The health toll on ‘sandwich generation’ of carers

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A “TIME-POOR and stressed” sandwich generation of carers are struggling to manage the impact on their own health and wellbeing of the double role of caring for sick, disabled or elderly relatives as well as their own children, a new report has said.

The Office for National Statistics said that 1.3m people now have a duel caring responsibility, and are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety and have lower levels of life and health satisfaction as a result.

The pressure comes as increased life expectancy and the decision by more people to have children at an older age come into effect, the ONS report said.

Researchers found that women were most affected as they provide the majority of care for sick or older relatives, making up 68 per cent of the carers who provide more than 20 hours of care per week. More than a quarter of parents who also look after other relatives, 27 per cent, show symptoms of mental ill-health compared to 22 per cent of the general public.

These so-called “sandwich carers” are also struggling financially, with one in three saying they are “just about getting by” financially, while one in ten are “finding it difficult” or “very difficult” to cope.

Head of strategy and engagement at the ONS, Hugh Stickland, said: “With an increasing ageing population and people deciding to have children at an older age, more people across the UK may soon find that they are part of a new ‘sandwich generation’.

“This affects more women than men, with women more likely to feel restricted in how much they can work alongside looking after older, sick or disabled relatives and children.”

Single mother-of-two Claire Outhwaite from Harrogate cares for her 89-year-old grandmother, who has dementia, while also juggling around the clock care for her daughter Victoria, seven, who has autism, and is currently unable to go to school.

Miss Outhwaite, 35, has received support from the town’s Carers Resource charity, but says not enough help is out there for people in her situation.

“Over the last couple of years, my mental health has really suffered,” she said. “I recently broke down at the doctors and said ‘I just can’t do it anymore’. But the reality is, no one is going to step in and do it for you. It’s very difficult to juggle everything.”

Helen Walker, chief executive of Carers UK, whose research revealed there are 573,954 unpaid carers in Yorkshire, said: “Beyond dual caring responsibilities, there is increasing pressure on this group to juggle work with caring and, as a result, it is one of the most time-poor and stressed generations. It is vital that the Government provides ambitious proposals for the funding and delivery of adult social care in the upcoming Green Paper – proposals that better support older and disabled people, giving the sandwich generation the ability to better manage work and caring responsibilities. It must ensure that they receive practical and financial support to care without putting their own lives on hold.”

A GOVERNMENT spokesperson said carers makes an “invaluable contribution” to society, but it recognises “this must not come at the expense of their own health and wellbeing”.

He added: “Our recently announced Carers’ Action Plan sets out a two year programme of tailored work to support unpaid carers across the country, including helping hard working carers have access to paid breaks or respite care.

“Our forthcoming green paper will look at long-term sustainable solutions for the social care system, including measures to support carers.”

The green paper, originally planned for summer 2017, but dogged by delays, will be “published at the earliest opportunity”, he added.