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Joining together as part of the carers movement

20 November 2014

On 13 November 2014 our members joined together for our yearly AGM and Summit, to share experiences, spark debate and talk directly to people who influence the issues affecting carers today.

Summit group 14

 With thanks to Carers UK members Bridget Jones and Matthew Mckenzie, who blogged about their day at the Carers UK AGM and Summit.

VotingOver the years, thousands of Carers UK members have attended our annual AGM and Summit. They come for a range of reasons – to find out more about the work of Carers UK, to share their ideas for future and to debate the issues that matter to carers.

For Matthew Mckenzie, attending this year's Summit was about having the chance to meet other carers – something that is not so easy when so many carers struggle to find time to do things outside their caring responsibilities. He explains:

"If I at least shook a hand of another carer or spoke to a carer than at least I felt I was not alone."

Joining together as the carers movement

Joining together as part of the carers movement is at the heart of our Summit and AGM. It’s an opportunity to remind ourselves that we’re not alone, that there is strength in coming together and to recognise what we can achieve together – as Carers UK members, trustees, volunteers, staff and supporters.

David Grayson took to the stage for the first time as Chairman of Carers UK to report back to members on what the organisation has achieved over the past year and on how things look at the moment for Carers UK. You can read about the highlights in our members’ report 2013/14 or read our full trustees’ report 2013/14.

Chief Executive Heléna Herklots then launched the Summit with a look back to how the carers movement started with one woman – Reverend Mary Webster – who gave up work to care for her parents. Mary brought a private issue out of the shadows and into the public domain, with a courage and determination that encapsulates what we go through every day as carers when we fight for better support and care for the people we love, and change things for the better for all carers.

Heléna looked at how we have focused on our priorities from last year’s Summit, including:

  • expanding our Adviceline from two days a week to five days, meaning we can answer more calls from carers and respond to more letter and emails
  • launching the Carers Scotland self-advocacy toolkit to help carers speak up and challenge decisions (with Wales, Northern Ireland and England versions to follow)
  • launching e-learning courses, including a resilience course for carers, as well as continuing to provide printed resources for people without digital access
  • growing our membership and providing new ways to get involved including online support and friendship
  • using carers’ experiences in our Caring & Family Finances Inquiry – a hard-hitting report on how cuts to benefits and support are affecting many millions

Heléna closed her speech with a personal request for members to get involved and help us make sure that more people are aware of Carers UK and the help, support and understanding we can offer, in our 50th year.

A chance to open up about caring

Our Carers UK Ambassadors and Adviceline volunteers play a crucial role in making sure carers do not feel alone. The Summit featured a panel Q&A with three of our volunteers talking about their experiences of helping carers, whether in their local communities or over the phone. The panel included:

  • Denise Lee, Adviceline Volunteer
  • Rucksana Mahmood, Local Ambassador in Glasgow
  • Caroline Toll, Local Ambassador in Somerset

 Carers UK member Bridget Jones said:

 "A couple of things really resonated with me. Firstly, Caroline’s comments that carers know the person they are caring for better than any professional. I also liked Denise’s comment that carers who ring the Carers UK Adviceline are often surprised to be asked how they are.  So often the focus is on the cared for person and the wellbeing of the carer is forgotten. It was good to hear that carers who call the Adviceline are actually asked about themselves."

In this session the audience got a preview of two new videos.

The first features our Carers UK Ambassadors and is designed to let people know about the support that is available. The second is part of our Open Up campaign, which encourages carers to raise awareness about the reality of looking after someone and to access support and join our movement. You can watch the video and take part in the campaign here.

Next up was award-winning poet Cheryl Moskowitz, who judged the first ever Carers UK creative writing competition. Cheryl read some of the winning poems, before introducing short story winner Val Ormrod to the stage to read Clouds, her light and humorous depiction of dementia from the points of view of both the carer and the carers for. You can read Val’s story, along with the other winning entries, by clicking here.

Lively debate

The politicians' Q&A session was as lively as ever, with carers from across the UK seizing the opportunity to talk directly to the people who influence the issues affecting carers today. 

Chaired by Victoria Macdonald of Channel 4 News, the panel consisted of: 

  • Panel AGM14Rt Hon Paul Burstow MP (Lib Dem)
  • Rt Hon Anne McGuire MP (Labour)
  • Andrew Selous MP (Conservative)

Bridget blogged about the ‘almost palpable’ frustration and anger in the room, as carers spoke about their lives, struggles and what they need from politicians to see a real change in their lives.

Some of the key areas covered included both the current level and the unfair rules of Carer’s Allowance, with a call from carers for urgent improvements to the benefit. The spare room subsidy – commonly referred to as the ‘bedroom tax’ – was debated at length, as the politicians listened to a number of carers talk about how they were affected.

AGMSummit Question reverse

The impact on carers of cuts to local health and care services was raised with carers telling the panel that when services are cut it is the carer that has to step in, heaping more pressure on families.

The lack of coordination between the NHS and local government was also raised with carers in the audience highlighting the off-putting and daunting jargon often used by health professionals.

Paul Burstow and Anne McGuire both called for a more formal duty on the NHS to identify carers and guide them to support.

The politicians shared their personal experience of caring and working on behalf of carers in their constituencies. A powerful moment in the debate came when carers raised the issue of sleep deprivation, with one person saying, “if I was an airline pilot I'd have been grounded years ago”. Andrew Selous MP also opened up about his own experience of sleep deprivation when supporting his mother.

For Bridget, this was the highlight of the day:

 "What was so important about this part of the day was that it was a chance for carers to actually be listened to. Such a rare opportunity and something that I for one really value."

Watch footage from the day

Carers World Radio were at the Summit, covering the day and interviewing carers, politicians and Carers UK staff behind the scenes. Click here to watch their highlights.


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