Family Carers The Unsung Heroes!

Family carers face relative poverty as they struggle to care for their loved ones with little help or support from the state.

They quietly go about their business every day caring for the people they love.  It may be children with special needs, spouses or for many baby boomers it could be caring for ageing parents.

A carers responsibility can be for life or a few frantic months depending on who and why they are having to care for.

Family carers often sacrifice their own lives to care for their loved ones!

Woman pushing her husband  in wheelchair

In the UK it is reported that one in eight adults - or more than 6.5 million people are carers, often struggling to keep their heads above water. Many are trying to combine working and being a family carer at the same time.

In every street there are a silent army of carers diligently trying to do the best they can for the people they love and are often thrown into financial hardship because of the sacrifices they have to make.

A report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) points out that thousands of baby boomer women in their 50s are being hit by a triple whammy of work, childcare and caring for elderly parents.  More than three million carers are trying to juggle jobs with caring for elderly parents.

Family carers have to do a great deal of hard physical graft - washing sheets, changing mattresses, struggling to help ill people from one place to another, providing meals and quite often holding down a job and trying to do it all with a smile.  It's not so easy after an exhausting and stressful day at work.  It's not surprising therefore that 20 per cent of carers have to give up work.

Carers UK the main charity in this sector estimates that the cost to the taxpayer if the State had to step in and do the job would be £119 billion. That is a figure that is not sustainable in the current economic situation and with an ageing population this is only going to get worse. 

However, it is unlikely that the dedicated army of family carers would simply stop caring for their loved ones.  We care for each other because we are naturally a caring society.  It is the essential part of being human.

Caring has never been top of the political agenda and there is very little help and support available to the family carer.

There is a caring allowance  available for those who qualify.  Well below the minimum wage when you take into account the number of hours most carers put in.

Qualification  for the allowance is complicated and dependent on many things.   There is also a lack of legal protection for both patients and carers  who ideally need time away from work in order to recover or to keep someone alive during a lengthy rehabilitation period. 

Andrew's Story

A story in the  Mail on Sunday recently was written by the BBC presenter Andrew Marr and his wife Jackie Ashley.

Andrew suffered a severe stroke at the beginning of this year and his Wife Jackie has helped nurse him back to health.

It was good to see him back on  his show on Sunday morning after several months of intensive physiotherapy and hard work to overcome the effects of the stroke.  He still has a way to go. 

Their ordeal happened overnight with Andrew's stroke coming completely out of the blue. 

They bravely give an insight to the last few months of their journey together as Andrew has struggled to overcome the effects of the stroke.

The stroke survivor needs help with nearly everything, washing, dressing, eating meals three times a day, hospital appointments, physio appointments. 

It's difficult for the patient who has suddenly lost independence and its hard physical work for the family carer.

Not many employers will be as supportive as the BBC was to Andrew.  He knew they would keep his job open for him and Jackie has been able to find work after taking six months out from her freelance work.

They appreciated the fact that financially they were a lot better off than many ordinary people and were able to pay for extra physiotherapy and all kinds of aids and gadgets  to help Andrew in his rehabilitation. 

Hopefully life is slowly returning back to normal for them but for many a stroke can mean debilitating damage that means life changes in an instant and will never be the same again.

My own experience as a Carer!

I was self employed when my mother was diagnosed with alzheimers.  As she deteriorated and needed more and more assistance I found myself increasingly having to turn work down.

By the time she died six years later I had been forced into retirement claiming my pension much earlier than I wanted to simply because I didn't have enough money to survive on.

Because I drew my pension I was not elligible for Carers allowance.  The long term effect has been a much reduced pension for the rest of my life. If I had met the criteria  for a carers allowance it could have been a different story. 

Caring can be expensive with regular hospital visits, doctors, clinics, physiothereapy appointments there is a huge increase in travel costs for both the patient and the carer. Hospital car parking fees are extortionate and quickly rack up.

Extra laundry, essential telephone calls, special meals, all help to drive living expenses up just as your income is falling with either less or no work at all.

Are you caring for someone?
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How Could We Improve Support for Carers?

One thing is certain with an aging population  and advances in medical interventions more and more of us are living longer.  The need for caring outside of hospital is growing all the time.

It's estimated that before long the total number of carers in this country will be nine million not six million.

There are things that could be put in place to make the life of the family carer more tolerable.

  • The IPPR has a sensible suggestion that we adopt the German policy of Familien-flegezeit (family caring time).

    In Germany, employees can reduce their working hours to a minimum of 15 hours a week for upto two years if they have caring responsibilities.  If we adopted this idea, job security and flexibility would be built in for the both the employee and the employer.
  • The Carer's allowance is a benefit that needs to be increased and not cut with a revision of the criteria guidelines.  It should be an additional benefit to cover additional expenses not a benefit that replaces another.
  • More information and guidance available to family carers and patients on how to access support.
  • More information on the gadgets and aids available and how to access them  to help make life easier for both the patient and the carer.
  • More GP surgeries to offer support to Carers and their families.

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