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New Year: a time for reflections and looking ahead.  January is the season for planning, still in the depths of winter but looking forward to spring, the promise of new things.

The winter pressures, always much heralded, have been phenomenal this year.  Speak to carers and you can’t fail to be shocked at the difficulties they are experiencing daily – take for instance the carer who described her husband falling and having to wait 5 hours for an ambulance, helping her husband as best she could while he lay prone on the floor.  Third World conditions in our hospitals with trolleys queuing even into reception areas, dignity compromised; staff shortages across health and social care; the difficulty in finding the care wanted; rising fees and other financial pressures brought on by the changes in the benefits system; increasing use of food banks.

It is difficult to talk about signs of hope and taking control when faced with such a catalogue of difficulties; the lived experience while our political system is in turmoil.

But let’s step back; hard though it is and think about some positives.  Politics affects us all – like it or not.  Many of us have been concerned at the lack of political backing for carers – the failure to deliver on a new national carers’ strategy despite all the work done to deliver it leading to local areas such as ours here in Wiltshire to finalise their own, fed up with waiting for the national one.

Caring is not and should not be a political issue – it is one that affects and underpins wider society: the 3 in 5 of us who will become a carer.   Together carers underpin our communities.  Look at your local community and I bet you’ll find that many of the people who are active are carers – the notion of social justice being fundamental to many.

So it is with relief that carers and caring are now better understood by politicians of all hues who see that in any cross section of the health and social care workforce you will see carers making up over 50 per cent (and volunteers another 25 per cent).

Cross party, politicians are now agreed on some basics: the NHS needs a better funding solution; that health and social care needs to join up – adding it to the title of the Secretary of State is a statement of intent that needs to be driven by action right down to county halls and CCGs and into our local communities; that isolation is eating away at the fabric of communities.

All good stuff but will this consensus hold when we are faced with difficult funding decisions? Are we willing to pay more taxes; should our young people be further burdened – or do we collectively need to bite the bullet and press our political representatives to cast aside tribal politics and work together for all.

As catkins appear in hedgerows and snowdrops push their heads out of the cold earth I can only remain hopeful that 2018 will not be remembered for the year carers were left to pick up the pieces with yet another failure to resolve this most pressing of issues.

Carer Support Wiltshire will be raising the profile of carers of all-ages in Wiltshire and beyond; and playing its part in seeking a shared approach in finding a solution not just in the corridors of power but where it matters – here in our communities.

Catharine Hurford – Chief Executive of CSW