Sebastian Fischer: On equality and quality

Every December on Carers' Rights Day, Scotland's carers are encouraged to find out about their rights. However, the response from many of the 657,000 people in Scotland who care for a family member, partner or friend is unanimous - "What rights?"

Carers have few rights - the right to be assessed for their needs and for a paltry allowance if they meet criteria and are under pension age.

Despite widespread recognition for their contribution to the economy - worth 7.6 billion annually - and to the delivery of health and social care services, carers, unlike paid workers, have no enforceable rights or entitlements to information, training, emotional support, regular breaks, or the right to a basic income beyond the most paltry of benefits.

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The Equality Act 2010 came into force in October. It protects carers from "discrimination by association" with someone they care for, but it falls short of giving carers the right to ask for reasonable changes to be made so they can access services and facilities in their own right. The Scottish Government promised carers a guaranteed entitlement to respite breaks, but did not deliver. Instead, the government and Cosla proclaim, in Caring Together, Scotland's new carers strategy, that carers are now recognised for the first time as equal partners in care, and promise to develop a carers' rights charter.

There is a long way to go from recognition to rights, and from patronising promises to the delivery of tangible support.

Carers and carer organisations will continue to press this and future Scottish Governments to turn a commitment to carers' rights and equality into action. After all, unpaid carers are now the largest unpaid workforce in the country and the pillars of our health and social care system.

Sebastian Fischer is chief executive of Voice of Carers Across Lothian (Vocal)