Legacy of time spent as parents’ carer is a difficult one

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From: Jennifer Hunter, Farfield Avenue, Knaresborough.

I WAS particularly pleased to observe that your Editorial is continuing the debate about carers (Yorkshire Post, June 18) because this issue affects very many people and will continue to do so as our population ages and people generally require the assistance of others.

I cared for my elderly parents for over four years and although my carer’s duties have now ceased, I am finding it very difficult to re-establish myself because many environments and situations which surround me have changed during my years as a carer. For example, it is difficult for me to find suitable employment because I have achieved very little in the field of professional development over the past few years.

The years I spent as a carer were challenging for me in a variety of ways, but I must emphasise that due to love and loyalty with regard to my parents, I could never have chosen to behave differently or more selfishly, and at least I cannot reproach myself for the rest of my life for not having done my best for my loved ones.

There are, indeed, very many unpaid carers who perform exceedingly valuable work by giving support to loved ones and family, and it is obvious that people who care for others without receipt of benefits can become impoverished very quickly.

However, those carers who are paid benefits are usually not in receipt of an amount of money which rewards satisfactorily the hours and care they give to others.

I was in receipt of Carer’s Allowance which rose from approximately £52 to £55 a week. There is, however, a stipulation that a carer cannot earn more than £110 per week (this was the case in spring 2010) without having to forfeit their Carer’s Allowance.

I attended a carers’ meeting in Harrogate two years ago where I met a businesswoman who cared for her disabled sister. She wanted to retain her career and was prepared to stop claiming Carer’s Allowance because she knew that she, ultimately, would not be able to meet her sister’s increasing needs. Her sister would eventually need alternative, increased support, and she did not want to be left without employment and future financial stability. Carers are not encouraged, therefore, to earn a decent living wage in their own time as their incomes are inhibited by regulations.

I was extremely grateful for Carer’s Allowance because, unfortunately, I had very limited part-time or temporary employment opportunities while I was a carer. This allowance helped considerably to pay for my travel expenditure, but after more than four years of encountering and surmounting various emotional obstacles, I can honestly express that the financial impact of those difficult years was merely one aspect which affected me negatively.

My general mental and physical health suffered as a result of the cumulative effects of continuous anxiety, bereavement and feelings of isolation.

I can imagine that these experiences can often lead to carers suffering from depression and physical, stress-related illnesses such as gastric and unpleasant dermatological problems.

Carers are often unable to go into their previous familiar work environments and meet people with similar interests and professional experience and this can lead to them feeling incredibly isolated. When I was a carer, people asked about the health of my parents, but very few people seemed to take into account the fact that I felt exhausted and had practical and emotional needs.