Inspired by next week’s national Carers Week, an annual awareness campaign that celebrates the six and a half million people across the UK who provide unpaid care for a family member or friend, this week’s blog highlights the enormous challenges that carers face and recognises the vital contribution they make to families and communities throughout the UK. Inspired by next week’s national Carers Week, an annual awareness campaign that celebrates the six and a half million people across the UK who provide unpaid care for a family member or friend, this week’s blog highlights the enormous challenges that carers face and recognises the vital contribution they make to families and communities throughout the UK.1
This annual campaign brings together eight major charities from across the UK, with representatives from the NHS, local government and business and, most importantly, the thousands people with caring responsibilities. While it recognises the many roles assumed by carers, from emotional, physical and practical support, to personal care and help with financial matters, it acknowledges that three in four carers feel their caring role is not understood or valued by their community.2
Every day, 6,000 people in the UK will become a carer, or just over two million new carers every year, however, almost as many people will find their caring responsibilities coming to an end.3 This ‘turnover’ means that caring responsibilities touches the lives of more than 60 per cent of the population.4
For professionals working in health and social care, carers provide an invaluable service - delivering support - day in and day out - for those in need of care, while also providing vital information and understanding of the patient’s condition and concerns. For example, when doctors attend to a person in crisis in A&E, it is their carers who provide the context and crucial information that helps them make a better diagnosis. But it is also carers, who carry the heavy lifting of daily care. Indeed, a 2015 report from Carers UK and the University of Sheffield estimates that the millions of people who provide unpaid care save the state £132 billion a year. This estimate is seven per cent higher than the figure for 2011 and is mostly because carers are providing more hours of care (82 per cent), partly due to the increased hourly cost of paid homecare services (18 per cent).5
For most caregivers, caring for a family member or friend can be a rewarding experience and one they really want to do, but many carers struggle under the challenges of financial hardship, ill-health, emotional stress and the feeling of isolation that results from a lack of support. Indeed, evidence shows that three in four carers do not feel that their caring role is understood or valued by their social community. Research for the Carers Week campaign highlights that this is particularly true when it comes to the availability of information for carers on how to get practical support, how to take care of their own health and training, and what wider resilience strategies they can utilise. As a result:
- 51 per cent of carers have an under- or untreated health problem
- 50 per cent report that their mental health is deteriorating
- 31 per cent only get help for themselves in case of an emergency.
As our society ages, the demand on working age family members to become carers can only grow. Meanwhile, 33 per cent of carers state that their employer does not have policies in place to support them. Of carers whose employers do not have policies in place to support them, 72 per cent have reduced hours or giving up their work, felt more stressed and 55 per cent have struggled financially.6
Research also shows that older carers and elderly women are much more likely to neglect their own health and become isolated when caring for family members. This was the case with my own parents. My mum was my dad’s carer for almost 11 years, for the majority of these years her care and support literally kept him alive (sounds dramatic, I know, but I also know it was true, and many other carers’ stories testify to this phenomenon). However, after each health crisis - and there were many - the burden of caring for him, started to take its toll. Something that my mum never admitted or discussed. Indeed, she ensured that as far as my family were concerned, we believed she was coping and not once did she suggest otherwise.
So imagine our shock, when suddenly my mum had a massive heart attack and died unexpectedly. The following four weeks, during which we shared caring responsibilities among four siblings, highlighted all too clearly the challenges faced by carers. But before we had to decide how to respond, my dad, without my mum’s support, died.
I hope my personal story hasn’t upset anyone, as I feel quite strongly that it illustrates what Carers Week is all about; and is something we all need to face up to as a society. As the statistics above show, most of us will find ourselves in a similar situation, and importantly, without unpaid carers our society and health and social care system would be truly unsustainable.
Indeed, there are many more statistics I could share with you, many of which will be covered by articles in the press during the course of the coming week, however, I hope it will encourage you to reflect on your own and your family’s situation and to wonder how you will respond. Importantly, I hope it will engender your support for carers everywhere.
As for myself, when I learned last summer that the Carers Trust was one of Deloitte’s charities, under our social impact strategy, ‘One Million Futures’,7 I volunteered to be the relationship director for the charity. Hopefully, over the coming months, we can help raise the profile of the work of this important charity and, just as importantly, the crucial role of unpaid carers in society.