Hello, do you see me? I’m an unpaid carer

Making carers visible is the campaign message for Carers Week 2020. A carer is someone like me who cares for a family member, partner, friend or neighbour who due to physical or mental illness, disability, age-related difficulties or an addiction cannot cope without your support.

Anyone can become a carer and they come from all walks of life, all cultures and can be of any age.

  • You might be a carer and still be working in employment.
  • You might be a carer that has had to give up education or employment
  • You might be doing multiple caring roles like caring for your children as well as your partner or elderly parent.
  • You might even be a child, a young carer, looking after a parent, sibling or grandparent.
  • You might take on a caring role permanently or on a temporary basis

Carers Week

This week is where we get lots of attention, have coffee mornings, get free complimentary therapies, have information events and are told we’re indispensable! ( Now all virtual!)

It’s great to see to #CarersWeek trending on social media, & campaigns on how to improve carer’s lives. But what’s important is that those campaigns bear fruit and we see real change that improves carer’s lives.

So far it really hasn’t happened and it’s disheartening.  We need to look after ourselves. Our emotional, financial, health and social needs need to be taken care of for us to provide the best care. But how do we get there? How do we make ourselves visible in a world where we are valued so little? Everything we do happens behind closed doors. The pandemic has made that much harder through isolation. We’ve lost the support of family, friends and care workers either by choice or due to lack of resource. So the focus on making carers visible is welcome as long as it’s not just for this week. We need to push forward and make real changes that benefit us and society as a whole.  

The pandemic has raised the profile of carers and brought us to the forefront. I wonder how many of those who ‘Clapped for carers’ were thinking of the invisible army of unpaid carers rather than those who are employed as care workers through councils or private companies? 

I ask because the government hasn’t really been thinking of us. We were the last group to be offered PPE, we haven’t been given any kind of financial bonus or payment despite our costs increasing (except in Scotland where they have a one-off payment.) They’ve increased Universal Credit & Working Tax Credits due to additional pressures from Coronavirus by £20 p/week, but haven’t changed the basic payment that carers can claim.  Again, we’re invisible.

We get Carer’s Allowance of £67.25 for a minimum of 35 hrs of care per week that’s £1.92 per hour – would you choose that, especially as we all know that in reality, we do many more hours than that? What an apt name, Carers Allowance, as it’s not really an income, it is just an allowance to say, hey, thanks for taking care of your loved one instead of burdening the state, here’s a weekly allowance to say thanks!

Thanks to the pandemic, now more than ever is the time to fight for carers, to pile on the pressure on the government, charities and other organisations to see us as we want to be. What we do is behind closed doors, we’re invisible, so unless we continue to shout nothing will change. Every day I read about the struggles that other carers have similar to my own, especially now as isolation has amplified feelings of loneliness, impacted our mental well being, put added pressures on our physical health and burdened us with financial struggles.

So back to the central question of how do we make carers more visible so you see me! What actions can be taken to ensure that we are recognised as individuals?

Recognise me as a carer

  • Recognition and respect for the work we do. Respect that I have the knowledge that can help & support our loved ones. Consult and involve me – don’t dismiss my input. Get us involved in local or national decision-making processes on policy or services for carers– have a carer’s representative on all your committees when designing policy.  Let us have a voice!

Provide us a basic living wage

  • Many carers have had to work part-time or give up work entirely to care for loved ones, saving the economy billions.
  • We may also have had to use up our savings or go into debt because the benefits provided are not enough to live on. 
  • It can’t make up for the loss of earnings, or savings lost or potential to save for the future so being paid a living wage can improve our day to day lives, and give us more opportunities to invest time in ourselves.

Support carers to return to work, employment or training

  • Support us by not limiting the hours we can work or train when claiming benefits. Help employers to improve on flexible working arrangements so we can balance our caring role. We have more flexibility for childcare, the same should be applied for other caring roles.  

Emotional, Physical & Mental Health

  • We need better access to respite care, that is flexible so it can be accessed when needed & focused on the whole family.  Each council offers varying amounts or nothing at all, we need consistency on a minimum requirement (day & night) and breaks for more than a few hours to recuperate to support carers.
  • We need health and safety training on supporting individuals with complex health/social care issues.  We’re only asking for what you would provide your employees, they don’t get sent out to work without some form of training on the physical or mental impacts. 
  • We need counselling services and regular health and well-being checks with local GPs, these should be standard for all carers so we don’t fall through the cracks.

Getting the information & support that easily accessible at the right time

  • A one-stop shop for carers where we can get information & support with local hubs. 
  • There are too many sources of information or you find out way too late in caring of support services, benefits or respite options that are available to you. 
  • A one-stop shop would reduce confusion, duplication of efforts and allow for us to become better advocates for our loved ones.

Respect the vital role we provide and stop marginalizing us, treat us with dignity and compassion, see us for the value we bring to society at huge personal sacrifice and cost to ourselves. 

Things need to change – Do you see me now?

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