"Carers’ efforts should be voluntary and complementary"

Åsa Regnér- I feel concerned that many want to pass on a greater responsibility to carers. As a feminist, I see the danger of women having to take an increased responsibility as informal caregivers. As a result they'd have lower incomes and thereafter lower pensions than men.

Åsa Regnér, Sweden´s Minister for Children, Older People and Gender Equality, with regards to the International Carers Conference in September where she will participate as a keynote speaker.
- I also see a clear class-pattern. Carers are more common among those with low incomes, she says.

More older people and fewer professionals

According to Åsa Regnér, the International Conference is relevant for a number of reasons. She particularly emphasizes care of older people:
- The number of older people is on the increase while the number of professionals is decreasing. Care for older people is an important issue for the future. It concerns not only the economy, but also about how to find personnel, particularly in rural areas, she says.

Åsa Regnér argues that even if family and significant others have always played important roles, their responsibilities do not necessarily need to increase. She considers that this is about political choices and how resources are prioritised.
- I also want to highlight the opportunities that the development of welfare technology creates. We will see solutions that facilitate both relatives and staff. This includes being able to communicate through a computer, and technical solutions that can e.g. make it easier to go to the toilet without assistance.

Division of responsibility is a political issue

Åsa Regnér believes that it is difficult to simply and concretely indicate how responsibility should be divided between the public, the family and civil society. It is basically about the individual's needs and how the person wants their help to be designed.
-The limits we set depend on how we want to solve what must be done politically. But the basic responsibility lies with the state. The carers and civil society should act as a supplement to this. Without the state committing we will have a care system for older people with huge class inequalities, says Åsa Regnér.

She notes, however, that many families have been forced to take too much responsibility because the care for older people has not worked well enough.
- I mean that family (informal) care should be given in the manner and at the level that the carer and their loved one desire. We know from surveys that both the carer and the care recipient want more intimate assistance given by care practitioners, such as help with hygiene and visits to the bathroom etc., she says.

Special knowledge is required

Another issue is that most carers do not have any formal training in health care, while many aspects of care for older people require specific skills in order to provide a good help. In such a situation it is obvious, says Åsa Regnér, that the State cannot leave the responsibility to someone else.
- It may concern practically assisting with personal hygiene for a person who is physically frail. This may involve the need for knowledge about dementia in order to make sure that the help is of a high quality, she says.
Although the State or public domain should have the primary responsibility, Åsa Regnér holds that it is an advantage if the relatives or carers are involved in the health and social care of their loved one, this is especially true when it comes to the information-aspect.

- It can often be difficult for the carers to take in information from the staff. In particular, in the case of a person with cognitive difficulties, due to a stroke or similar impairment, she explains.
Åsa Regnér also sees the disadvantages of informal caring. Informal caring must not become a compulsion; in that case it will not work well. It can create problems if the carer is not able to or can function as a carer, she says. The carer is not only supposed to be a carer, but also act in their other relationships with their loved one, as a spouse, parent or child.
- We must also remember that many carers are older people, who themselves are nearing the time when they themselves may need help. For them the help they provide can lead to them over-exerting themselves. This is not at all uncommon among older carers, says Åsa Regnér.

Lack of cooperation

In order to manage their situation carers need support. Åsa Regnér refers to the Swedish Family Care Competence Centre and agrees that the best support for carers is that their loved one/s receive good care. It is often a great burden on carers when they feel that society's efforts for their loved ones are insufficient. Many carers also want to know what help there is available.
- Lack of cooperation between different responsible parties is also frequently raised as a major problem for the carers. They must manoeuvre between various authorities and make a lot of contacts, which requires both time and knowledge.

Focusing on increased staffing

Åsa Regnér says that the government is investing two billion (SEK) per year during their mandate period in order to increase staffing levels within care for older people. Increased staffing gives the opportunity to significantly improve the care, she emphasizes.
- Through these efforts the carers' situation will also improve. They should be able to feel confident that their relatives receive high quality health and social care. It is also important for carers that they receive information and knowledge regarding their loved one's problems. They must also be seen and listened to, to a much greater extent than they are today. Many carers feel that they are simply forgotten.

Barbro Falk

Senast uppdaterad 2015-08-07 av Emil Svensson, ansvarig utgivare Lennart Magnusson