly: already Twitter is full of depressingly predictable slurs about minorities being bamboozled by anti-socialist propaganda, attracted to the macho idea of the strongman, or desperately trying to assimilate into their new society by voting in a way their white neighbours would approve of.

The answer, I suspect, is simpler. It is that conservative values speak to minority communities in a way that the Left simply does not understand.

You cannot, of course, lump all “minorities” together. There is, for instance, a distinction to be drawn between recent migrants, such as those pesky Cubans and Mexicans that voted the “wrong” way, and communities that have been in America for centuries. And within ethnic groups there are also significant differences in culture, cohesion, and attainment. But there are also important similarities.

When we speak of “communities” this implies a group of people with shared values. And, to a lesser or greater extent, these values include patriotism (both where you originate from, and where you have settled), a belief in the family as the basic building block of society, self-advancement, education, thrift, religion, and a sense that rights also confer responsibilities.

These are, in other words, conservative values. To some they might appear as old-fashioned, even a little embarrassing. One could well make the point that there are many within those communities that have abandoned some (or all) of these values. But to many more, they are instantly recognisable as a decent set of values to live by – and to vote by.

For recent immigrants, the link is even stronger. These are often people who have taken significant personal risk to leave their old life, settle in a new place, start again from the beginning, often in lowly and glamorous jobs, and carve out a better life for themselves and their families. Many know the ugly side of repressive regimes and the evils of an all-powerful State; others have bitter and direct experience of what happens when anarchy is allowed to flourish. They have shown courage and determination to get this far, and want to succeed further. Is this not conservative?

We see much the same debate taking place in the UK. For a long time, the narrative has been allowed to develop that it is only the Left that can help immigrant and minority communities.

This is not just patronising but potentially dangerous. The implications of much of what the Left tells minorities – that we live in an endemically racist society, that we are doomed to underachieve, that we cannot meet our full potential without a great big helping hand – all of this, though often well meant, is grating at best, and at worst risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Tell a person they are second-rate often enough and they will eventually believe you.

It is also intellectually lazy. There are big problems existing in the UK to do with failures of integration, under-achievement in specific communities, genuine racism, ghettoisation, and the fact that a regrettable number of individuals come to the UK to do wrong. I arrived here from Romania with my family almost three decades ago, and, though I’ve been hugely lucky, I can’t claim it’s always been an easy ride.

But these problems cannot be allowed to become the entire story. Because – as in the US – the overwhelming objective, particularly for recent migrants, is to get on, make a success of your life, exercise personal responsibility, and reap the rewards in later years. And that’s what most of us have been trying to do.

There is a rich electoral seam to be explored here. For too long, Labour successfully claimed a monopoly on migrant and ethnic minority votes. Conservatives were smeared as golf-club racists, Little Englanders, or migrant-hating xenophobes. Genuine concerns about immigrant criminality, or the rate at which the UK could absorb new people, were caricatured as simply wanting to send everyone back. And, it has to be said, there was a small but vocal section within the Party whose rhetoric was hardly geared to win over ethnic minority voters.

What Labour excelled at was being offended on our behalf. When I was growing up, for instance, it was a left-wing trope to label The Daily Mail evil for daring to run stories of Romanian pickpockets. And the other Romanians I knew were, like me, furious about those stories: furious, that is, at the disgraceful behaviour of our fellow countrymen.

Beware of generalisations. But there are many, many in the UK, migrants, or the children of migrants, or from established ethnic minority backgrounds, who have a robust, common-sense approach to life that chimes exactly with conservative values.

They don’t want to be patted on the head; they’d far prefer lower taxes. They appreciate law and order being maintained, but distrust the hand of the State intruding too far into their private lives. For them, patriotism isn’t a dirty world, and they have an instinctive understanding of the importance of national sovereignty. They prize academic rigour and aren’t embarrassed by ambition or the pursuit of excellence. They would vigorously reject the notion that rising to the very top – say, by becoming Home Secretary or Chancellor – “isn’t for the likes of you”. They are natural conservatives. But, tragically, too many of them still don’t vote Conservative.

As in the US, there is some evidence of the dial beginning to turn. If upsetting The Guardian is a measure of success, then its article complaining about the “prominence” of British Indians in the Conservative Party is the most back-handed of compliments to the Party’s engagement programme. Similar efforts are gathering results with Jewish communities, which, at the last election, can only have been bolstered by the fact that we were fighting against Jeremy Corbyn.

Elsewhere, however, the “anyone but Tory” narrative still holds sway – and changing that offers an electoral prize well worth the effort. A good start would be a full-blooded programme of measures that incentivise economic growth, help the pursuit of educational excellence, reward aspiration – and challenge, at every opportunity, the toxic narrative that ethnic minorities are in any way second class.

Stephen Booth: The UK’s parallel trade negotiations are of unprecedented ambition

6 Aug

Stephen Booth is Head of the Britain in the World Project at Policy Exchange.

Brexit is necessarily reshaping Britain’s trade relationship with the EU. Meanwhile, the UK is simultaneously trying to ensure continuity of, or build upon, existing trade agreements with non-EU countries, such as Japan, and reach entirely new deals with partners including the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

The UK also intends to accede to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which currently includes 11 countries on the Pacific rim including Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

Predictably, the EU negotiations are set to go down to the wire. Since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister all signs have pointed to a so-called “skinny” free trade agreement (FTA) or none at all. For this Government, Brexit is primarily about establishing sovereign independence, while the EU has sought to underline and assert its role as the dominant regulatory and economic power.

It is no wonder that politics has trumped economics throughout the Brexit process. The EU is a political endeavour pursued by economic means. The €750bn economic recovery plan agreed by EU leaders last month illustrates the extent to which the UK’s preference for confining deeper political and economic integration to the Eurozone faced an uphill struggle had it remained in the bloc. It is impossible to imagine any British government agreeing to such a dramatic expansion of the EU’s financial firepower or the precedent it has set for further moves towards a common EU fiscal policy.

Nevertheless, there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic about a UK-EU deal being reached. The latest negotiating round appeared to mark a breakthrough on governance issues. David Frost’s statement welcomed the EU’s “more pragmatic approach” on the Court of Justice and suggested the UK was ready to consider the EU’s preference for one set of governance arrangements, rather than a suite of separate arrangements.

The remaining sticking points are fishing and state aid. Fishing is not significant in terms of GDP but is politically totemic in the UK and certain EU member states. Therefore, a deal must be left to the last minute. Establishing a “level-playing field” on state aid is proving to be the biggest substantive issue to resolve. The EU is moving away from its request for dynamic alignment and the issue now is what domestic regime the UK will propose.

Negotiations with the US appear to have got off to a good start. However, both sides accept that a deal cannot now be reached until after the US elections in November. Therefore, the most difficult areas, such as agriculture, will not be addressed until later in the year at the earliest.

The most pressing issue Liz Truss, the Trade Secretary, discussed on her trip to Washington earlier this week is the removal of US retaliatory tariffs as part of the ongoing Airbus/Boeing dispute, which sits outside the FTA negotiations. The US has levied tariffs on whisky and further tariffs could be extended to gin and other products if the dispute is not resolved.

The prospect of delay with the US has made UK engagement with the Asia-Pacific countries all the more important and pushed accession to the CPTPP up the agenda. Toshimitsu Motegi, the Japanese Foreign Minister, is in London this week in an attempt to finalise talks on the UK-Japan FTA.

The Japan deal is an important stepping stone towards CPTPP accession, since Japan is the biggest economy within the agreement. The Japan negotiations are working to a condensed timetable because the parties are aiming to ensure a successor to the EU-Japan FTA is in place before the end of the Brexit transition period on January 1, 2021.

The time constraints mean that a UK-Japan deal will be largely modelled on the EU precedent. However, media reports have suggested Japan might be prepared to accelerate tariff cuts for British pork, and Japan is seeking the immediate elimination of car tariffs. The major opportunities for innovation in UK-Japan trade relations is on regulatory cooperation in the services and digital sectors. The FTA can provide the architecture but domestic regulators will need to work together to realise long-term gains.

Another reason why the CPTPP may become increasingly important is that Joe Biden has indicated that he might be prepared to (re-)join the CPTPP if his presidential bid is successful. President Trump pulled out of its previous iteration, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, spearheaded by President Obama. However, this could be a slow process, since Biden’s campaign has also emphasised that his primary focus will be on domestic investment and he has previously suggested he would seek to renegotiate CPTPP if the US were to re-join.

Some have suggested that engaging with the US via the CPTPP rather than bilaterally would defuse some of the thorniest issues, such as agricultural standards on chlorine-washed chicken or hormone-treated beef. However, the reality is that while the optics might be different, the UK will face many of the same substantive trade-offs whoever is president.

The CPTPP rulebook is much closer to the US approach – indeed the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) approach – to regulating agriculture than we have inherited from the EU. Blanket bans on agricultural imports, not supported by scientific evidence, will not only be viewed as a protectionist move by the US but potentially by other members of the CPTPP.

The question of agricultural liberalisation cannot be ducked for much longer. Equally, as we noted in the recent Policy Exchange paper, The art of the UK-US trade deal, the issue need not be as stark as some of the hyperbole has suggested. The starting points should be to promote consumer choice, while ensuring consumer safety. The UK already has the right, under WTO rules, to prohibit the import of unsafe food. Labelling, either via domestic legislation or voluntary certifications, can be used to inform consumers of food production methods.

The UK’s domestic and international policies must also work in tandem. UK tariff liberalisation can be phased in gradually, giving UK producers time to adjust to new trading conditions. This would reflect the gradual introduction of the UK’s Environmental Land Management scheme, replacing the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. Meanwhile, it should also be remembered that agricultural liberalisation is an export opportunity for high quality UK products, particularly beef and lamb.

In today’s world, trade agreements do not merely set tariffs or regulate cross-border investment. For medium-sized powers in particular, they are important building blocks for wider political relationships and alliances. However, in order to unlock these relationships, the UK must be willing to live up to its rhetoric on free trade.

Maria Miller: Domestic abuse can stretch on for a lifetime. So why do we stop recording it after the age of 74?

6 Jul

Maria Miller is a former Culture Secretary, and is MP for Basingstoke.

We know that domestic abuse can affect anyone, of any gender, any ethnicity, whether you are disabled or non-disabled, and whatever your socio-economic background. Though we know it impacts some more than others – women, disabled people, or the LGBTQ community – age, especially older age, is rarely a consideration for decision makers working to protect and support victims and survivors.

We can see this in the fact that data collection on domestic abuse in the Crime Survey for England and Wales stops at the age of 74. Domestic abuse doesn’t go away with age, and older people can be especially vulnerable to different kinds of abuse, including abuse by a carer or financial abuse. But without any statistics for domestic abuse later life, there is a real possibility that older victims and survivors are missing out on vital help, support and protection.

Age UK tells us that, in 2019, 280,000 people aged between 60 to 74 experienced domestic abuse in England and Wales. Even more shockingly, this number has risen by 40 per cent in the last two years alone. Without the numbers on those over the age of 74, many more older people will be suffering in silence without the specialist support they need.

I am immensely proud of my Party for championing the Domestic Abuse Bill, a landmark piece of legislation which will benefit so many. But I do urge Ministers to make one simple change – to start recording data of victims and survivors over the age of 74. This will give us a clearer picture of domestic abuse in England and Wales. It will mean resources and support will be properly allocated, and no victim or survivor of domestic abuse will be disadvantaged purely because they are in later life.

This small change would mean that people like Hilda are able to access specialist services to help them out of the desperate situation they find themselves in. Hilda is in her 80s and has complex care needs due to Parkinson’s and diabetes. One of her daughters has recently moved in to care for her. This is admirable and something many of us wouldn’t think twice about.

However, Hilda’s family are wary of her daughter’s history of controlling behaviour, and have become concerned about her wellbeing in recent months: they fear she is being neglected and don’t know what to do. Hilda seems upset, but is unable to communicate this, since the daughter she lives with is restricting her contact with the rest of the family and insist that they are interfering when they try to help.

Hilda’s story highlights how complex domestic abuse can be, especially when there are issues around caring in later life. Her story also shows the significant barriers in the way of older people leaving abusive situations: the years of abuse they may have suffered; the long-term health conditions or disabilities they have; or their reliance on their abuser for their care or money.

Hilda’s family were able to contact the local safeguarding adults’ team at her local council, who were able to give advice. But there will be many more people out there, many more Hildas, older victims who don’t feel protected by the law and don’t have family to help. They are unrecorded and unable to access the right care and support to help them leave abusive situations.

It is a positive step for the country to be tackling domestic abuse head-on, and right for the Government to be providing more resources for victims and survivors. As the Domestic Abuse Bill passes through Parliament, I urge Ministers to make this one simple change: record victims and survivors over the age of 74. Domestic Abuse has no age limit, and neither should our understanding of it.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 999. National Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 2000 247
Age UK Advice Line: 0800 678 1602