Caring for Carers? – 4 Corners, Cliftonville Football Club, and Rethinking Public Policy

The value of carers’ contributions to Northern Ireland is similar to that of the entire 2016/17 Stormont health budget – but is our Government investing in improving their circumstances?

This year’s 4 Corners Festival (3-12 February) is highlighting carers’ contributions to our society through a banquet at City Hall for people who provide full time care for friends or relatives. Last week Cliftonville Football Club pitched in with a £1,000 contribution to the banquet.

A meal at City Hall is no substitute for creating more substantial support structures for carers.

But can a banquet raise awareness of the challenges carers face? Can it prompt a rethink of policy in terms of the services and support carers are entitled to?

Every year the 4 Corners Festival works with the Lord Mayor to host a banquet at City Hall. Past banquets have hosted refugees and asylum seekers. The banquet costs about £1500, and previous meals have been funded by donations from volunteers. [See the justgiving page for this year’s banquet.]

This year Cliftonville FC took the initiative to hold an auction on the short worn during Joe Gormley’s unveiling, and pledged to match whatever the jersey sold for. The jersey went for £500, so Cliftonville donated £1000 to the appeal, which will pay for more than 50 meals at the banquet.

All the 4 Corners Festival events are free and most are open to the public. But its ‘invitation only’ events, like the banquet, are designed to honour the contributions of unsung heroes or to open people up to opportunities they might not otherwise have. They are also designed to raise awareness of key issues facing our society.

The 2015, 2010, 2006 and 1994 Northern Ireland Life and Times Surveys included questions designed to evaluate ‘the impact of caring’ on our society.

A report written by Paula Devine and Ann Marie Gray on the 2015 results cited estimates that ‘the support provided by the 220,500 carers in Northern Ireland is £4.6 billion per year, which is similar to the entire 2016/17 Stormont health budget (Detail Data, 2016).’

Overall, 17 per cent of NILT respondents in 2015 were carers, including 21% of women and 13% of men. Devine and Gray also note:

‘One in four carers (25%) taking part in NILT provided at least 35 hours of care, which can be seen as equivalent to a full time job.’

These commitments have financial, emotional and physical impacts on carers. It is worth quoting extensively from the conclusion of Devine and Gray’s report – which calls for a new legislative framework to provide clarity on entitlement to services for users and carers in Northern Ireland:

‘The NILT data provide an important snapshot of caring provided by family and friends across Northern Ireland in 2015. The fact that 19 per cent of carers are providing at least 60 hours of care per week shows how essential carers are to the health and social care system.

Whilst governments across the UK have published strategies aimed at supporting carers, the NILT findings show there is still cause for concern. In Britain, legislation to reform adult social care law has resulted in new entitlements to social care for users and carers. New national eligibility criteria for users and carers in England (DoH, 2014) establishes a minimum threshold. Once carers are assessed as crossing this, local authorities have a duty to meet the assessed needs. These duties include promotion of a carer’s ‘wellbeing’, with wellbeing principles part of the eligibility criteria. Recent data (Carers Trust, 2016) identified that many carers are still not aware of their rights and have not been offered an assessment. But there is also indication of positive impacts of the legislation, including better assessments and more appropriate support. In Scotland, the Carers Scotland Act 2016 places a similar duty on local authorities. The need for a new legislative framework in Northern Ireland to provide clarity on entitlement to services for users and carers has been recommended (Duffy et al., 2015).

An expert panel, chaired by Professor Rafael Bengoa, examining the future configuration of health services in Northern Ireland reported that ‘…the largest group … of staff delivering care services in Northern Ireland is unpaid’ and that ‘engaging and supporting carers is a fundamental aspect of maintaining service users within their own home and it is essential that the HSC improves its performance in this area’ (DoH, 2016a, p.28). The Department of Health (2016b) has acknowledged the need to improve support for carers, noting that this would be considered in proposals on the reform of adult social care to be published in 2017.’

Caring for Carers: When politicians come to your door in this election, why not ask them what their party’s policy is on this issue?

The other invitation only events at this year’s festival are:

Different Dreams

80 year 10 pupils who may not be considering third level education as a choice will have the opportunity to enjoy some of the wonders of Ulster University’s Belfast campus on York Street.  The pupils will have an opportunity to take part in three workshops including Basic skills in Marketing and Entrepreneurship, A future in Gaming, Introduction to Basic First Aid, Smart Phone Photography, Ceramics – the art of clay and Creative Movement – a pathway to Acting. The event will hopefully make young people realise there are different paths available.

(Rev Steve Stockman and I spoke about this event yesterday on Radio Ulster’s Sunday Sequence – Interview starts at 21.04)

Ministry on a Wounded and Wonderful Island

Seminarians and young ministers will be invited to an event hosted by the Senator George J Mitchell Institute at Queen’s University, centered on receiving inspiration and prayer from clergy and retired clergy who have made peacebuilding and reconciliation central to their ministry. The aim is to encourage those in the early stages of their careers to prioritize reconciliation, learning from the examples of those who have gone before them. The event also will enable them to meet with their counterparts from other denominations in an informal setting, laying the groundwork for future collaborative relationships. The event will be facilitated by former Methodist President Rev Heather Morris, Former Presbyterian Moderator Rev Norman Hamilton, Retired Bishop Trevor Williams and Father Damian McCaughan.

(image sourced on 4 Corners Festival webpage. Front, left to right: Lord Mayor Brian Kingston, Rev Steve Stockman (4 Corners), Gerard Lawlor (Cliftonville FC), Joe Gormely (Clinftonville FC), Fr Martin Magill (4 Corners); Back, left to right: Megan Boyd (4 Corners), Ed Petersen (4 Corners).

Disclaimer: I am on the 4 Corners Festival Committee