Saturday, 2 June 2007

Carers Week: June 11th - 17th 2007

Who are carers?

I conducted a little experiment the other day. As I walked through the town centre, I watched people as they went about their business and tried to guess which ones were carers. Typically I chose women, in their 50’s and over, who looked tired and distracted. I quickly realised my error and was surprised that I had stereotyped carers in that way, especially as I have been a carer myself since the age of 29. Obviously, some preconceived ideas are hard to change, even for those of us who should know better.

In truth carers can be any age, even children. They can be from any walk of life, any nationality, male or female. Just as illness is indiscriminate, so is the caring role. A carer could be a son, a daughter, or a grandchild; a spouse, a parent, or a grandparent; a distant relative, a friend, or a neighbour. Often carers are unaware that they are regarded as such, and unaware of their own rights; they often carry out their role without complaining, compelled by love and duty, concluding that their extra responsibilities are simply a part of their role as a parent, son, spouse and so on. Is this the case?

At what point does a person become a carer and not just a loving friend or relative?

A carer is someone who provides unpaid help for someone on a regular basis, because of an illness or disability. The caring role may vary greatly from case to case, but most carers would probably agree that they need to be “on call” 24 hours a day.

What might the responsibilities of a carer include?

The responsibilities of a carer are varied and many. From my own experience these include, but are not limited to:

• Making sure the person being cared for is taking the correct medication at the correct times, and the correct dose. Organising and collecting repeat prescriptions, arranging appointments, and helping the person to attend.
• Washing, bathing, shaving, drying and dressing the person being cared for.
• Making sure the person is eating adequately and getting enough fluids.
• Tending to other personal needs, including changing clothing and bedding if the person has soiled them in some way (urine, stools or vomit).
• Providing reassurance or making sure the person who is cared for is safe.

I expect these seem like obvious requirements to most people, but would you be surprised if I told you that it was necessary for me to carry out these tasks even though the person I was caring for was suffering from a mental illness and not a physical one? Again, it can be easy for us to fall victim to preconceived ideas.

What is a carer worth?

There are almost 6 million carers in the UK. The main benefit for carers is Carers Allowance which is £48.65 a week for a minimum of 35 hours a week. This works out to £1.39 per hour; £3.96 less than the National Minimum Wage (depending on age). Carers save the government £57 billion a year. Of course, young carers who are still in full time education receive nothing at all.

What is the personal cost to the carer?

Carers are no strangers to health problems of their own. In many cases their caring role is juggled with other responsibilities such as running a home, raising children, work, or schooling. The physical demands and the emotional strain can leave carers in need of medical attention themselves.

Often carers have ongoing fears and anxieties which plague them on a daily basis:

• Do I look after my loved one well enough?
• Am I somehow to blame for the illness or disability that my loved one is suffering from?
• How will I cope if their symptoms deteriorate?
• What will happen to them if I die?
• How will they manage while I am out of the house?
• What will I return home to?

Along with these feelings of guilt and self doubt a carer may struggle with feelings of resentment and loss; their caring role will have had a major impact on their personal lives, including:

• Restrictions on social activities
• Having to give up a well paid job or a progressive career
• Less time to devote to education
• Having to postpone finding a partner and settling down
• Having to delay or give up entirely on plans to start a family
• Less time to spend with other loved ones or children

Little wonder then, carers can often suffer from low self esteem, loneliness and depression.

Who will care for the carer?

Carers Week has been held each year for over a decade now. The purpose of this week is to raise awareness of the issues faced by carers on a day to day basis; to enable new and unknown carers to access support and services; to remind existing carers that support is available for them and that their role is a valuable one; and to celebrate the caring role. Yes, as difficult as caring can be, it also has its rewards.

During Carers Week, events will be held all over the country to allow carers to get together and to help raise awareness. Celebrities such as Esther Rantzen, David Jason, and Chris Tarrant will lend their support, and local MP’s are invited to offer their support also, and to sign the special Parliamentary Carers Week motion.

For more information about Carers Week, which organizations are taking part in your local area, and to read about the special Parliamentary Carers Week motion, visit