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With it being Carers' Week, now's a good time to reflect on the landmark changes to adult social care with the introduction of the Care Act 2014 and the challenges that remain amidst an ageing population. 

Following the most unpredictable Election result in recent years, the new government plans to increase support for full time unpaid carers, as outlined in the Conservative Party manifesto. 

As Carers UK points out in its State of Caring report published on 19 May 2015, drawing on the responses from 5,000 carers, the number of carers requiring assistance is growing immensely. In fact, the volume of older people requiring care and support is expected to surpass the number of working age family members able to provide care as early as 2017.

The proportion of people caring for somebody 24/7 is growing tremendously; in ten years there has been a 25% increase in the number of carers providing over 50 hours a week of unpaid care.

It is fully expected that new rights for carers in the Care Act 2014, will make it easier for carers to access the essential help and support they need. However, with the respondents to the Carers UK survey reportedly saying that they are worried about the impact of cuts to care and support services over the next year, there’s still a fair amount of scepticism.

Coupled with this, there are 6.5 million carers in the UK and 1.5 million are over the age of 60. According to the organisation, Independent Age, there are over 6,000 people a day taking on new caring responsibilities. 

It’s hoped that the new rights under the Care Act 2014 will see carers and the people they care for have a clear right to an assessment of their needs regardless of their income or their financial situation. This will also apply to parents of disabled children. 

Crucially, the assessment looks at how caring affects the lives of carers themselves - including physical, mental and emotional needs and if they are willing and able to continue caring. 

The social worker carrying out the assessment is expected to talk to carers about whether they are able to:

  • take care of any children they need to look after, alongside their caring role
  • take care of any other adults they have caring responsibilities for 
  • keep their home clean and safe 
  • do all the shopping and prepare enough meals for themselves and their family
  • have enough contact with other friends and family 
  • work, volunteer, learn or do any training that they would like to do
  • find the time to use local services, such as the gym - spend time doing things they enjoy

The principle of wellbeing is the driving force behind the new legislation, but what are the implications for social workers? The new obligation to assess the needs of carers, as well as the person being cared for, will create an increase in workload. Under the direction of the Act, the carer’s assessment can be carried out separately from the individual being cared for, or if they agree, both assessments can be carried out during the same visit.

It is hoped that early intervention will become a mantra in adult social care, as it is in children’s social care. The aim is to provide the right help sooner for those who are able to be more independent, with a focus on improving their wellbeing and that of those caring for them. The College of Social Work, in their Care Act 2014 guide, notes that the Act creates ‘the flexibility for the assessment process to judge whether in any given situation, support is best offered direct to the carer, or by increasing the care and support to the individual, or a combination of the two’. 

Of course, local authorities will now be expected to ensure that teams such as health and social care are working much more closely together to meet the needs of vulnerable adults and their carers. After all, there will be some instances where a social worker’s and health professional’s knowledge and experience at resolving complex and possibly competing interests of the carer and the person being cared for, will be required.  

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