It’s up to us to lead the way!

Last changed: Monday 7 September, 2015
Gothia Towers
Good morning. It’s Monday and I’m sitting in the airport lounge at Gothenburg waiting for the first part of my trip home. The perfect opportunity to take a little time to reflect on the final day of the conference yesterday and the experience overall. My seminar choice in the morning was on the theme of ‘combining work and care’ with speakers from America, Norway, Australia and the UK. Nothing earth shattering here to be honest, but important nonetheless. Study after study in country after country has proved: • Many carers have to quit work to care • This has a negative impact on their health and financial situation • They need better support services including replacement care at the right time, in the right way, to be able to continue. Certainly nothing I’d disagree with here but I think our own work is probably as advanced, if not more so, and we’re trying to offer solutions through support as well as understand the issues faced. Final plenary was very inspirational. Helena Herklots gave a strong and clear overview of the work and value of Carers UK, including sharing some of their latest findings from the State of Caring report and paying tribute to their founder, Mary Webster, as they celebrate their 50th anniversary this year. Mary died aged just 46 but the organisation she set up has gone from strength to strength. Gail Gibson-Hunt gave some insight into the lives of America’s carers and their numbers are quite staggering; one in four people of working age are carers. Finally, there was the most challenging, moving and inspirational speech from Dr Alex Kalache. He very pertinently pointed out that he is the only person at the conference from the poorer south, coming from Brazil. His poignant words: ‘you are ok in your countries because you got rich before you got old, but in Brazil most people get old before they get rich’. Good health and social care is only available to those who can pay for it. He told two personal stories – one about his 95-year-old mother who is alive and well, although now in need if some support following a fall and hip fracture, and this is bought in by the family, who are not available to care. Then that of his nanny Baba Victoria, who he had lost touch with but managed to track down only to find she passed away as she couldn’t afford to buy in the care and help she needed. A true wake-up call to us all that we, in the developed countries, are lucky. We can juggle work and care in order to earn the money to pay for additional support the state doesn’t provide if we want to or for those who cannot afford it. Our health and social care system doesn’t turn them away because they have no money. He also highlighted the need for men to take on more of the caring role in his country where this had always been a purely female domain. For women to be able to be equal and go to work if they want to the caring responsibilities need to be shared. I think in England we were probably at this stage some ten to 15 years ago and that the balance for us is better but it certainly made me think that if men are to be caring then we also need to ensure they can access the right kind of help and support. In Brazil and Japan, as we heard in one of the seminars, some of this involves practical lessons in cooking and cleaning. In the UK this might not be the case but the emotional help and information is crucial. As Lennart from the Swedish family care competence centre (co hosts for the conference) wrapped up, filtering some closing remarks from John Dunne of Carers Ireland, he was able to make a surprise announcement – the next international conference will be in 2017 in……..Australia! So folks watch this space!! Overall, this has been a truly fabulous, insightful and thought-provoking experience. I’ve met people from around the world who share our passion for improving the lives of carers and have dedicated time and resources to either studying or delivering this help. But for me the key lessons have been that we, in England, are well ahead in our thinking and our delivery. It is up to us now to lead the way, to keep pushing the boundaries, challenging the decision-makers and money men and putting carers’ voices centre stage in our own country and around the world. We must share what we know works and help those who still have an enormous mountain to climb to even achieve the basic levels of care and support for families and carers. I hope my blog, tweets and Face book posts have given you some insight into the scale and breadth of the conference and the knowledge and the challenges ahead. If anyone wants to know more the videos and presentations will all be online and some live streams can already be viewed at Now, homeward bound and please no delays!! I don’t know how much more Swedish coffee my body can take! Anna