YORKSHIRE’S ARMY of almost 580,00 unpaid carers are putting their own health at risk as they look after loved ones and prop up a system that would “collapse” without them, council leaders have warned.
The Local Government Association (LGA) and charity Carers UK said many of the 5.7m people looking after family or friends in England, of which 573,954 are in Yorkshire and the Humber, were unable to take a break from their roles, potentially causing their health to suffer.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has been urged to include funding for assessments of carers in the long-awaited green paper on social care, due this autumn.
The LGA estimates it would cost £150 million to provide these assessments to identify their needs, but argues this is more cost-effective than having to pay long-term costs for social care and emergency hospital care.
In Yorkshire alone, Carers UK estimate that the care provided by loved ones is valued at just over £11bn a year.
Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, said: “Unpaid carers are the backbone of the care system, many of whom are unable to take a break, putting their own health on the line.
“Without these unsung heroes the system would collapse.
“But this vital network of family carers is at an increasing risk of breaking down due to the nature of the job, rising costs and demands for care, and the crisis in adult social care funding.”
He warned there is a £3.5 billion funding gap facing adult social care by 2025 just to maintain existing standards.
“We cannot duck this issue as a society any longer,” he said.
Emily Holzhausen, director of policy at Carers UK, said it was a “false economy” in the long term not to invest in breaks.
Melanie Pearson from Sheffield has been caring for her brother, who has Huntingdon’s Disease, for 18 months, and says “fighting” for his care is exhausting.
Ms Pearson, 59, said coordinating his care, which includes carers who visit four times a day, and juggling hands on care herself is “project management”, and says that carers need more support.
“My brother has gone from being able-bodied and independent to needing a lot of support very quickly,” she said. “I claim Carers Allowance, at £64.20 a week, and am not allowed to earn over £120 a week on top. It’s a poverty cap.
“It’s very hard for carers to keep financially afloat.”
The need to support carers has been recognised by the West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership.
Chief executive lead Rob Webster said there were 260,000 people in that region caring for someone they love “not because they get paid, but through an act of love and devotion”.
It has introduced measures in all hospitals in the area to make it easier for carers to stay in hospital with their loved ones, and has introduced the Working Carer’s Passport to its staff to support them.
He added: “It’s essential that we think about the people we support as being a partner in our care.”
Fatima Khan-Shah, West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership programme lead for carers, said: “The importance of supporting carers is embedded in the values of our Partnership and you can see evidence of this, for example in the stroke and mental health priorities. Work across all areas continues. Supporting carers is a priority to all.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Carers make an invaluable contribution to society by selflessly caring for their loved ones, but this must not be at the expense of their own health and happiness.
“We are already looking at how to improve carers’ access to breaks and respite care and our forthcoming green paper will look at long-term sustainable solutions for the social care system.”