This afternoon, I took part at a Carers Question Time at the Conwy Business Centre. It was obvious from the start that the carers present were fed up of politicians talking the talk but nothing changing, and they wanted some straight answers from the members of the panel. And I don't blame them.
Despite everyone agreeing that more should be done to support carers, in reality very little has happened. In fact, the situation is getting worse because of the implications of the ConDem cuts on benefits and local services. Though the Assembly is being proactive, more needs to be done from a UK perspective as well but that seems more and more unlikely in this financial climate.
But this is an important group, that deserves to be prioritised. It might shock you to know that according to the 2001 census, there are 350,000 carers in Wales (I'd expect the figure to be higher by today). By taking care of their loved ones, they save the Welsh economy an estimated £5.69 billion each year and provide over 70% of community care in Wales.
This means that 11% of voters in Wales are carers. When I've been out canvassing, you often meet carers as they are typically at home caring for a loved one and you can always sense their frustrations at the systems. They are the most humble people I've met, and they don't want politicians to praise them but rather listen to them and support them. They care out of love, and often put their own mental well being and health at risk, as well as their own careers, because of that love. Should they be punished for being so selfless? Not at all, and yet, that is what exactly is happening at the moment.
The message I took away from today was that Carers are desperate for a common sense and cross party approach to the way they are supported - benefits that they're entitled to, cheaper respite care especially when they themselves may have to go into hopsital and therefore cannot care for someone else whilst they recover, support payments for every person they care for, help in finding part time work (no references if you've been home caring for someone making it difficult for them to get work), benefits stopping once you reach 60 - and those are only a few issues. There were many, many more, highlighting how complex the support system for carers is at the moment.
It is my own personal belief that we should do far more to support these selfless people, and stop taking what they do for granted. The current injustice must come to an end, and I very much hope that next time I'm addressing this group that I'll be an AM who's actually being proactive in righting this wrong.
I'm also even more convinced that we need to see benefits relating to health devolved to the Welsh Assembly, so that we can start adequatelly supporting them financially without all the silly bureaucracy operated by Westminster.
Today wasn't the place for party politics, though some did creep in from the other parties. I refrained and was well received because of that. Many of the carers present didn't want their precious free time wasted by politicians, and simply wanted the opportunity to put their views across so that if we're elected, we'll know what they expect of us. I very much appreciated the number of people who came up to chat to me at the end, and said that they would be supporting Plaid based on what I'd said. I very much hope that come May 6th, I'll be able to start repaying that faith by being an effective voice and advocate for them in the Assembly. It would be a huge honour and responsibility, and one that I would take very seriously.