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Carers Week 2020: help us to Make Caring Visible

Carers UK chief executive Helen Walker outlines why civil society leaders should support Carers Week.

In March 2019 I wrote an ACEVO blog asking the sector to lead the way in supporting carers to juggle work and care.

“…….(we) should start with our own staff teams it makes practical sense, financial sense and provides us with the opportunity of leading the way in overcoming one of the most rapidly growing challenges across our population that will touch most people at some point in their lives often unexpectedly….”

Ah, if only we could foresee the future and grasp the real meaning of unexpectedly. Coronavirus has hit all of us in different ways ‘unexpectedly’ this last few months as we struggle to juggle financial insecurity, working from home, furloughing, fundamental changes to our strategies, anxious boards, and of course hugely vulnerable and growing numbers of our beneficiaries. Many of you will lead organisations whose beneficiaries have and need carers. All of you will have on average 1 in 7 of your staff who are also carers. This week for Carers Week (led by Carers UK with five supporting charities Age UK, Carers Trust, MND, Oxfam GB and Rethink Mental Health) we launch the shocking statistic that during this crisis – so literally in a matter of weeks – 4.5 million more people have taken on a caring role to support a disabled, older or sick relative or friend. That incidentally is on top of the existing 9.1 million now estimated to be caring “normally” – 62% of those ‘new’ to caring will also be juggling work.

How will this impact our sector? I think it has huge ramifications. It would suggest that even more of your staff will be juggling work and care, or whilst furloughed have found themselves caring because the social care service simply isn’t supporting the person who needs it. Or purely because of the situation our staff teams or the families of our beneficiaries have stepped it up again – as they always do in a crisis – and provided shopping, medical supplies, prescriptions and that all-important, but hugely challenging, emotional support.

What we know is that caring has significant health and wellbeing, financial and practical challenges and it is not sustainable long term without respite and support – and in the case of employers, flexibility. All of our carers whether new to it or not can not continue to back fill a crumbling social care service and wait, fingers crossed, for respite centres to open again, or care workers to all get adequate PPE and safely come into their homes. The Government needs to act, and act quickly – they need to recognise and support unpaid carers, and realise that their resources, however strong, are not infinite and that they aren’t a ‘contingency plan’ that will always step it up when the system fails.

So, my ask to you is – of course – please support Carers Week, you can make an organisational pledge here and add your individual voice to our wall of voices. But actually, what I really need you to do is think about the carers on your staff team (new and old) as you make plans to return to offices and the ‘new normal’. Has working from home helped or hindered their caring responsibilities? (it can be either). How can you support those whose caring journey has started whilst they were furloughed to return to work? Can you help us convince this Government that there’s a good reason to keep people in work if they are caring? In other words, the consultation on care leave (ideally paid) needs to continue and get into law. For those who do give up work to care is £67.25 a week Carers Allowance really enough? – that’s not even a question – it’s the lowest benefit of its type and it’s not even equitable across the nations (higher in Scotland where they led the way and also gave a one-off coronavirus support payment of £230).

All of us will become carers or need care at some point in our lives so we need to make sure that unpaid carers are recognised and valued now.

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