With this opinion piece, VOCAL’s CEO Sebastian Fischer is seeking to stimulate discussion on the value society places on carers and their essential role in the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Times of crisis often bring out the best in people. My local stair in Leith is no exception. Folk from many different walks of life have built great support, everyone’s prepared to help and we all clap for our nurses and NHS staff.

Round the corner at 60 Leith Walk, I am the last staff member working from VOCAL’s Carers Hub. At the switchboard I see the calls coming in from family carers but I don’t need to answer them. Our systems in Edinburgh and Midlothian link straight to carer support workers at home. Often, four or five lines are busy at the same time.

Like elsewhere in the public sector, it’s all hands on deck. I am proud how colleagues have managed to maintain carer support despite multiple challenges.

Beyond that, admittedly, I struggle with the ‘great British gung-ho’ attitude.

Heroes everywhere. ‘One-for-all and all-for-one.’  ‘We need to put our differences aside.’  ‘Let’s all get on with the job in hand!’  ‘Roll up our sleeves’ ….

I struggle, because in all the exuberance for the NHS – which I share – unpaid family carers,  the biggest caring workforce in our city and our country, six million of them in the UK, still barely get a mention.

I despair over the UK government’s whole approach. Through its arrogance and incompetence, the Tory government is responsible for making the UK one of the worst Covid-19 affected European countries, measured now by over 15,000 lost lives.

How irresponsible can a government be not to count pandemic deaths outside hospitals – deaths of people who also received heroic support from staff in care homes or from family carers in their own homes. They all should be better supported, as an absolute minimum they should be counted.

I disapprove of the repeat references and imagery of war, attempting to glorify government effort. A botched ‘war effort’, in my view. If we use war imagery, then people suffering and dying in care homes and at home is what we must call ‘collateral damage’. Now the real army has been drafted in to help! Why still no mention of the army of six million unpaid family carers who struggle on, on their own, having lost most of the limited supports they had before Covid-19?

Compare this to Scotland. Our government’s response is not perfect, but head, shoulders and brains a few leagues above Westminster. A strikingly different and more inclusive approach – the spirit of community, not war. Scotland’s First Minister and her Cabinet Secretary for Health, Jeane Freeman MSP present competent, clear and principled leadership. They understand the role unpaid carers and communities play. They include us in their tributes, and increasingly in their actions.

Notably, worldwide those countries led by women seem to have responded much better to the challenges of Covid-19 than those led by men! This is evidenced amply within the UK.

The recognition of carers by local authorities seems to vary a great deal. They all have carer strategies and policies which recognise carers as equal partners in care. In practice, however, this is not borne out everywhere. We commend Midlothian Council for agreeing to send a joint letter to family carers – a letter of authority, recognising their critical role. Carers report some reassurance as the letter supports them when seeking access to essential supports like PPE, but more steps need to be taken to secure access for carers to restricted shopping or cheaper taxi services. That’s the spirit – because unpaid carers, like the paid workforce, protect the most vulnerable, too!

In Scotland, we recognise carers as equal partners in care in policy and strategy. More can be done, not least including them in our weekly tributes. Unpaid carers surely deserve as much of a clap as NHS nurses and staff, especially at times of crisis!


Sebastian Fischer
Chief Executive

VOCAL – Voice of Carers Across Lothian
60 Leith Walk