To Haddington with my three opponents for a grilling (even if not billed as a hustings) at the hands of Carers of East Lothian (CEL). In short speeches, we made various points—that the care system would collapse without volunteer carers, that an estimate of cost to ‘replace’ them is £8bn and future support needs for carers. Both Tory and Labour would integrate social work and NHS budgets—the Tories putting it under NHS control. I disagree with that because of the NHS’s cultural problem acting as a partner and absence of democratic accountability.
The blind questions posed were largely zingers. Here were fifty or so hands-on carers, feeling grossly under-appreciated and -rewarded and presented with would-be MSPs who might do something about that. All four on the panel made a decent fist of positions on: frail people with frail carers; how people could avoid staying at home; how to avoid bed-blocking; why those who work full-time are disqualified from carers’ allowances.
The hardest question for me was about a major lack of respite provision across the county. Although I knew there was a problem, despite my involvement with ELC’s revamp of ASC and listened closely at the last CEL AGM, I simply had not appreciated either its top priority, nor its scale and frankly admitted as much.
Of the other three, the Lib-Dem was clearly the weakest, relying too much on a ‘not being a professional’ and direct personal experience in her answers. After the event, I stayed on to chat with still-agitated carers, who convinced me that none of the panel yet understood either the scale/range of carer involvement and respite needs or could quantify what it would take for the public sector to provide adequate solutions.