This week is National Carers Week. Those who provide unpaid, voluntary care for individuals or simply have no choice, are a hidden army of people who, quite frankly, save the state an absolute fortune.
Last week I met members of Hartlepool Grandparents Plus, part of a UK wide network of local support groups for Kinship Carers.
Grandparents Plus is a national charity working for all families where grandparents play a vital role in looking after their grandchildren.
Kinship Care can be any situation where a child is living full-time with grandparents or another relative.
For members of Hartlepool Grandparents Plus, and many others in similar circumstances scattered right across the town, the sacrifices they have made to look after their own kith and kin are enormous.
Some have had to give up their jobs, their savings have been depleted and they bring up the children with precious little financial assistance from the state. The kids come to them in all sorts of circumstances; broken families, the death of their own sons or daughters, drug and alcohol addiction, imprisonment, hospitalisation, abandonment, you name it. These people are saddled with the conscientious burden between stepping in or seeing the kids go into care.
Naturally there are more than just grandparents who provide care for relatives who struggle to cope but somehow find the strength to do so; there are sibling carers, often young people and those looking after disabled or elderly relatives or partners.
The common denominator between them all is that they do vital work with precious little reward or assistance, and for many even without financial support like a Carers Allowance.
Listening to people like Grandparents Plus, some of their stories are truly harrowing, which is why I’m proud to be a member of the Parliamentary Kinship Carers Taskforce looking into all aspects of the subject with a view to making recommendations for future legislation.
Of course, for employed care workers and those providing care in the home or residential care, there is a real need to tackle the issue of low pay, adequate funding and provision for adult and children’s social care now, let alone after Brexit.
In Hartlepool I know there is some progressive thinking going on around the subject, including developing the idea of a Care Academy to provide proper training and skills for the future workforce.
With the elderly population increasing and diseases like dementia placing more demands on the care sector we really do need to begin to act now on how we intend to address the situation.
Finally, last week a young constituent came to my surgery. She spoke frankly about her own experiences and passionately about huge gaps in mental health services in Hartlepool.
In particular she mentioned the Crisis Team, whose workers are over stretched across the huge geographical area covered by Tees Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Trust; from York to Durham.
She spoke of intervention response times being up to two hours or more and the lack of a Walk-in Centre in Hartlepool; the nearest being Middlesbrough.
I’m sorry, but if she is right, the people of Hartlepool deserve better and help when they are in urgent need of support. When you are in crisis you are in crisis and in need of urgent help.
That is why I will be campaigning for better services for people with mental health issues and for a walk-in centre to be reintroduced in the town.