Whether you are a new carer or have been caring for someone for a while, Carers UK believes that it’s important that you understand your rights and are able to access the support that is available to you as soon as you need it. 

Carers UK’s Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Ruby Peacock, tells us more about the importance of the day and where you can turn to for support. 

One of the most important parts of the care system is the support provided by carers, those people who provide unpaid care to disabled, ill or older relatives and friends. We estimate that at the height of the pandemic as many as 13.6 million people were providing unpaid care. 

Most of us will provide unpaid care at some point in our lives. Around 65% of our population.  Women have a 50:50 chance of providing care by the time they are 46, men the same chance by the time they are 57, 11 years later. Despite this, many people do not recognise themselves as carers. Instead, they think of themselves as partners, wives, husbands, sons, daughters, and close friends first. Half of carers take over a year to identify themselves as having this role.  

Getting support  

Whilst caring can be very rewarding, it also takes its toll. Not recognising that you are caring can be a real barrier to accessing vital support, with serious personal and financial implications. If you do not see yourself as a carer, then you are unlikely to ask for a carer’s assessment. It’s important to investigate financial support, find others to share your experiences with and to ask for advice. 

Not getting support can mean the negative impacts of caring are intensified with many carers missing out on benefits and others forced to give up work. On a personal level and because of caring without a supportive network, a lack of practical help can have a huge impact on individual health and wellbeing, from long-term physical health effects such as back pain, to mental ill health and social isolation.  

Understanding your rights 

We run Carers Rights Day every year to help carers identify themselves and to connect carers  to support and advice. We want to raise awareness of caring, and for carers to find out about their rights and entitlements. Our resources focus on important carers’ rights that are almost universal –, such as the right to an assessment, eligibility for a free flu jab, asking their GP practice to identify them as a carer and the right to be identified and consulted before a relative is discharged from hospital.  

This year it is more important than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a monumental impact on unpaid carers’ lives – not only because of the increased amount of care that many in the role are having to provide, but because of the far-reaching effect that providing this level of care is having on many aspects of people’s lives: their relationships, their mental and physical health, their paid work and finances, and their emotional wellbeing. 

Carers have been experiencing intolerable pressure and are feeling exhausted. Pre-pandemic, carers were already seven times more likely to be lonely than the average person. COVID-19 restrictions, the impact of shielding and the increasing needs of the people they are caring for have all contributed to a stripping-away of the support networks carers have, leaving many feelings even more isolated and worried about how they will continue to cope. 

Cost of caring 

The support carers provide has been valued at a staggering £530m per day during the pandemic, or £193bn a full year – outstripping the value of the NHS. But this comes with high personal costs. This is in addition to the financial impact of caring. Nearly two-thirds of unpaid carers report that they regularly use their own income or savings to pay for care or support services, equipment, or products for the person they care for. The average carer looking after someone outside of residential care faces a personal financial penalty of over £114 a month

Resources to help 

Caring can be really complicated from navigating the benefits system, to understanding what practical support is available in the local area or understanding about power of attorney. Carers need to know their rights wherever they are in their caring journey: whether they are in the workplace, in a healthcare setting, when interacting with professionals or at home.

Looking after someone’ is our guide for anyone caring for family or friends. The guide outlines your rights as a carer and gives an overview of the practical and financial support available. Alternatively, you can use Carers UK’s helpline on 0800 055 6112 or at advice@carersuk.org.  

Carers can check out support through digital technology, from a camera connected to a computer or phone to see who is at the door, to support to monitor conditions or movements, or an app to help manage care by keeping everything in one place like Jointly. Finally, finding out what care, support, voluntary help, etc. is available should you need it is really important. 

Community for carers 

It’s important not to underestimate how emotionally challenging caring can be. Worrying about someone’s welfare and getting the right support in place can take its toll, leaving many carers feeling exhausted. Some people find talking about it and sharing it helpful. Most people say that they feel very alone on this journey and yet millions care every day and every week of every year for someone. Carers UK has a forum and runs many online sessions for carers to connect to each other, find mutual support and the chance to talk about their caring journey with others who understand.  This Carer’s Rights Day let’s help more carers feel better connected and informed.  

Visit, www.carersuk.org  for more information about Carers UK, its campaigning work, and to access support resources and guides.