This week is Carers Week and I wanted to talk about the people here in the UK who are carers and the lack of support available to them.
Carers UK say: “Across the UK today 6.5 million people are carers, supporting a loved one who is older, disabled or seriously ill. That’s 1 in 8 adults who care, unpaid, for family and friends. Carers are holding families together, enabling loved ones to get the most out of life and making an enormous contribution to society. Many carers are stretched to the limit – experiencing poor mental or physical health themselves, finding it hard to make ends meet, struggling to juggle work and family life or having to give up work to care.”
Some carers can claim Carer’s Allowance, but this is the lowest benefit of its kind at £67.25 per week (2020/21 rates). It comes with many caveats including that the carer cannot be in full time education, cannot earn more than £128 a week from work and the person they are caring for must be receiving Personal Independence Payments (PIP), Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Attendance Allowance.
You cannot usually be paid Carer’s Allowance if you receive one or more of the following benefits:
- State Pension
- contributory Employment and Support Allowance
- Incapacity Benefit
- Maternity Allowance
- Bereavement or widow’s benefits
- Severe Disablement Allowance
- contribution-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
So those who can actually claim Carers Allowance are essentially ‘working’ for around 50p an hour (if they care for the minimum of 35 hours). Now, of course the carers are not doing this for the money, they are caring for a loved one. But why should their care mean they are financially disadvantaged? Consider that Carers UK say that carers save the economy £132 billion per year, an average of £19,336 per carer.
But many, many more people care for their loved ones with no support at all. My husband and kids have cared for me for the past 7 years. I have had 9 major surgeries, months in hospital and I live with a chronic illness. They have had to do housework, do my laundry, cook for me, help me wash, take me to appointments, take time off work and study to look after me. Yet because my husband juggles to run his own business around caring for me and earns more than £128 a week, and because my children are in full time education, they get no financial support at all.
Over on twitter, Courtney Hodgkiss said “My husband cares for me, a significant amount more than 7 hours a day, but earns more than £100 week in his actual full time job because we can’t live on this pitiful amount of £. Full time carers need banded payments similar to nursing.”
Activist and carer Dan White said this:
Young Minds say: “The BBC estimates that there are about 700,000 young carers in the UK. Being a young carer often means looking after a family member who is ill or helping them by looking after the other members of the family while they can’t. Young carers often do more chores than other children would. On top of providing emotional support to the person they are caring for they may also have to learn how to nurse them or look after their personal needs like bathing and dressing.
It can be hard work being a young carer. Sometimes other children don’t understand your responsibilities and you have less free time than others. Many young cope well with caring, especially if you have support from other family members and it’s important to look after yourself. You have the right to be looked after too and there are lots of places and people you can go to to get help.
I wrote about Young Carers last year, including my own wonderful children, you can have a read here. These are issues we should be talking about all year round, not just in Carers Week.
Practical and emotional support
It isn’t just about financial support either, what about practical and emotional support? Again, for people who aren’t ‘official’ carers, they can often feel there is no support at all. But even those who are a ‘registered’ carer say they often feel isolated and struggle physically, practically and emotionally. Regardless of whether you claim Carers Allowance or not, there is some support available.
In Sheffield, they have the website doyoucare.co.uk, take a look. They say “Chances are you already know an unpaid carer because 1 in 10 people in Sheffield cares for a family member. Caring can be practical: washing, dressing, collecting medication, cleaning, cooking, sorting out the bills, doing the shopping. It’s also often emotional: helping a person deal with their illness or disability, soothing their pain, fear, confusion, anxiety, depression and paranoia.
Caring can be rewarding, but it is also hard, unpaid work. Carers are more likely to struggle financially and have worse physical and mental health, than people who aren’t carers. In Sheffield, our campaign ‘Do you care?’ is brought to you by the two charities that support carers in the city: Sheffield Carers Centre and Sheffield Young Carers, with generous support from Sheffield City Council. We can all help carers.”
If you aren’t in Sheffield, then search for carer support in your home town. Citizens Advice have information here about being a carer. If you are looking for information about financial support, Carers UK have Upfront, a simple tool for carers who are new to the maze of benefits and entitlements. Fill in your details, spend a couple of minutes answering questions and they’ll guide you to the information you need. They can also offer support on the phone or by email and have a lot of information on their website.
We provide information and guidance to unpaid carers. This covers a range of subjects including:
- Benefits and financial support
- Your rights as a carer in the workplace
- Carers’ assessments and how to get support in your caring role
- Services available to carers and the people you care for
- How to complain effectively and challenge decisions
If you feel you need help in these areas, or want to ask a question that might be helpful to you with your caring, please get in touch. We’re not always able to provide the same level of specialist advice by telephone as we can by email, so if we’re unable to help you in this way over the phone, we will tell you about other ways to get this support including guiding you towards other services and organisations that can offer support.”
The Corona Virus is having a huge impact on disabled people, ill people and carers with vulnerable people being told to self isolate for months and sometimes vague and ever changing rules. The government has published some specific guidance for carers of friends or family during the coronavirus outbreak. Carers are being told “If you are caring for someone who is deemed to be extremely vulnerable, take extra precautionary measures by only providing essential care and ensure you follow the NHS hygiene advice for people at higher risk.”
The Guardian reported last week that “There were almost 10,000 unexplained extra deaths among people with dementia in England and Wales in April, according to official figures that have prompted alarm about the severe impact of social isolation on people with the condition.” That social contact that carers give is so vital, it isn’t just about washing or feeding but the day to day emotional support and care they give, that can be completely life saving.
The Guardian article continues: “A survey of 128 care homes by Alzheimer’s Society reveals that 79% report that lack of social contact is causing a deterioration in the health and wellbeing of their residents with dementia. Relatives of those with dementia in care homes have spoken of their loved ones feeling confused and abandoned, stopping eating and losing the ability to speak.” The Alzheimers Society are currently running an emergency appeal to fund companion calls to people with dementia.
I added my voice to the Carers Weeks campaign to #MakeCaringVisible, you can pledge your support too.
Whether you are a carer, the person who is cared for or you just want to support carers in the UK, there are ways you can help this Carers Week. There are lots of ways to volunteer, donate or support Carers UK here. There are also a lot of campaigns you can get behind, including breaks and respite for carers, fairer financial support, parking for carers at hospitals and most recently ensuring Carers are taken into account within the Corona Virus Act.
What else can you do?
If you know someone who is a carer, reach out to them, say hi, ask how they are. If you can offer support, this could just be a friendly face to listen. I know that my husband wouldn’t describe himself as a carer. Despite the fact that he is and has been for years. He says he is just looking after his wife because he loves me. And this is true but it doesn’t stop the reality that he is under added pressure because of it. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate it when someone gets in touch with him when I am very unwell. That thought and kindness of checking in with him to see if he is doing ok is everything.
Thanks for reading
Peace and love