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Hanging baskets

06 Sep Hanging baskets

Every year I get an award from my local council – a Carer’s Individual Budget. It’s usually about £300 and it’s for me to ‘treat’ myself. A thank you if you like for working 24 hours a day 7 days a week for free and saving the country millions.

Of course I take it because I figure any appreciation is better than none and actually if I’m honest it’s enabled me to re-join the human race. I spend it on evening classes, getting my roots done and expenses for making sure that when I’m not home Josh isn’t alone. I’d say I spend it wisely and as I’m improving my skills – the evening class –  making myself look and feel better – the hairdos – and safeguarding Josh I’d also say I’m value for money.

It works out at about £5.76 a week. Less than the minimum wage per hour and I’m reliably informed less than it costs to plant, maintain and service a council hanging basket.

So why then when I cost the council so little but I deliver such a lot, is my Carer’s IB not considered value for money?

I got a call to say that because my local council is so ‘hard up’ the carer’s IB is being ‘slashed’. I wasn’t told officially – but by a fellow journalist who wanted an interview with “someone affected”- ‘slashed’ is media speak for being drastically reduced. It’s not personal as it’s a “council decision taken in the last round of budget cuts” and “all payments to carers will be reviewed”. To say I was a bit put out that the press knew before I did and that this quite brave – if you think about it – decision hasn’t been front page news anywhere was an understatement and a week ago I started attempts to talk to someone. Not as a journalist but as a carer.

After several days of being passed from pillar to council department post and being ignored by people who don’t want to talk to me I learned that the council has had to make some “difficult financial decisions” this year and that “lots of carers feel guilty about taking an IB when they don’t want it or use it”. Really? Who are they then because I haven’t met one.

I’ve met lots of carers who don’t have one because they a) didn’t know about it or b) haven’t been ‘signposted’ to it – what does that actually mean, but I have never met a carer who said “Goodness me I don’t need any help to have a life of my own”.

But even if there are carers in this unique position why penalise the majority for the good fortune of the few? And if the council is so rubbish at managing its finances why don’t they just sack all the people who are not performing and bring in folks who know how to spend money. Why pick on us?

I suppose it’s because it’s a ‘gift’. I get it because I need a break. I need ‘pampering’. I need to feel good about myself.

Well actually I already do. I don’t get a break, my roots always need doing and pampering makes me fidgety but I do feel good about myself. I am able to work part-time and I’m coming to terms with the fact that my life as Debbie the independent world traveller is on hold for a while, but I have always been Josh’s mum and that’s my primary job and role. I’m proud to be his carer and I know we’re a great team. But I’m also lucky I can stand the hit of not being able to take an evening class, having regrowth for 3 months instead of 2 on my bottle blonde head and not getting a night off. But for some it’s not like that. They can’t work so they have no other income, they don’t get to go out and talk to people who aren’t carers or in the care profession and their only luxury is probably their nails done or a hairdo. They might actually use the money for bus fares to get to the Carers Centre. There won’t be a need for a centre if people can’t afford to go there. Or is that the next on the list of cutbacks…?

So if the council is “committed to supporting carers” as it claims, how does any of this decision to cut the money it ‘gives’ us fit with their plans?

And why be so underhand about it? I was told by the same journalist that there won’t be an announcement that Carers IBs are being targeted it will be done as part of a ‘review’ and peoples’ IBs will be reduced after assessment as if it was all part of the usual process. Sneaky? Just a bit.

Like when the council sent a letter telling everyone of ‘working age’ – whatever that is – but not specifically mentioning people with disability – that everyone was going to have to pay council tax, that the decision was “fair” and that everyone would see their bills “reduced”. I pointed out that it was hardly “fair” when my son wanted to go to work and wasn’t able to but was being treated the same as someone who could go to work and chose not to. And as he didn’t have a bill at all not ‘everyone’s’ bill would be reduced because they were giving him a bill – unless of course the council tax department didn’t consider him part of being ‘everyone’. I’ve never had a response to that letter.

So here we are. First of all the council does what it accuses the government of doing – it targets the disabled and vulnerable and then it goes for the people who take care of them.

Mmm. I would have had respect for a council that consulted carers and told them why this had to happen. I wouldn’t have liked it and I would still have fought it but I would have felt that it was done transparently and with some degree of openness.

This on the other hand is disgraceful.

So here’s a suggestion.

I like flowers and I even have a hanging basket but when it comes to spending the council’s hard earned cash wouldn’t it be better to invest in people who save it money and add value than lots of lovely floral displays that really we could actually do without. I know they make our town look good but if I get to keep my Carers IB I promise you so will I.

But unlike the flowers I suppose I’m not real added value because I’m not going to win the council any awards. Am I?