Caring will touch all of our lives at some point, yet society and public services are still to grasp the extent to which our economy relies on the unpaid care provided by family and friends. The UK’s 6.5 million carers save the economy £132bn every year – that’s close to the cost of a second NHS. If even a small percentage of people were unable to continue caring, the economic and social impact would be catastrophic.
Our ageing population means that the number of people needing care, and for longer, will continue to rise. As a result, more people are providing care than ever before and this collision of responsibilities can take its toll on their health, finances and life opportunities. Yet as more people are caring for a loved one, they are doing so against reduced support from the social security system and a squeeze on the availability of local care services.
In light of the Care Act in England giving carers improved rights to support, and the immediacy of the caring challenge the country is facing, the Government announced the development of a new national Carers’ Strategy. It will build on previous carers’ strategies and look to address how carers can be better supported in all areas of their lives, now and into the future. The new Strategy is due to be published at the end of this year.
Carers will be looking for the Strategy to recognise and improve support in a number of key areas, including better financial support, improved support in the workplace and better identification and support from health and care services. Mark, who balances working with caring for his wife, who has Multiple Sclerosis, and raising three children, said, ‘Making sure carers are better supported in all areas of their lives is vitally important. Full and effective support for those taking on caring responsibilities must be in place and ready for carers to access at the moment they need it.’
Following a call for evidence from the Government to inform the Strategy, Carers UK will be putting forward the social and economic case for improving support for carers. We’ll also be making policy recommendations on issues that haven’t been a focus in previous carers’ strategies, such as housing and technology, which can play a very significant role in making caring for someone easier.
The Government is asking providers and professionals to submit evidence on the importance of identifying people who are carers, providing direct services to carers, and involving carers in the services provided to the person they care for.
Carer-friendly services, which are good-quality, flexible, affordable and reliable, can make a carer’s role more manageable; helping carers to look after their loved ones well and enabling them to have time to look after their own health, maintain relationships, and have the opportunity to remain in or return to work. One mother who cares for her daughter told us, ‘Since getting respite, it has meant I can have a break and look after our daughter in a much better way. She’s having more fun and developing better too, which makes us all happier.’
Feeding into the Carers’ Strategy is an opportunity for care and support services to reflect on what they do for carers and if there is more they can do. The charities behind Carers Week (6th to 12th June) have produced a Carers Checklist to help with this, setting out some practical steps that care and support services can take to support carers.
Just as carers and their families can benefit from quality care and support services, these services can also benefit from the support of family carers, who often have significant expertise in the care needs of the person they support. Better care can be achieved when this expertise is recognised by professionals and when carers are involved in the care being provided.
There are important issues for the care sector as an employer. One in nine adults in the UK’s workforce juggles paid work with unpaid caring responsibilities and this number is set to rise by nearly half as much by 2037. What’s more, millions of people have already given up work or reduced their hours to care for a loved one. Greater recognition from employers and more flexible working policies can help retain experienced, valuable staff, whilst reducing the costs of recruitment and absenteeism, and improving staff wellbeing and motivation.
We welcome the development of the Carers’ Strategy and its ambition to improve support for carers at all levels. It is fundamental that it is matched by action if it is to deliver concrete improvements to carers’ lives.
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