Across the country during 11th-17th June, various individuals, charities and institutions will be celebrating Carers Week 2018 in recognition of unpaid carers and the work they do. That period will also mark just over two and a half months of my time working for a local carers charity. It’s opened my eyes to the issues that many carers face and what needs to change to improve their lives, but also to recognise the need to publicise Carers Week and recognise the contribution of carers to society as a whole.
Around 6.5 million people in the UK are carers, looking after a parent, partner, child or friend. A carer is someone who provides unpaid care and support to a family member or friend who has a disability, illness, mental health problem or who needs extra help as they grow older. This may seem another world away, especially to young adults like myself, but anyone can find themselves unexpectedly having to step into a caring role. Only 4% of people asked in a survey last year thought it was ‘very likely’ that they would become a carer in the future. Almost all those who become carers will not have any formal qualifications in this area, and can feel very overwhelmed, very quickly as they are forced to learn as they go along.
The main worries people face when asked about becoming a carer are centred around finance and work. With many people struggling to get by on a weekly basis, the thought of giving up work to care for a loved one and instead taking on a small carers allowance, presents an incredibly difficult choice. An outdated anomaly in the benefits system also means that taking even a small amount of part time work can often mean that claimants can lose their entire weekly Carer’s Allowance of £64.60 by earning just £1 over the threshold. This can force carers to leave work and turn down any extra hours or pay rises, leaving them feeling trapped and unable to make their own choices. The lack of time and stress can exacerbate these feelings, and lead to physical and mental health related problems for the carer themselves.
These anxieties and complications are only amplified when living somewhere rural such as Norfolk. Having very few large towns in our county can make it difficult to find specific caring support, and even then, transport is required. Public transport when so many carers are based in tiny villages and small communities is not a viable option. Social isolation and loneliness is a related problem to this. Over half of people surveyed by Norfolk County Council recently who receive a service in the county said they don’t get the amount of social contact they would like, with a quarter saying they never leave their home. This gives the impression to many that carers don’t exist, when completely the opposite is true. It is very much an invisible problem to the majority of our country, and this needs to change.
I was surprised but encouraged to see that an issue around caring – the so-called ‘dementia tax’ – was such a big turning point for voters during the 2017 General Election. Their manifesto proposals to make people pay more of the costs of social care were met with widespread outrage by the media and constituents across the country. I spoke to several people in North Norfolk and Norwich South who had said it was something that put them off voting Conservative entirely. Issues around caring need to be kept as a political priority to ensure carers, wherever they may live, are not ignored by our politicians and the mainstream media.
Make as much noise as you can about Carers Week 2018, but do not forget about the tireless work of these individuals all year round. When it comes to electing representatives, mention the value of social care as an issue and do not vote for those who dismiss its importance. Consider supporting national caring charities financially, or even local charities as a volunteer, and help ensure that those that care are also cared for by society.
Featured image CC BY 2.0 gdsteam
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