One of the downsides (or should that be upsides?) of being moderately well known, and very accessible via social media, is that you get bombarded with people asking for time, money, contacts, ideas and expertise for their (invariably) good causes.
On twitter, there is rarely a day, and some days rarely an hour, that there’s not someone on there asking for a donation or a retweet of a link to another JustGiving page. With the Great North Run a week away, we’re in one of the peak periods.
Also, whenever I do a charity event, or a professional event, in fact any event, it is very rare not to get approached at the end by someone with an earnest glint in their eye, a fundraiser to plan, and the notion formed that I ought to speak at it.
In common with most people in the same situation, I do some, but not all. I also try to be a bit strategic about my time, and so am particularly committed to two causes very close to my heart – Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research, of which I am chairman of fundraising; and Time to Change, the campaign to break down stigma surrounding mental illness.
But today I want to draw attention to another issue, namely carers, and another charity, The Princess Royal Trust for Carers.
At a dinner a year or so ago I was sitting next to the charity’s chief executive, Carole Cochrane. I remember her mainly for suggesting the word ‘gusset’ when I was playing a little game I sometmes play when speaking at dinners; namely asking the people at my table for a word, which I then try to weave into my speech. I cannot remember how I squeezed ‘gusset’ in, but I did, and ever since Carole has called herself Mrs Gusset in any correspondence between us.
Her charity supports people who are caring for a disabled or seriously ill relative or friend. I remember being impressed by her passion for her job, and also slightly taken aback at her telling me there was a three in five chance of becoming a carer for a friend or relative at some point in our lives. We all know our society is ageing but that kind of stat brings home how it might affect our own lives.
Her latest correspondence is to ask to help publicise a survey of older carers which they are publishing today at http://www.carers.org/news/oldercarers . (I was having trouble accessing this earlier, so suggest the charity’s main website if you do too)
It shows that the implications of an ageing society are already with us, Not only are there more older people needing care, but there are more older people providing care as well – over 1.5m aged 60+. However, asking older people to move, lift and push immobile people or asking them to bathe, clothe and medicate can put strains on them that they aren’t always able to handle.
Nearly 70% of older carers surveyed said they suffered things like back pain, arthritis, heart conditions and even crumbling spines. One third of them had cancelled treatment or an operation for themselves because they were needed to provide care for their loved one.
The charity has acknowledged that the Labour Government developed a comprehensive strategy to support these carers, which the new Government has seen the sense of keeping and progressing. But more must obviously be done to make sure carers can get help from GPs to maintain their own health and support in the home to take some of the pressure off them.
Labour has offered to work with the coalition to improve the care and support we give older people in this country and this should not be rebuffed by the Tories as it was when Labour tried to develop a similar cross-party approach when in Government. This is one of those very big issues that is going to require a major political response, and trying to do so freed from the usual party political knockabout would help.
It is also a chance for David Cameron to do something to put some flesh on the bones of two of his favourite slogans … the Big Society and Broken Britain. We are talking here about millions of people holding Britain together, living the Big Society. All they need is a little bit of support from Government.
If Cameron is serious, he has to grasp this because if he doesn’t he will become an old man in need of support who finds there isn’t anything there for him.