‘Wake-up call’ over army of carers with little support

Helena Herklots, Chief Executive of Carers UK
Helena Herklots, Chief Executive of Carers UK
Have your say

AN “invisible army” of carers are not receiving enough support, leaving many with ill health and unable to look after the people they care for, a group of charities warns today.

Research published today reveals that more than half of carers - 53 per cent - said they were not receiving enough support, leaving those who are cared for without enough help from health professionals and unable to cope with the money worries and emotional strain of caring.

In Yorkshire and the Humber, 550,000 people act as vital unpaid carers for family members or friends, plugging a gap in health and social care.

The research, released to mark the start of Carers Week, was carried out on behalf of the nine charities including Age UK, Macmillan Cancer Support, Parkinson’s UK and the MS Society.

It revealed huge gaps in the understanding of what the charities say is a growing social issue, with just nine per cent knowing the true scale of unpaid, family care.

Nationally, 6.5m people, or one in eight adults, care for someone who is frail or facing a long-term illness or disability and this number is expected to rise to nine million by 2037.

However less than a third of people questioned believe it is likely they will become carers in future.

Speaking on behalf of the charities, Heléna Herklots, chief executive of Carers UK, said: “The reality is that all of us, at some point in our lives, will either be carers or need the help of carers.

“This survey is a wake-up call, clearly and alarmingly showing that as a society we need a much wider understanding of the realities of caring.”

Jackie Harrison, 48, of Brighouse, has cared for her brother Mark, who has Huntington’s Disease since she was a teenager.

She receives just seven hours a week of support because they live together, and the only way of receiving more support would be for him to go into specialist residential care at the cost of thousands of pounds a month. She said: “I struggle to keep fighting some days, but I know I have to.

“Years of caring mean I don’t have the pension fund that a solid career would have given me.

“I have worked for most of my life to support us but it has not been well paid and has sometimes been part time.”

Carers UK is calling on health professionals and the public to reach out to carers and understand the impact caring can have on those responsible for others.

Emily Holzhausen, director of policy at the charity, said between 80 and 90 per cent of carers suffer from ill health as a result of the stresses and strains of caring.

“Part of that is because the system is so complicated and they are not necessarily getting the right information or support.

“If a carers health fails, it can be catastrophic.

“There is not enough money in the care system. Over the last three years, £2.65billion has been taken out of social care spending because of the squeeze on local authority spending.

“People are not prepared for the impact that caring has on them emotionally.”

One of the biggest challenges is that a lot of “hidden carers” do not recognise what they are doing as caring, and therefore do not seek help, said Anne Smyth, director of Carers’ Resource, which offers support to carers across Bradford, Harrogate, Craven and Airedale.

Mrs Smyth added: “Health and social care professionals who are doing their best to make less and less go further. I’m really concerned that carers might have to bear the unfair brunt of that.

“Carers work 24/7, save the country lots of money, and deserve care and support from us.

“If we can get carers into a support network, like ours, we can begin to unpick their problems and them the help that’s available.”

Chief executive of Carers Leeds, Val Hewison, said good quality information was “crucial” to help empower carers.

In Leeds, the council and Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), will this week launch a new service to give carers one number to call where they can get all the information and support they need.

“They are real trailblazers,” she said. “We have an ageing population so most of us will either become carers or need one.”