Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Short breaks for carers must be protected

DanPartonProtecting short break services for people with a learning disability is imperative – for the family, the person themselves and the taxpayer.

http://http://www.mencap.org.uk/campaigns/take-action/breaking-pointFor a family carer, caring for someone with a learning disability, especially if they also have complex needs and/or behaviour that challenges, can be more than a full-time job. They are on-call day and night, having to deal with any number of issues and/or crises that may emerge.

Many carers work longer hours than those in a regular job; more than 7 out of 10 carers say they provide more than 15 hours of unpaid care each day. That’s 105 hours a week – employment law prohibits people in regular jobs from working for more than 48 hours per week.

For carers, short break, or respite, services are a lifeline. These local authority-purchased services can give carers time away to re-charge their batteries, but also to perhaps spend time with their other children, or even just catch up with household chores.

For many, these services can be the difference between being able to carry on caring and reaching crisis point, with the person they care for having to move into residential care.

Yet 4 in 10 carers report having experienced cuts to their short breaks and the same number feel their short break services have worsened in the past 3 years, a survey by Mencap earlier this year, found.

With more local authority budget cuts to come next year – and in 2015 – social care will again be in the frame for more service reductions and it is likely that short break provision will come under further scrutiny.

To combat this, Mencap has recently launched a campaign, ‘Breaking Point’, which aims to raise awareness of the issue, and to help put pressure on councils to keep these services running.

To me, protecting short break services really is a no-brainer. Not only for the reasons outlined above, but – and it is a consideration in these seemingly never-endingly austere times – family carers are reckoned to save the government £119 billion every year, compared to the cost of state-funded care, again according to Mencap.

Just think, what if the social care system – already creaking – had to cope with that. It couldn’t. So, when those responsible for working out the social care budget in a local authority plan where to make cuts, short breaks should be protected. Their cost should be considered against the massive savings they create elsewhere.

Indeed, to my mind, there is a strong argument for extending them in future. Nobody who needs a short break should be left in the position where they cannot access such services and are left to reach breaking point. The financial cost – but, more importantly, the human cost – is far too great to let that happen.

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