Thursday, 30 August 2012

It's Not What You Know...

Champion: (n) a person who has defeated all opponents in a competition or series of competitions, so as to hold first place. (v) Support the cause of; defend.

Across the UK the term ‘champion’ is a new buzz word. When New Labour were in power we had a Tsar for everything, under the Coalition Government champions of this, that and the other are popping up everywhere: mental health champions, carers champions, champions of justice, autism champions and Mary Portas as champion of the High Street!

It’s clear the old pal’s network is alive and well across the UK in politics and through the fringes of political life when it comes to who gets to be a champion. It’s not what you know but who you know.

The decision makers like to let us think that legislative changes often come on the back of public consultation or by us speaking to them and sharing our experiences. Yet policy change rarely is following the opinions of responders or by politicians listening to us but rather it is shaped by ideology, party policy. 

This week in Scotland, the Shadow Labour cabinet announced the appointment of a carer’s champion. The champion is someone who has developed close links with the party leader in the last year, she wasn’t nominated by party members or by a carers group/organisation and neither was she voted for by a group of peers or by a ballot.

Sort of stinks doesn’t it given her close links to the party? Carers are more stressed and anxious than ever before with cuts across the board and changes to ESA rules, Tax Credits and DLA all looming. The carers champion is obviously a carer herself but has no background in politics or in depth knowledge of policy making. She will need to hit the ground running if she is to represent the 660,000+ carers across Scotland – or to “support...defend” carers. Can she alone speak for those carers; can she really have any idea what it’s like to live their lives? Does she really have the ability to ensure the message is heard and show insight into the policy and legislation impacting on the lives of those who care for someone – does the Scottish Labour party care if she can?

The ruling SNP party have also declared that all LocalAuthorities under its control will appoint a carers champion, an "officer sitting at strategic level". (Whatever that means!) All carer’s champions will have to rely heavily on testimony from carers themselves, carers who have been sharing their stories with politicians for years already, stories which often appear to fall on deaf ears. 

In England many council’s have volunteer carers champions too, to help "shape policy at local level".  

Do you know who your local carers champion is? 

So now there are middle-men, more middle-men once you factor in PA’s and admin staff scanning and vetting messages.  How then do we actually communicate effectively with the people we vote into such an office and who do or will they actually listen too?

In Scotland, a carers champion was mooted to be about scrutiny of decisions at the highest level and the impact on carers. Somehow this seems to have been misunderstood or interpreted in different ways in the case of Scottish Labour. The original idea was for MSP’s to do the work, getting politicians thinking differently, thinking about impact of decisions in education for example on families, which in turn might place greater demand on social care or health - like the model used in England. The point of a carers champion was to put someone with an interest in carers at the heart of policy making – but can one 'lay' champion influence the very heart of policy making? 

The politicians will be able to say “you got your champions and your carer’s councils and parliaments like we said you would”. The question is what will change as a result of these initiatives? 

The jury is out. As yet many of these posts are yet to be filled and with budgets being slashed will the lives of the “unsung heroes”(carers) really be at the top of the agenda when budgets are decided?

Across the country we hear from people on their knees, who haven’t had a carer’s assessment and are in utter despair before any help is offered, if at all. The politicians know this is happening already but hey, we have carer’s champions now so everything will be okay! 

All of this is costing money, at a time when valuable services and charities are disappearing. Okay so we have to give this a chance but campaigners nationwide will be watching, very carefully.

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