Welcome to the UK in 2009 where child labour is rife

I like to listen to late-night phone-ins to help me get to sleep; but one recently on BBC Radio 5Live certainly kept me awake.

To mark National Carers Week listeners were invited to ring in with their stories and as the evening unfolded, so a pattern emerged of people of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicity basically saving the government millions by caring for relatives and friends and not being paid for the service. Radio is excellent for graphic imagery; we were asked to picture a businessman moving from the boardroom to his mother’s bathroom and talking of losing the plot when she wet the floor of the kitchen.

Disabled person and carerI have been around care a long time but only from the point of view of a paid carer; either as a residential social worker or social worker/commissioning manager. More latterly, since changing careers and working with helping care organisations with publicity and marketing, I have come to realise that this army of unpaid social workers is fighting an unjust war. Stephen Nolan’s programme highlighted the flaws in a system that allows teenagers to spend leisure (and sometimes school) time looking after a disabled relative instead of enjoying a youth they will look back on as empty.

And as the programme presented Stephen Nolan pointed out, he has run this story on a number of occasions and nothing much seems to have changed, other than potential tax breaks for adult carers. Carers organisations are doing fantastic work helping carers with respite breaks and support but it does seem absurd that a country as rich as the UK has to rely on what is little more than child labour to care for its disabled and elderly population. But then I read today that the chief exec of British Airways is asking staff to follow his lead and work for a few weeks gratis to help the company out of its financial difficulties. That’s really nice of him to give up £61,000 (one month of his annual salary). Presumably, if one of his relatives was in the unfortunate position of not being able to control their bowels he would still be able to pay for luxury care, despite his noble gesture of giving up a month’s salary.

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