Kirsty McHugh, CEO of Carers Trust
The 2021 census figures released earlier this year confirmed an alarming trend. Unpaid carers are spending increasing amounts of time looking after sick or disabled loved ones and friends, often to the detriment of their own wellbeing.
Census data showed the proportion of unpaid carers in England and Wales providing 20 hours of care a week or more has risen 42% since 2011. This was backed up by a Carers Trust survey of carers aged 25 and under, released in March, with 56% saying the time they spend caring has increased in the past year, with almost half looking after more people than they used to.
These figures are alarming but unsurprising. As pressures ramp up on hospital wards and the social care system in the wake of the pandemic, so too does the weight of unpaid carers’ responsibilities. Many unpaid carers tell us they are overworked, under-supported and often little understood by those in power. The question is, what can all of us do about it?
The census reported there were five million unpaid carers in England and Wales but we think the true number will be far higher. Part of the challenge is many people don’t recognise themselves as an unpaid carer, meaning they’re locked out of accessing the support that’s on offer.
Those who come into contact with unpaid carers can play a role in addressing this issue and help to identify the carers in any household. This can be as simple as asking a few questions, yet time and again people tell us that opportunities were missed to identify them. One mother, now supported by a local organisation, recently told us she had struggled to look after her adult son for decades before any professional asked if she also needed help.
Asking a carer how they are or how the amount of caring they do is impacting their life and wellbeing is a vital first step. There are an estimated one million young carers across the UK too, so checking if any children in a household are providing care can also be crucial.
Unpaid carers are entitled to a carer’s assessment to find out what support they need. Asking whether this has been done and knowing where to refer people for an assessment, even if it’s just signposting them to the relevant section of a council’s website, can provide a lifeline.
A separate Carers Trust survey last year showed a break or respite was number two on the things that would make the biggest difference to their lives. At Carers Trust, we have a network of local carer support organisations, with some providing a paid, trained care support worker who takes over the caring role to enable an unpaid carers to have a respite break. These organisations can also offer a range of other support and advice. People can find theirs simply by visiting carers.org and entering their post code.
As a campaigning organisation, many of our key concerns and demands of government are much the same as yours. We believe government investment in the health and social care workforce is vital to ensure the continued provision of domiciliary, respite and hospital discharge support.
Upskilling, training, and ensuring up-to-date knowledge across social care staff is critical to empowering and supporting carers. Meanwhile, the recruitment and retention of social care staff is one of the chief current challenges identified by our regulated local carer organisations and registered care managers.
At Carers Trust, we will never stop working towards a rights-based approach that empowers carers. By joining us in this fight and raising awareness of their situation, you can help us enable health and social care systems to better support and respond to their needs