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Lessons from Lockdown: Challenges facing carers

June 8th 2020

June 8th marks the beginning of carers week, an annual event to raise awareness of the challenges carers face. Claire Morgan, Director of Carers Wales, explains the challenges facing carers and tells us why for many unpaid carers life will never be the same

Carers Week 2020 research (based on YouGov Polling and ONS 2019 population estimates) suggests that there could be as many as 683,000 people providing unpaid care in Wales.

The amount and type of support that unpaid carers provide for a family member or friend, who may be older, have an illness or disability varies considerably. It can range from a few hours a week, such as picking up prescriptions and preparing meals, to providing emotional or personal care, day and night, 365 days a year.

The polling suggests there has been a significant rise in the numbers of adults providing unpaid care in Wales. It was estimated that there were 487,000 people already providing care before the coronavirus outbreak and a further 196,000 people have started caring since.

The role of Carers Wales

As a membership charity for unpaid carers, Carers Wales has seen a substantial increase in the number of unpaid carers accessing help and support at this time. As well as enquires regarding the practical elements of shielding vulnerable people, clarifying the confusion created by assorted government guidance, concerns about access to PPE, testing, food and medicine, there has also been an increase in the number of carers expressing concern for their own mental health. Many carers are struggling to cope as the coronavirus restrictions mean they have to care alone without external support. They are feeling invisible, abandoned, have an ongoing loss of independence and can see no light at the end of the tunnel.

As well as working with Welsh Government and others to identify concrete solutions to the concerns being raised, Carers Wales has worked hard to ensure the information and advice we provide continues to be an up to date, reliable and trusted source. We have also established Care for a Cuppa, which creates an opportunity for unpaid carers to come together virtually for peer support and information. We will be developing these sessions further to support unpaid carers with their emotional resilience to continue caring. We also plan to establish a telephone-based Listening Support Service.

In addition, the Carers Week polling suggests there has been a significant increase in people’s awareness since the start of the crisis, with 50% of the public in Wales saying they are now more aware of the role of unpaid carers than before. Yet two thirds (66%) of the public said they thought carers were not well valued or valued at all. This chimes with what unpaid carers themselves tell us.

“Life will never be the same”

As restrictions lift and most of the general public try to live life more normally, it will be interesting to see whether or not unpaid carers will actually be more valued and supported by society. Many unpaid carers will need to continue living under the restrictions, caring for those who are most vulnerable and at-risk. They worry that they will continue to do this alone, for some time. For many unpaid carers, life will never be the same again; not being able to return to jobs they had before the pandemic, depleted financial resources from covering the costs of caring, recovering from the additional mental strain of caring, loss of support services as a result of the impending recession and some having lost the person they cared for.

As a society, how we collectively support all carers, including those who do it unpaid, will ultimately test what we have learned following our experience of the pandemic. Moving forward more of us will rely on the care of family and friends as the health and social care system continues to struggle with restricted budgets and increasing demand. All of us know unpaid carers in our families and our neighbourhoods. We are highly likely to become a carer ourselves, if we haven’t already been.

Please let us all pledge for Carers Week 2020 to do what we can individually and collectively to support this extremely valuable, and often overlooked, army of unpaid carers.

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