Carers are victims of calculated and shameless exploitation

DR Iain McNicol is right to call on society to change its attitude to carers (Letters, February 5).

That is the right response to the report by Carers Scotland and Carers UK about the many ways in which carers are being treated unfairly at present (“Investigation reveals plight of carers forced into debt”, The Herald, February 4). And Colette Douglas Home was right last October when she called on society to care for carers. And no doubt the same call will be made next June, and next October, and so on. So why does society not respond?

Dr McNicol has written about the difficulties being experienced by families looking after the frail elderly and that is a very serious matter. But the same problems are faced by all carers who look after family members affected by learning disabilities, physical disabilities, disorders such as autism, mental illness, and long-term physical illness, as well as those children who care for a parent, and grandparents who look after children whose own parents cannot look after them.

I have been working with carers since I was first elected to Strathclyde Regional Council in 1982. In those 32 years I am sorry to say that carers’ problems have not changed much. Carers still tell me the same stories: about constantly having to fight to get the support they need; about the seeming indifference of a coldly bureaucratic system to the endless struggles of their daily lives; about being faced by professionals’ assumption that they always know better than families what needs to be done; about exhaustion, ill health, and the sacrifice of jobs and careers; and about apparently losing the right to a life of their own.

Shortage of money is the practical root of the carers’ problems, and is the main explanation of why local authorities are not able to do more to help them. Successive secretaries of state, Scottish Executives and Scottish governments have all underestimated the total amount required to make “care in the community” and now “personalised services” a reality. That will not change until all the political parties, and voters, recognise, with a degree of shame, that what carers have to endure today is rooted in a calculating and shameless exploitation of their love and concern for their afflicted family members.

Dr Christopher Mason,