There is an awareness day or week for most things. However, one awareness week I think we should all be raising awareness for and championing is Carers Week.
This year's theme is “Make Caring Visible, Valued and Supported”, and I could not think of a more perfect theme since we are in a time when there is a sincere lack of support and funding for unpaid carers.
This week’s blog post reflects on the role of unpaid caring, and the impact it has on society.
The societal impact of unpaid caring
Unpaid carers play a vital role in society. Through awareness weeks and open conversations, we can shed a light on their experiences, help create a better understanding of the challenges they face, and provide the support they require and deserve. The first part of raising awareness is highlighting what role they play within society.
Unpaid carers in the UK
Despite workforce challenges, there are currently 6.5 million people in the UK that are unpaid carers. This could potentially be even higher as there are a large number of people who would not class themselves as a carer. It is also anticipated that by 2037, the number of carers in the UK will rise to 9million.
This does not take into account young carers who are increasing in numbers. There are approximately 800,000 young carers in the UK who spend on average 11-20 hours per week caring for a family member, whilst juggling education, employment and personal responsibilities.
Whilst most young carers are in their teens, there are some that are as young as 5 years old. Children who should be playing and having fun but, instead, shouldering responsibilities and demonstrating understanding that surpass their years.
The industry effects of unpaid caring
Unpaid carers and young carers are the unsung heroes of our society, selflessly providing vital care and support to their loved ones, whilst giving up much of their own time and energies in order to maintain their loved one’s independence and well-being.
They are the backbone of our health and social care system, providing care that would otherwise fall onto paid services. It is estimated that in England and Wales alone, unpaid carers save the NHS an estimated £162 billion per year and save social care an estimated £132 billion per year on personal care, cooking, cleaning, managing finances and arranging emotional and social care support.
Isn’t it time that we reflect on the impact to our already questionable social care systems if these people were not in those roles?
How does unpaid caring effect the carers?
Caring for someone can be a demanding role. Unpaid carers face numerous challenges in their daily lives, such as burnout or physical and emotional stress, sleep deprivation, social isolation, and the emotional toll of witnessing their loved ones' health and independence decline.
Finding work/life balance
For young carers, they have to balance their caring responsibilities with other aspects of their lives, such as employment, education and personal relationships.
Young carers frequently experience overwhelming pressure to meet multiple demands, which can lead to decreased attendance at school, falling behind on coursework, or missing out on clubs and personal activities. This, combined with the feeling of social isolation as they see their friends attending activities and social events, can contribute to feelings of loneliness, anxiety and a sense of being different.
There are some parts of this country that support young carers really well. However, due to funding challenges, some young carers do not have a safe space to connect with others in similar situations, and end up dropping out of education. They also have increased mental health and wellbeing needs, which tend to be unmet.
We need to ensure our local authorities and government are prioritising the provision of mental health services, counselling, and therapy for both unpaid carers and young carers. This is essential so that they can be supported in managing their emotions, reducing stress levels, developing coping strategies, and ensuring that they have access to someone and somewhere to turn to when needed.
Many of our local authorities fail to accurately identify anywhere near the number of unpaid carers there are within their boroughs and districts. Even when they do, there is failure to review and touch base with people to ensure they are taking regular respite breaks and prioritising their own health.
The financial burden
One of the biggest challenges for unpaid carers and young carers is the financial burden. Many have to reduce their working hours or quit their jobs/careers altogether to provide care.
The loss of income is not recompensed by the government or local authorities. This can put people and families under heightened financial instability, risk of poverty, and stress on both them and their loved ones. The government have introduced policies and initiatives to support carers, including:
- The Care Act: This significant legislation outlines the rights and support available to people receiving care and for carers in England. It should include offering information, advice, practical assistance and respite care to ensure carers have breaks.
- Carer’s Assessment: All carers, regardless of age, are entitled to a carer’s assessment. This is a detailed evaluation of their needs and the impact of caring on their life. The assessment is aimed at identifying where additional support or resource may be required.
- Flexible Working Rights: Unpaid carers have the right to request flexible arrangements from their employers, which in turn allows the balance of employment and caring requirements. Flexible working options include part-time work, remote working, flexible start and finish times, job sharing, and reduced hours.
- Financial Support: Carers may be eligible for financial assistance such as Carer’s Allowance, grants, or benefits depending on their circumstances.
- Carer’s Support Services: Various organisations and support services are available to provide information, advice, emotional support, respite care, and peer support to carers.
Whilst these initiatives and policies have been introduced, the government needs to go further. It is commonly known that not all carers are entitled to Carer’s Allowance. Due to funding cuts, it is often a postcode lottery, and Carer’s Rights Campaigns and Advocacy Groups are working tirelessly to promote the rights of unpaid and young carers and push for further policy changes, secure additional grants for support services, and to address the issues faced by carers.
How to support unpaid carers
As a society, we need to address the support gap and we all have a part to play. It is likely many of us will one day become a carer for someone we love, or it may be that you are already one.
With the average age of a carer being 54 years old, here are some things you can do:
- Highlight the need for increased funding for carer support services, including respite care, counselling and upskilling/training. Utilise your voice on social media, re-share content, sign petitions and help raise awareness.
- Write to your local MP.
- Encourage and support work life balance if you are a manager of a service and offer flexible hours.
- Speak to the business owner about paid leave/paid sick leave as these can be a big support to carers.
- Begin to explore some of the challenges and investigate what support you can offer.
- Discuss initiatives that you can do as a team to help reduce the stigma associated with caring roles. Raise awareness of the challenges carers face, or hold a fundraiser for a local charity that supports young carers/unpaid carers. Things like sponsored walks, charity runs, and bake sales always go down well. Before choosing where to donate, ensure that the funds go straight towards providing resource, respite, counselling, or training programmes for carers.
- Do you have a spare bedroom in your care home, could you turn it into a respite bedroom and provide temporary relief for carers?
- Do you know a young carer or unpaid carer? Could you help support on a short, medium or long term? Something that may seem so small to you, could be a huge thing to someone with a lot of responsibilities. Could you cut their grass, do some cleaning, grab some shopping, spend time with their loved one whilst they go out?
- Are you supporting anyone who has an unpaid or young carer? Have you flagged them to adult social care in your area? Chances are, they may not be known to the local authority, and your referral could change the support and network someone has.
- Research local organisations or charities that provide support so that you can signpost people to them.
- Volunteer at any of the support centres or provide staff to do so as part of your work within the community.
We know carers and young carers are overlooked. But it is clear that they play a vital role in our society.
They provide essential care to millions of people, and they save social care and the NHS significant amounts of money. We all need to do more to support unpaid carers and help recognise their value and contribution.