It's important that the next Welsh Government takes further action to create a carer friendly society.
It's vital that we acknowledge and celebrate the extraordinary work undertaken by Wales' 370,000 unpaid carers, including a great many here in Newport. The number of carers in Wales is set to rise to over half a million in the next twenty years, and this will only add to the estimated £8.1 million contribution of unpaid care to the economy in Wales.
It's clear that without carers' willingness and ability to provide this unpaid care, we would be facing a crisis in the health and social care system. In this light, some of Carers' Wales recent findings on the welfare of carers in Welsh society is troubling. For example, there are indications that full-time carers are more than twice as likely to be in bad health as non-carers, and 80% of carers state that their health has worsened as a result of caring. Alarmingly, 56% of carers state that they have been affected by depression since taking on a caring role. To me, this illustrates clearly that we need to be more proactive in working to reduce carer ill-health.
Similarly, we need to ensure a sufficient supply of affordable, flexible and good quality care services to support carers who wish to work. Carers Wales estimate that 64% of carers who have given up work to care cite the struggle to balance everyday life and caring work as a primary factor in making their decision.
I strongly believe that we need greater integration of health and social care, and reducing the burden on our carers is an important part of this. An initial step would be to focus on making all our hospitals and primary health care services carer-friendly - with a renewed recognition of the health needs of carers and more flexible support, advice and information in place. The Welsh Government's Social Services and Wellbeing Act provides a useful starting point on this, and is something we need to build upon in the coming years.