Friday, 16 October 2009

Candidates shun Maidstone's carers

If the local volunteer bureau wrote to local parliamentary candidates inviting them to discuss an important green paper on social care with dozens of local carers, you think they would jump at the chance - wouldn't you?

Well I jumped at the chance and I was expecting to be able to engage in useful debate with both my opponents and the carers. The only problems was that my opponents weren't interested.

Letters went out in July to the four candidates from the Maidstone Carers Project. Labour candidate Rav Seethrum and Lib Dem Candidate Peter Carroll failed to reply to the letter and failed to turn up on the day. Conservative candidate Helen Grant replied to the letter by email just two days before the event to say she wouldn't be attending (but would arrange a meeting with the Volunteer Bureau separately).

I find it astonishing that the candidates were not willing or interested enough to even respond in a timely manner to turn the offer down. The invite went out in July! They could have easily negotiated another day for the debate.

It says volumes about how much they don't value the voice of people who are working extremely hard with little support and often no financial reward. Exactly what the country would do without these people is beyond me. Peter Carroll may be proud of the Gurkhas, but carers do an even more important job and rarely get any recognition.

On a positive note however, I was able to spend a couple of hours engaged in useful discussion with a bunch of people that I have great respect for.

There were two main concerns that they raised with the social care paper, firstly that free social care had been rule out by the government. It was heartening to listen to views that were clearly left leaning (and in Maidstone...) about who should fund social care and why it should be free. The carers were clearly of the mind that care should be paid for out of income tax, not from an insurance scheme that they start paying into once they retire.

The other important issue was the scrapping of the Disability Living Allowance and Attendance Allowance that is suggested in the document. A fundemental point was raised that these allowances are not about paing for care so much as being paid for the extra cost of living that being disabled incurs. If you can't drive and have to buy all your shopping in the corner shop, you will pay a lot more for your food. If you are at home all day and not moving around much, you need the heating much higher than other people.

One of the hallmarks of how civilised a society is, is how it cares for its sick and vulnerable people. Clearly government thinking is concerned with how little we can get away with giving. Clearly the other candidates in Maidstone are not bovvered much at all.

Addendum: I received an email from Helen Grant today (3rd Dec) telling that she did contact Maidstone Carers Project in early August and has met the project leader today. That is good news - this project is important and deserves support!

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