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Carers Week 2021: how charities are raising awareness

This year, charities are shining a spotlight on the lack of breaks unpaid carers have been able to take since the start of the pandemic. Here’s how.

The pandemic hasn’t been easy for anybody, but it has been particularly tough for those looking after vulnerable loved ones, many of whom have had to provide more care than ever before. A lot of support services that are usually lifelines for unpaid carers have been shuttered during the crisis.

Lockdown restrictions have also made it difficult for carers to access the informal support from friends and family they’d usually rely on in normal times.

This week is Carers Week (7 to 13 June), an annual charity campaign led by Carers UK, to raise awareness of the millions of unpaid carers in the country. This year, the campaign focuses on the extra challenges carers are facing as a result of the crisis. According to the charity, around 4.5 million people have started providing unpaid care since the pandemic began. 

New research shows that those who were caring before the coronavirus crisis lost around 25 hours of support a month due to lockdown measures. And a whopping 75% have not had any breaks from their caring duties during the pandemic. 

Floundering mental health

Breaks are important. Caring for a loved one can be hugely rewarding but it is also very demanding. Not being able to step away from caring duties can take a serious toll.

More than two thirds of unpaid carers (69%) said their mental health has worsened because of a lack of breaks, while 64% said their physical health has suffered. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of people reported being exhausted as a result of caring during the crisis. 

Charities are calling on the UK Government to provide £1.2 billion of funding for breaks for unpaid carers. They say this would enable those providing upwards of 50 hours of care to take time off for their own health and wellbeing. 

Support for unpaid carers

A carer’s wellbeing is just as important as that of the person they are looking after. Plus, you’re able to provide better care and support if you’re not overstretched. But carers often tell us how easy it is to forget about your own needs. 

Although accessing breaks has undoubtedly been more difficult than usual during the pandemic, there are some steps unpaid carers can explore to get more support. The first port of call is usually a free ‘needs assessment’ with the local authority. If your loved one is assessed as having ‘eligible needs’, they might qualify for free care services at home.

Unpaid carers can also arrange a ‘carer’s assessment’ with the council. This looks at how caring impacts your life and can help you get access to financial and practical support.

If you need to take a break from caring – whether this a regular break to deal with your own commitments or you just need a couple of weeks off to rest and recharge – there are some options you can look at. Which? has a guide on how respite care services can benefit you and the person you care for.

It is also always worth making sure you’re receiving all the benefits you’re entitled to. This includes some state benefits specifically for carers, such as Carer’s Allowance. Our benefits for carers guide has more details about who is eligible and how to apply.

Talking to others in a similar situation can also help if caring duties are making you feel isolated. There are also many great online groups such as Carers UK’s forum where you can chat to other unpaid carers, share your experiences and ask for advice. 

Were you aware of Carers Week? You can find out more and get involved by visiting their website.

Comments

I am confused about a couple of aspects of this intro. The term “unpaid carer” seems to be applied to “those looking after vulnerable loved ones”, which I assume includes severe family illness. My view is that a family has not only a responsibility to look after its own, but would want to out of love. So I would not want to be described as an “unpaid carer” as if it were an unrewarding job.

If, as is rightly said, many avenues of help were closed during the pandemic then offering money for respite seems pointless as there are insufficient services available to spend it on.

However, the main question for me is helping families look after someone who is ill in their own home, not substituting bu supplementing family care. I would not want to be shipped off to a home unless it were medically essential. Nor would I want to be a burden on my family. We need properly funded home care by suitably qualified and paid people to provide that essential extra help. I hope the government will develop that, but at the expense of what other benefit? Reducing the higher rates of tax relief on private pension contributions to 20%?

For the state to provide for a higher allocation of respite care is a desirable ambition, but I should be interested to know where the human resource capacity for such relief would come from.

If money alone would solve the problem a solution could be found but with increasing longevity the demand for supportive care can only keep on growing, but the number of competent people available to supply it is not keeping pace.

If every unpaid carer takes a break from daily caring then we would need a small army of people to step into the role and I think we should see a plan for that before we debate how many billions the government should provide. Plucking numbers out of the air is not helpful.

I think we owe it to Carers Week to address this responsibly.

Finding suitably qualified people to address many issues is often overlooked, whether it is medical, teaching, healthcare, law and order. I would agree with that John. Some of the money might be spent in educating and training the carers rather than just employing low-paid people with no career progression likely. My guess is that having better paid, better trained people might not necessarily require a huge increase in their numbers. Proper home care might well keep many people out of hospital by dealing with issues before they go too far downhill.

I agree with you Malcolm.

It’s an issue that’s been overlooked for far too many years now, regardless of political party in power IMO.

And like you said, not just in the care system but in most other things like education, policing, social services, NHS, you name it.

Too many simpletons IMO.

Without trying to get too bogged down in politics, this does very much appear to be a ‘catch 22’ situation.

Places like respite care units, whether for elderly persons or persons with learning disabilities, etc (of all ages) are only really effective if they’re well-run by properly trained staff who really know what they’re doing, and not untouchable ‘chancers’ who are on a power trip and who simply feel ‘entitled’ to such a job.