This is the 2020/21 edition of State of Care
Many people rely on family, friends and other unpaid carers for care and support, and for when they need help to access health and care services.
Carers UK estimated in June 2020 that an additional 4.5 million people had become unpaid carers since the pandemic began, bringing the total to 13.6 million. They said that 2.8 million people who had started caring since the outbreak were also juggling paid work and care.
Research published over the last year has highlighted several challenges faced by carers. These challenges are not new but have been intensified by the pandemic.
In a May 2020 survey conducted by Carers UK, the top three challenges most frequently highlighted by unpaid carers were: managing stress and responsibility (71%); negative impacts on their physical and mental health (70%); and not being able to take time away from caring (66%). Surveys carried out by Healthwatch branches during the early months of the pandemic also highlighted negative impacts on carers’ family life and relationships, employment, and finances.
But there are also new challenges. Research has highlighted that carers faced issues accessing basic food and medicines during the pandemic. They also experienced fear of infection – due to both the risk of catching COVID-19 and passing it on, and not being able to continue their caring duties. Some carers also faced difficulties in being able to explain lockdown measures, when the people that they cared for had a lack of understanding of the pandemic and its restrictions. Carers have also shared experiences of feeling isolated and lonely, and unsupported and undervalued through the pandemic.
For children and young people with complex care needs, some parents and carers had to provide extra care to their children without the professional support and expertise they were used to. We heard of the strain this placed on families and the children and young people themselves.
Healthwatch and Carers UK have called for recognition of the role and contribution of carers from government, asking for action on funding, services and policies, as well as help to ensure carers receive adequate breaks. Another key recommendation from these organisations was better signposting and clear communication about available services and support. There is also a call from Carers UK for increased carer’s allowance and help so carers can balance jobs and caring responsibilities, including paid carer’s leave and support for longer periods of unpaid leave.
A carer’s experience during lockdown
Leah cares for her mother who has dementia. She says the challenges for her include the number of daily tasks and lack of support, coping with the lack of comprehension that her mum has about the pandemic, and the impact on her own mental health.
“We’re not getting any external support. We have tried but we have been told that as a family we are doing a great job – I feel like we are victims of our own success. We have thought about getting carers, but mum doesn’t settle with new people in the house… caring, while being rewarding, takes its toll in lots of different ways. It’s had a massive impact on all our lives.”