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Our carers deserve much more than just gratitude

September 29, 2019 7:14 PM
By Rob Bird
Originally published by Liberal Democrats on Kent County Council

Millions of people care for relatives, friends and neighbours, often at huge personal cost. They need more than our gratitude; they need our support.

Carers UK have estimated that over 8 million people are currently caring for someone [1]. That is an increase of nearly 40% on the number of reported carers in 2011. It is likely that 3 in 5 of us will be caring for someone at some point in our lives. Carer

Many carers do not use the term 'carer' to describe themselves or their role. They merely see themselves as looking after someone, someone who happens to be a relative, a friend or a neighbour. For some the commitment may be a couple of hours a day, but for many it is an almost full-time role, 365 days in the year.

Carers UK reckon that as many as 2 million carers are aged 65 or over. In addition, some 4 1/4 million working age people are reported as carers, a number which is fast increasing. Many others are invisible, being unwilling to discuss their personal situation in the workplace. The Alzheimer's Society have reported on people caring for relatives with dementia [2]. They state that more than 112,000 persons were forced to give up their jobs last year to provide round-the-clock care for relatives. A further 147,000 reduced their hours or struggled to balance work with their caring responsibilities.

In addition, close to a million under 18s are young carers. They are forced to grow up early and miss out on the same opportunities as other children because they care for family members who are disabled. Incapacitated through drugs or alcohol or chronically ill. They frequently struggle at school, get bullied and live under extreme emotional stress.

CarerKent County Council is about to publish its 2019 Local Account report for Adult Social Care [3]. The section on carers, pages 42-43, gives a dramatic illustration of the huge emotional and physical strain on our carers.

According to the report, 1 in 4 carers say that they have not had a day off for more than 5 years; and 40% have had no day off for more than a year. Consequently, it should come as no surprise that 3 in 5 have a long term health condition. In the past year alone almost half the carers in Kent have suffered from depression due to their caring role. More than 3 in 5 carers said that their physical health had worsened and 70% had suffered from mental health problems.

These are alarming statistics and they need to be considered alongside the large numbers of carers who are also suffering from financial hardship as a direct consequence of their caring role - see State of Caring 2019 report by Carers UK [1]. Our society is becoming increasingly dependent on the millions of unpaid carers looking after the disabled, the ill, the elderly and the frail. It is clear that we need to do much more to look after and support these carers, be they young, of working age or elderly themselves.

We continue to wait on the Government's Green Paper proposals on the future Social Care, now more than 2 years overdue. Hopefully, this will provide a better framework for assessing people's care needs and their entitlement for state support. Hopefully, it will also recognize the acute and increasing needs of our caring community. It is clear that, for many millions of people, care will continue to come from the personal devotion of relatives, friends and neighbours. These carers will need much more and much better support in the future.

Carers UK have recommended 5 actions which need to be taken across all levels of Government in order to put in place the support that carers need to ensure the sustainability of our health and social care system:

  1. Ensure that carers and their families do not suffer financial hardship as a result of caring,
  2. Deliver a National Health Service that recognises, values and supports carers,
  3. Put in place enough funding so that older people and people with disabilities are able to access the quality and affordable care they need and that they are able to have a good quality of life alongside their caring roles,
  4. Give carers a break: Provide funding and choice of quality services to enable carers to take the breaks they need,
  5. Ensure carers are able to juggle work and care, if they wish to, with support to return to work alongside or after caring.

These recommendations are important and pressing. A caring community is a crucial to our society. We must all ensure that our carers get the support they need and that they deserve.

References:

  1. http://www.carersuk.org/images/News__campaigns/CUK_State_of_Caring_2019_Report.pdf
  2. https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/news/2019-09-28/english-businesses-lost-ps32bn-last-year-dementia-care-crisis
  3. https://democracy.kent.gov.uk/documents/s92293/Item%207%20-%20App%201%20LocalAccount2019FINAL.pdf