A few months ago, I wrote to older people in Bishop Auckland, Shildon, Spennymoor and Barnard Castle to ask for their views and experiences with adult social care locally.
Shortly after I asked for your views on social care, my father was taken ill. His is 93 and was sent to hospital, followed by a local nursing home for a few weeks – so I saw for myself how the social care system operates for older people.
The people who do this work are amazing, but what I saw reinforced the need to invest in social care. We need to reverse cuts and improve the coordination between GPs and carers. What really came home to me is that at the moment there is no system for them them to talk to each other, so the family has to coordinate. I am worried about what happens to older people with no relatives nearby, and is an issue I intend to look into further.
Who responded to the survey?
I received 78 written responses. Of these, 43 said that they did not currently receive any social care, 4 privately funded their care, and 7 said they received care funded by Durham County Council.
I also asked if anyone was a carer: 5 replied that they were, with another 15 saying they had informal caring responsibilities for someone.
A lot of the responses highlighted funding for social care, the accessibility of support services, and the consistency of care across different areas of the constituency.
Some wrote that they were concerned about saving for their future care packages and home adaptations, while others talked about the emotional strain of caring for parents and grandchildren.
One respondent wrote to share the challenges facing care workers, and how these strains affected the person being cared for. While they acknowledged that paid carers were very hard working, often going ‘above and beyond’ for their clients, they have been put under unfair pressure from their employers or agencies and weren’t being given the time they needed to look after people.
Probably as a result of these pressures, a few people mentioned that there was a lack of social interaction from their carers. The full timetables of care staff meant that some respondents were being helped out of bed or assisted with meals at times of day that didn’t match their established routines, which could be stressful.
Outside of social care provision, some other concerns were raised in the survey responses. These included the availability of public transport and the Conservative cuts which jeopardises the free TV licence for people aged 75 and over. These are all very important issues, and I will be working hard to speak up about them in Parliament.
Many of the issues mentioned here can be traced back to a basic lack of funding for local authorities. Since 2010 both the Coalition Government and the current Conservative Government have reduced funding for local authorities by an estimated 49.1% in real terms, meaning that despite some funding protections for social care, there is less money to go around. In real terms, local authority spending on social care in England was reduced from £16.1bn down to £15.4bn, which is quite significant.
As your MP, I have actively challenged these cuts, along with my colleagues in the Labour Party. Thanks to your survey responses, I now have a list of specific experiences that I can use in future debates.
In terms of practical support, my constituency office is a great place to start if you’re not sure where to turn for help with a specific problem. My team are very knowledgeable and will do their best to point you in the right direction. Please just give us a call to talk things through, or book in at my next surgery if you would prefer to discuss things in person.
In County Durham, there are a lot of specialist support organisations, and lots of these were praised in the survey. Some people said that while this range of support was very good, it was difficult to find information about what was available, who to contact for help, or which organisations worked in a particular locality.
Earlier this year, I hosted an information event for older people, inviting a range of great organisations to talk about the work they do. A list of organisations, including videos and links to further information is available here.
If you are caring for someone and would like some additional information and support, Durham County Carers Support is a great place to start. They can help with anything from advice to benefit checks (to make sure you are getting everything you are entitled to), carers breaks, training and counselling.
Share Your Views
I’m still running an online survey for constituents to share their views on lots of different issues. You can add your views, share your priority areas, and let me know how I can best represent you in Parliament. Just fill in this quick survey. It only takes 10 minutes.