National Awareness Week Highlights Plight of Unpaid Carers
This week is National Carers Week – an opportunity to recognise and highlight the vital contribution unpaid carers make to their families and our communities across the UK.
There are 6.5 million unpaid carers across the UK, providing support and care to family and friends.
Tina, aged 66 from Norwich, has been a carer for her younger brother for over 30 years. When both their parents died, Tina was the only one left to care for her brother, who needs daily help due to his severe mental health issues.
Tina’s brother lives alone but needs support managing every aspect of day-to-day life. 3 times a week, external support services help him with general tasks and enable him to go out to help reduce his social isolation. The rest of the week, Tina has to be available to provide practical help and emotional support, sometimes, several times a day.
“My life is not fully my own; the person I care for doesn’t have anyone else, so even on the days my brother has extra help, I am still on-call so to speak. I have to make sure I’m always on top of things, even the simplest tasks can become unmanageable if they are left. I have to be all things: advocate, mentor, nurse, PA, project manager… the list is endless.”
Tina’s support goes further than ensuring bills are paid and her brother’s household tasks are done. She has to organise and remind him to take his medication and manage the fall-out when things don’t go to plan. “It’s an invisible illness with devastating effects upon the person and their family. Being his carer can take away from those ordinary times, of just wanting to be his sister. It can be easy to forget we are siblings.”
“I experience so many emotions: sadness, frustration, guilt, even grief and can feel that I’m not a ‘real’ carer but the stress, worry and anxiety I have felt over the years is real and has taken its toll. If services were adequate, then I would be under less pressure to fill the void. The biggest stress is always worrying about the person you care for and what would happen to them if you were no-longer able to help.”
During the pandemic, as with so many carers, additional support was not available. “As sole carer, I was shielding as my brother was vulnerable. No-one else was going in to help, so I was under even more pressure. I was told about ‘Carers Cuppa’, an online, zoom meeting with other carers. It was great to have something – an opportunity to meet other carers and the group meetings have really helped. Especially during the pandemic, it was important to have something to look forward to, know other people understand and to make you feel part of something where you won’t be judged. Activities and face-to-face groups are beginning to return and are uplifting. Other people in a caring role understand it can be really hard at times.”
Tina has since joined additional support groups to continue networking as well as volunteering her time to support other local initiatives. In addition, she is part of Carers Voice Norfolk & Waveney, a partnership with Carers Matter, to improve the health and wellbeing of all Carers in Norfolk.
Are you unpaid and looking after someone who cannot manage without your support?
Do they have a disability, illness, mental health condition, addiction or need extra help as they grow older?
Do you know of a young carer?
If you are a young carer or their parent and would like free advice and support, you can get in touch by calling the free advice line 0800 083 1148 or by visiting the website www.youngcarersmatternorfolk.org.uk
Professionals wishing to make a referral can complete a referral form via the website.
Support, information and advice is available with benefit entitlements, carers rights, links with peer support groups, respite, training and education sessions and much more.