EVERY year for a week, unpaid carers receive a few column inches extolling the message that they are valued, followed by publicity of all the support they enjoy.

Every year our struggle for minimal support for our disabled son and ourselves as carers gets harder and more stressful.

Recently, Argyll and Bute launched yet another new carers’ strategy. It followed the same tired old format that again somewhat glosses over many of the important issues.

Carer support can take many forms, all undoubtedly with merit, but for those carers who provide 24/7 care to a person with high and complex support needs, regular rest and the knowledge that they have perhaps one night off a week is crucial.

Strategies are words on paper that are generally ambiguous and very rarely presented as statutory in nature. Over the years, I worked in social work, and in my role as an unpaid carer and a voluntary advocate, I have encountered scores of these strategies. 

Currently, on the Argyll and Bute website, there are eight such documents relating to carer support. Regardless of the glossy brochures and balloons, they generally contain very little by way of providing the actual respite care that unpaid carers so desperately need. Instead, the approach is one of offering guidance and information about accessing actual support. 

There is, of course, a role for this but its overemphasis, when the actual support (generally, respite) is either not available or very limited, is simply misleading. Modern care legislation in Scotland rarely provides clear and specific information, but is characterised more by broad concepts that often inform charters and strategies. 

The Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 disappointed many independent carers and groups by legislating for local authorities to set their own eligibility criteria for support. There is typically so much “wiggle room” and vagueness in both care legislation and the strategies they spawn that trying to achieve effective support is often akin to grasping water. 

In attempting to evaluate such schemes, it is almost impossible to find commentary that does not come from sources that depend on funding from the legislators. 

Local authorities have of course a standing statutory obligation to provide support to those in the role of unpaid carers within legislation existing before the 2016 Act – e.g. Social Work Scotland Act, and Children’s Scotland Act.

The pathway to these carer supports are now over-complicated and can be so difficult to negotiate for exhausted carers, only to find that the actual service does not in fact exist. For this reason, it is extremely frustrating to see resources and focus being used for yet another strategy, rather than on expanding quality respite provision.

Unpaid carers are too often treated with tokenism and become complicit in the problem by accessing “gifts” in recognition of their work. We have been guilty of this ourselves. The blunt fact is that unpaid carers in Scotland alone save Health and Social Care Partnerships literally millions of pounds in care costs.

Earlier this year, the Scottish Government Minister for Social Care said that carers saved Scotland an estimated £12.8 billion per year in social care costs, plus £320 million in health care costs – a total saving of £13.1bn per year. 

One night away from care duties a week, then, seems a very reasonable request, but look for it and you will find there are neither the facilities, budget nor understanding to provide it.

To provide real improvement for carers, a fair percentage of the savings made from carers’ efforts must be invested in expanding respite services locally.
Duncan F MacGillivray, Dunoon.


Bring back the jumble sales
I HAVE a solution to our poor recycling record – bring back jumble sales. Whatever happened to them? There are many items which are perfectly useable which charity shops will not accept but which could find a new home through a jumble sale and therefore be kept from landfill.

Recently, I offered a leather reclining chair to a charity shop. It had a small (repairable by someone handier than I) tear under one armrest. I thought they might have been prepared to repair it but they politely refused and it ended up in landfill. It might have fetched a tenner in a jumble sale which could have gone to the local Scout Group, YMCA or whatever.

I look around my garage and there are so many items I would like to pass on but for which there is no means to do so and so I may have to send them to landfill. For community groups and societies struggling for cash, surely this is one way of topping up their coffers. Come and see me. I’ll let them have the pick of the tools, bric-a-brac etc in my garage to get them off to a flying start.
William Thomson, Denny.


Sort yourself out, Royal Mail
MY sad experience with Royal Mail started when I had no mail delivery for over a week (and I’m still waiting!) although I knew that letters had been sent to me, including the all-important postal voting documentation. 

I decided to contact my local Paisley delivery office for an explanation so searched the internet for contact details. The advice on their site was to phone before visiting the sorting office, so I did as suggested, only to find the published telephone number was not available. 

The only option left was to visit the office during the published opening hours of 8am to 8pm. Unfortunately, the information on the website proved to be out of date as the opening hours had been changed to a meagre two-hour slot between 8am and 10am, so I had a wasted journey. 

The most common reason to visit a sorting office is to collect a letter or parcel where delivery was unsuccessful due to the recipient being at work. How, then, is a working person expected to collect items during normal working hours? How does a company that is there to serve the public justify such a poor level of service? 

While I am saddened to see the probable sale of yet another British institution to a foreign buyer, I will not be so disappointed if it results in even a small improvement in the dreadful level of service being provided by the Royal Mail.
Alan McGibbon, Paisley.


Football nostalgia
AS I watch the Euro matches, I wonder if I’m alone in yearning for a return to the days of a referee, two linesmen, fouls, shies and stoat-ups? It seemed so much simpler then.
John Crawford, Preston.