Carers are being "woefully let down" when they start out and are often left with no help in their first few years in the role, research out today concludes.
Three quarters of carers say they were left unprepared for their caring role and eight in ten were not aware of the support available, according to a study by ten major national charities. The research into 2,100 British carers was commissioned by charities including Age UK, Carers Trust, Carers UK and Macmillan Cancer Support, to mark today’s start of Carers Week.
There are around 6.5 million carers in the UK and the charities are calling for the Government, GPs and health and social care professionals to ensure that more support is given to carers from when they first start taking on care responsibilities.
Emily Holzhausen, director of policy at Carers UK, said: “Too many carers are being let down. They aren't told where to access support until they reach crisis point - often being forced to quit their jobs to care, falling into financial hardship and seeing their health suffer.”
The struggle of balancing life with caring was laid bare in the study, with 45 per cent of carers saying they had to give up work. More than half of all carers surveyed experienced difficulties in their relationship with their partner and 61 per cent have found it difficult to maintain friendships.
The results also show how carers’ health can suffer, with two thirds of carers experiencing depression and nine out of ten saying they feel more stressed because of their caring role.
Liz Kendall MP, Labour's shadow minister for care and older people, said: “Unpaid care from family members is invaluable to the person who needs support, and worth billions of pounds to society and the wider economy. Yet too many carers don't get the help they desperately need to look after their loved ones. Their own health too often suffers, and if they have to give up work or reduce their hours - as 1 in 3 do - it costs the public purse in lost tax revenues and increased benefit bills.”
Kendall added: “Families need immediate action to improve the care system, which is why Labour has called for £1.2 billion of the NHS underspend - handed back to the Treasury in March - to be given to social care to ease the short-term funding crisis over the next two years.”
Census figures out last month revealed that almost 180,000 children were working as unpaid carers – some as young as five.
Helen Clarke, Carers Week Manager, said: “The impact of caring for a loved one or friend is an issue that we simply cannot ignore. Every day across the country, 6,000 people take on new caring responsibilities and too often they face the challenges of caring without support. Becoming a carer can happen overnight and without information and guidance, carers can be left feeling isolated and alone.
“The figures clearly show that carers aren’t being offered support and if they are, it can often be wrong or not the full information. The consequences for carers are huge, so it’s vital that GPs, health and social care professionals and the government all play a role to ensure that carers are offered the support they deserve from day one.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “Carers make an invaluable contribution to society, and we want to do all we can to support them. Under the new Care Bill, we are proposing to give carers the same legal right to support as the people they look after, with extended rights to an assessment, and the first ever right to support of eligible needs from their local authority.”
Antonia Kadri, 33, from London looks after her 60-year-old mother who is disabled
“My responsibilities started as soon as I was knee high and old enough to do the small things; going to get things, passing things over to her. You don’t realise you‘re a carer; it’s just something that you do. You realise that your responsibilities are slightly different, more than your friends, but you don’t really ask any questions.
“The day isn’t really my own; I get up whenever my mother wakes up. Then I do anything from doing chores around the house to making sure everything’s in the right place and all the floors are dry, with all the bits and pieces easy to reach, help getting dressed, that sort of thing.
“I just carry on with life, I don’t want a badge. It’s only the people close to me who know about it, it’s not something I really share with everyone or broadcast. I worked in the city for a while and couldn’t tell my employer I was a carer.
“I only realised I was a carer after finding groups like Carers UK in a Google search. The support I get from them now made me realise I’m not alone; there are lots of people out there who are in very similar situations. It would’ve been nice to have had more support when I was at school, particularly at a young age. There was nothing from the school and I’ve had no support from the Government until recent years.
By Leo Michelmore