by Karen Taylor, Director, Centre for Health Solutions
Last week was National Carers week, the annual awareness campaign aimed at recognising the seven million people across the UK who provide unpaid care for a family member or friend.1 It highlights the enormous challenges that carers face and the vital contribution they make to families and communities throughout the UK. Therefore I thought it timely to reflect on the contribution made to society by the millions of unpaid carers and consider what can be done to support those who provide the much needed, immensely valuable, unpaid care to their family and friends.
I should declare at the outset that I have a vested interest in this subject as, for the past three years, I have been Deloitte’s relationship director for the Carers Trust, one of the charities that Deloitte supports under our social impact strategy, ‘One Million Futures’.2 The support provided by Deloitte includes fundraising, pro bono, and volunteering, with a particular focus on their Working for Carers programme, which aims to help employers do more to support carers get back into employment in a way which recognises and supports their individual needs.
As a result, I have seen first hand the many challenges that carers face and also the many truly inspiring personal accounts of the joy that caring brings them. Importantly, it has also highlighted the critical need for more equal and equitable support for carers. Closer to home, my mother was also a carer for my father for more than eight years. Although I thought I understood how challenging this was, it was only after her unexpected death that I and my family realised just how difficult caring 24/7 for someone you love, but who is entirely dependent on you for most aspects of daily living, truly is. My personal aim in working with the Carers Trust is to do what I can to ensure that society does appreciate the challenges but also the rewards that being a carer can bring.
Back to Carers week and the annual campaign which brings together major charities from across the UK, with input from the NHS, local government and business and, most importantly, the millions of people with caring responsibilities. While the publicity around Carers week recognises the many roles assumed by carers, from emotional, physical and practical support, to personal care and help with financial matters, it also acknowledges that three in four carers feel their caring role is not understood or valued by their community.
Moreover, 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 and felt more stressed. While 55 per cent have struggled financially.
While most caregivers feel privileged being able to care for a family member or friend and see caring as a rewarding experience and one they want to do, many carers struggle with financial hardship, ill-health, emotional stress and the feeling of isolation that results from a lack of support. A 2018 survey in support of Carers week, with responses from nearly 7,000 people, found almost three quarters of unpaid carers in the UK have suffered from poor mental health, with a lack of sleep, insufficient support and financial worries among the main stressors affecting their wellbeing. The vast majority (72 per cent) have suffered mental ill health as a result of caring, with 61 per cent saying their physical health had deteriorated. Notably, 43 per cent of respondents said they believed they would not be able to provide as much – or even any – care in the future due to poor physical health. One third felt mental ill health would prevent them from providing care in future.3
Carers UK, which conducted the research, is calling for “urgent support” to ensure the health of the nation’s carers does not worsen or render them incapable of looking after their loved ones. The plea for help has been backed by seven other organisations: Age UK, Carers Trust, Independent Age, Macmillan Cancer Support, the Motor Neurone Disease Association, MS Society and Which? The group urged the Government to put in place “sustainable funding” for social care and to improve the support available for carers.
Every day, 6,000 people in the UK will become a carer. For some the role can come about unexpectedly and many will put their own lives on hold to help someone close to them. For others it will come after a slow decline in their loved ones health. Whatever the reason, this equates to just over two million new carers every year, however, almost as many people will find their caring responsibilities coming to an end.4 This ‘turnover’ means that caring responsibilities touch the lives of more than 60 per cent of the population.
Moreover, figures from Age UK published in December 2017 reveal the extent to which millions of older people are being left to prop up the country’s disintegrating care system, with those aged 65 and over providing nearly 54 million hours of unpaid care each week in England in 2016. The figures highlight the rising demands being placed on older informal carers as Government underfunding causes the social care safety net to shrink. Which is resulting in increasing numbers of our older population in need of care. In 2015-16, over two and a quarter million (2,299,200) people aged 65 and over provided care – a 16.6 per cent increase on five years ago when 1,829,200 did so. Over 400,000 (404,400) of these unpaid carers are from the oldest demographic in our society (aged 80 and over), and they provided 12.7 million hours of care in 2015/16 – a 12.7 per cent increase from 2009-10.5
While there are many more startling statistics I could share with you, many of which were covered by articles in the press during the course of last week. The fact is that these statistics are about people, people like you and me who could well find ourselves needing to provide care to our family or friends. I hope this article 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 lend your support for carers everywhere.
4 Numbers of carers each week