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Like other Members, I welcome this debate, particularly as it is happening during carers week. I wish to put on record my thanks to the Prime Minister, who met the all-party carers group a few weeks ago. As someone who this year has been designated the parliamentary champion for carers, I was delighted to join that meeting. The Prime Minister over the past two years, and his predecessor, have given carers great support and started to put carers issues higher up the political agenda. All political parties now recognise them as an important focus for social policy.
I was delighted to be invited by a consortium of 10 organisations to be this year's parliamentary champion, and to host yesterday's reception in the Commons. I am delighted that so many MPs attended that reception to hear for themselves, in an informal way, some of the issues that have an impact on carers' lives. We should pay tribute to the many organisations up and down the country that have participated in this week's events. As I understand it from the consortium that Carers UK pulled together, more than 1,000 partner organisations are celebrating the contribution that carers make to our society and taking the opportunity to highlight the issues and continue the pressure on Government, and indeed on all political parties, to ensure that we do not lose momentum in improving the lives of carers.
In my constituency the Princess Royal Trust for Carers held its own event yesterday, which was linked with its annual general meeting. I had hoped to attend, but obviously yesterday's parliamentary business made that impossible. I pay particular tribute to the Stirling Princess Royal Trust for Carers for the work that it does, particularly in supporting young carers. Many of us recognise that all sorts of fairly young children take on responsibilities way above their age level, which they should not be asked to do. I do not want us to say to children, "Of course you can't participate in the care of a parent or sibling," but we must ensure that those children's needs and rights are not neglected as they absorb caring responsibilities that they should not have to take on. The trust in Stirling certainly does a lot of good work in that area.
Over the past 10 years, as I said, carers issues have come up the political agenda, and we should pay tribute to this Government. In 1999, the first ever carers strategy was developed. Although it was 10 years ago, we should not lose sight of that. It was the first time that any Government had actually recognised that serious needs were being neglected. As the Minister said, the new strategy published last year built on that first strategy but recognised that times had moved on, and carers' interests and issues are perhaps better articulated now than they were in 1999. Indeed, the pressure groups on carers issues have built on that first recognition in 1999.
I met representatives of the Swale carers group this morning, as did the Minister. I know that my hon. Friend Derek Wyatt was very keen to encourage his local carers group to engage not just with the Minister but with me. One thing that came out of that discussion, and which is embedded in the new carers strategy, was the fact that carers need to be respected as expert care partners. Often they are marginalised by health professionals, not because the health professionals are bad people but because they do not see the carers who are with a sick or disabled person day in and day out. Somehow when it comes to big decisions that need to be made, they feel marginalised.
One woman told me this morning that when she moved from one PCT area to another, there was a different attitude to her involvement. In the first area she was very much part of the team, but when she moved house to another PCT area she found that she was totally excluded. Confidentiality clauses were somehow brought into the discussion, and she was not allowed to be a full participant.
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