The life chances of many of the UK’s 6.5 million unpaid carers is being severely damaged by a lack of support from local authorities and communities, according to damning new research published to coincide with the beginning of Carers Week.
Research from Carers UK, in partnership with six other national charities, found that inadequate support is having a “significant” impact of carer’s health, wellbeing, relationships and personal finances.
This damage can be further compounded when carers face a lack of understanding about their caring role from the overall community, the report ‘Building Carer Friendly Communities’ says.
The report is based on responses from 5,682 people from Carers UK’s annual State of Caring survey, which includes carers who are disabled themselves whilst also having to provide care for others for a significant number of hours each week.
Almost three in four carers (74%) feel they are not understood and are undervalued in their communities, with most left struggling to balance other areas of their life with caring duties.
One carer said: “As a carer attempting to get understanding, advice, support and emergency care from the ‘community’ – such as GP, public transport, social services, dentist pharmacies and hospitals – it can be very challenging, exhausting and beyond stressful.”
A postcode lottery of available support from local authorities means the majority of carers are facing difficulty in maintaining their own health, balancing work and care, and balancing education and care, which is negatively impacting on their life chances.
Another carer added: “I find my care needs pushed further and further away until they break down completely and become an emergency. Last time this happened, I was in hospital for 10 days.”
The research also found:
- Over half of carers (51%) have let a health problem go untreated
- Half of carers (50%) have seen their mental health get worse
- Two thirds of carers (66%) have given up work or reduced their hours to care
- Almost half of carers (47%) have struggled financially
- Almost one third of carers (31%) only get help when it is an emergency
Carers who are supported in their communities are three times more likely to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and just as likely to be able to continue relationships with friends and family – 27% compared with 9% of those who receive inadequate support.
Those who do not receive an adequate level of support are more than twice as likely to never be able to balance work with caring responsibilities, 35% compared with 15% of those given more support. Carers who are not supported are also twice as likely to never be able to balance education with care, 47% compared with 23%.
A coalition of charities – Age UK, Carers Trust, Independent Age, Macmillan Cancer Support, Motor Neurone Disease Association, MS Society, and Carers UK – are calling for adequate funding from elected Governments and Assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and by the UK Government, to help better support the UK’s army of unpaid carers.
Emily Holzhausen, who leads the Carers Week partnership, said: “Carers have told us that it makes a huge difference to their lives when they are supported by their local services and communities; whether that’s being offered a flexible appointment to see their GP, having flexible working policies from their employers, or their school raising awareness of caring and disability.
“Despite this, the majority of carers told us that their local community was not supportive of their caring role, which in turn is having a significant and negatively impact on their life chances.
“This report comes at an opportune moment, with a new Carers’ Strategy in development in England, and new governments forming across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We’re calling on individuals, organisations and governments to think about what they can do to improve the lives of carers in their community.”
Carers Week will take place from 6–12 June 2016, across the UK. More information can be found at www.carersweek.org.