10 Dec 2019
Writing in The Times Red Box, our Director of Programmes, David Cundy, says becoming a carer shouldn’t mean giving up your work, financial security and relationships.
Today, 7.6 million people work as unpaid carers for a family member or friend. Around a quarter of people aged 45-64 are carers, and even that’s an underestimate. These people are brilliant. Between them, unpaid carers contribute not only vital psychological and social support to their loved ones but also a massive £132 billion to the economy every year. Yet, all too often, their invaluable contribution is overlooked.
Carers Week is an opportunity to celebrate this contribution, but it must also prompt us to think about how we can better support and value carers. Caring can be hugely rewarding for those who do it but often takes a huge physical and emotional toll.
Carers UK reports that two in five carers haven’t had a day off in over a year. Too many carers sacrifice their own health, miss out on financial security and lose relationships because of the pressures that caring places on them. And as estimates suggest that a million over-65s will need round-the-clock care by 2035, the need for carers will only rise.
The Care Act 2014 was revolutionary in introducing new rights for carers in England, including a focus on promoting wellbeing, a right to a carers’ assessment based on appearance of need, and a formal right for those needs to be met. But carers still face serious inequalities in accessing essential services, maintaining social connections and enjoying the support network these things provide.
It’s crucial that local authorities take account of the results of carers’ assessments and deliver on support where it’s needed, both on an individual and a systemic basis. Carers, those who receive care and older people need to be part of the conversation when new business models, services and products are designed.
Building connected communities is key to giving carers and those they care for more independence, more freedom and more support.
We must also address the serious financial loss that many suffer as a result of their caring responsibilities. The carer’s allowance is the main benefit for people whose caring contributes so much to our economy and yet is currently the lowest benefit of its kind. A significant increase in this allowance would start to address the very real financial challenges that carers are facing.
And if we are to truly and sustainably support carers and the people they care for, we also need to reshape and support our local communities. There are an estimated two million carers over the age of 60 in the UK and more than 400,000 over the age of 80. But too often the places we live become inaccessible to us as we age, meaning that older carers in particular are locked out of receiving the kind of support they need the most.
Building connected communities is key to giving carers and those they care for more independence, more freedom and more support. This means making local transport affordable and accessible for older people, increasing the number of accessible social activities in our communities, and making advice and information, health and support services more inclusive.
The issue is a complex one, but by pledging support for Carers Week and signing up to become Age-Friendly Communities, local authorities can commit to addressing these challenges.
Becoming a carer shouldn’t mean giving up your work, financial security and relationships. We must take the needs of carers seriously to ensure that it doesn’t have to.
First published in The Times Red Box.