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From The Socialist newspaper, 22 September 2010

Diminished responsibility

I saw this report the other day: "Former cab driver kissed his 100-year-old mother on the cheek and said "sorry" after stabbing her to death". The man, aged 62 and suffering from depression and the onset of the degenerative Parkinson's disease was jailed for six years after pleading guilty to manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility.

The article mentioned he'd been his mother's main carer. In view of her age I suspect he'd looked after her for her quite a long time. I wonder how much support he received. In my experience (I've cared for my mum for six years) being the main carer means doing 99% of the caring.

There's very little help available. I was offered three hours 'respite' a week, with the option of paying for extra hours. I get paid 53 a week. We got approval for a bathroom conversion but in the end family members paid as it takes six months for applications to go through.

Yet I still count myself lucky as my mum is funny, tough, has all her wits about her and a brilliant sense of humour. We also share the same views and interests.

Imagine what it's like looking after someone who is difficult, disturbed and irrational or who has constant physical needs? We've been told there's "extra help" in the "last six to eight weeks" but in the absence of a crystal ball we don't know when that might be. Hundreds of thousands of people - many of them children or elderly themselves - are 'main' carers.

How must this man have felt knowing that he was becoming ill and incapable himself? I read somewhere that the NHS budget would double if people like us stopped providing care. There's a lot of talk about giving carers more recognition. This includes the occasional award from the media. Perhaps they'll have a Big Society medal? It makes my blood boil, especially where children are involved.

Carers are not saints but the frantic act of that sick man was a sign of despair. Perhaps he won't find prison too bad. He was already in a kind of prison - trapped in his mum's dependency on him and a system that offers no respite or support. And as the cuts loom large, the question arises - whose responsibility is diminished?

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