Last year, the annual State of Caring 2017 report was released by Carers UK; this year’s survey was the largest to date with 7,000 individuals sharing their views on what it is like to be a carer today.
While being a carer is a selfless act that can often bring joy and rewards, let’s not side step around the fact that at times, caring for a loved one can cause anxiety and take a toll on our mental and physical health.
The State of Caring 2017 report revealed that many carers struggle to have that all-important break from their responsibilities, sometimes for years at a time. 40% of unpaid carers reported that they had not had a break from their caring responsibilities in over a year, while 25% admitted that they had not had even one day away from their caring duties in five years.
The report found that currently, only 16% of carers are buying or receiving a break from caring in the form of alternative care provision or respite care. Understandably, among the reasons cited for not taking a break, 31% of respondents stated that they thought the cost of paying for a break was prohibitive, other reasons were lack of awareness and carers not knowing that they could request a break (16%), the person they are caring for will not accept care from others (31%), the support not being on offer (27%) or low confidence in the quality of care (19%).
The financial aspect of providing family care presents a very worrying situation; 22% of family carers admitted that they are struggling to make ends meet, with 30% using their savings, 26% using credit cards, 23% using overdrafts and 17% borrowing money from family or friends. Shockingly, 8% of respondents in the survey stated they were living in a household that received £500 or less in monthly income.
It’s well documented that financial worries can have an impact on our stress and anxiety levels, with around one-third of Britons admitting that money concerns are the biggest cause of stress in life. With stress hormones in the body being detrimental to our immune system and making us more susceptible to illness and fatigue, it’s increasingly important that the financial burden of care is addressed, firstly to ease the financial strain currently being experienced and also to enable those that are providing unpaid care with a higher degree of support, in the form of a break from the duties.
There is in fact, a number of ways that care can be funded. The current carers allowance is the lowest of all benefits at £62.70 per week, and while this rose in line with the Consumer Price Index, other benefits remained frozen. Yet, it’s still an incredibly small amount that is required to be stretched very thinly when forfeiting paid work to support a loved one.
There are a number of Government grants and subsidies that are available for those that require some further support; they can be used for day to day living costs that are not provided by benefits, replacing white goods and buying equipment needed for the person that you are caring for, home repairs and even the cost of a break.
Each local council in the UK also has a Welfare Assistance Scheme (LWAS) that is there to help in urgent circumstances. These schemes provide vouchers that can be used to purchase food, fuel, clothing and living items such as beds or white goods. You may find that the name of these schemes can vary slightly, but you can use this website to see if your local council offers one.
By having a carers assessment carried out, financial circumstances and requirements can be clearly communicated. This is a separate assessment to the person that is being cared for; a carers assessment is about what the carer needs in their role and how they can be supported. It is vital that everyone in a role as an unpaid carer contacts their local social services to request one. Both carers and those being cared for may be entitled to personal budgets; this is an amount of money that is available to families or individuals to ensure that their needs are met with regards to their health and social care, providing them with more control over both of these elements.
There are three types of personal budget – health, social care and education and more advice on each one, including how to apply can be found on the NHS Choices, Directgov and Community Care websites.
There are also grants administered by charities and trusts that focus on a particular illness or disability, that can be used to support families, to purchase equipment that may be required as well as fund short breaks.
It’s vital that those providing unpaid care understand that their own needs are also incredibly important. Exploring ways in which they can receive the support that they need, whether in financial or emotional form, or facilitating time to yourself, or to share the care with professional carers is incredibly important for all involved.