To spotlight those caring for society's most vulnerable without pay, social care expert Mark Topps discusses the impact of unpaid caring and ways to offer support.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
Have a flick through some of our other articles.
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