The Hidden Lives of Unpaid Carers

There are now 13.6 million unpaid carers in the UK, many of which are trying to juggle work with caring responsibilities. The recent Covid-19 pandemic escalated these issues, with 4.5 million additional people caring for older, disabled or seriously ill relatives or friends.

I became unwell at the age of 14, and after struggling to manage my care needs with my family for several years, I decided that we needed extra help. Tasks I need help with range from washing, to cooking, to support with outings. On a ‘bad’ day, I can need help getting propped up, feeding, or moving parts of my body to get comfortable.

I usually have a team of carers to help with my care needs, but that changed when I started shielding. The risk was too high to continue having agency carers to support me, so my parents decided to work from home whilst caring for me. This increased role has been difficult for us all. My parents have to juggle work whilst supporting me, and I have to try to fit around their work pattern.

Reaching out to the disabled community, I found that I wasn’t the only one having this issue. Many other people have stopped their regular carers and are now relying on friends and family to do some of the most intimate tasks. During the recent pandemic, many families have suddenly had to take on a care role and got a glimpse as to what it’s like to not only be a carer but also to not get paid for the job you’re doing.

£1.92 per hour

The ‘lucky’ few may be entitled to carers allowance. It’s a mere £67.25 a week if you care for someone for 35 hours a week a more. If you divide that up and assume the carer is only working for 35 hours a week, that’s £1.92 an hour. The person that you care for must also receive a disability benefit, which I personally know the hardship of getting, even if you meet the criteria. How, in 2020, can those who are providing the most vital care be given such dreadful financial support?

For those who juggle work commitments around a caring role, they may still have some source of income. However, the responsibility of caring is sure to bubble over into work life and is extremely hard to manage at the same time. Imagine having to work 9-5, after waking up every hour to look after your sick loved one, then get home and go straight into caring until bedtime. And repeat.

Then, there are carers receiving no payments at all. Those whose lives have been completely changed by their caring role, yet don’t get a penny for it. Many of these people live in poverty, struggle to make ends meet with other basic benefits, yet work every day to try selflessly to improve the life of someone else.

More help needed

This unpaid care role is rising. With the recent Coronavirus pandemic, more people are requiring care, and it isn’t just temporary. Whilst the full long-term effects of the Coronavirus are still unknown, it’s thought that up to 10% of people are suffering with post-viral effects, some of which leave them bed-bound even months after the virus.

The important point to remember about all these carers, whether paid or not, is that they are often unseen. Caring is a role that mostly happens behind closed doors and not many people talk about it. Carers are making a vast contribution to society yet face so little support, so it’s time to change this.

We need to start providing support for all carers. We need to look at the 5 areas of wellness; physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and intellectual. Do carers have fair and equal access to these areas? No. We need to be providing emotional support, flexible work/voluntary opportunities, exercise classes, care packages so carers can go to their place of worship, and of course, in that is fair payment – not having to worry about if you’ll have money to buy food or put the heating on. We need carers to be heard.

 

Kate Stanford

 

 

 

 

Article by Kate Stanforth. She is a disability activist, dance teacher, and social media manager for the ME Association. She writes about chronic-illness and disability-related content at www.katestanforth.com and also shares snaps of her life (including her cute assistance dog!) over on Instagram at @katestanforth. Today, she writes about the escalating subject of unpaid carers.

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