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.