3.2 Unpaid carers
According to the, a charity that works to improve services and support for unpaid carers, there are approximately 7 million carers in the UK, and 1.4 million of them provide more than 50 hours of unpaid care per week. In a survey carried out by the charity, almost half these people sought help only after they were made aware it was available for them.
Anne Roberts (2012), Chief Executive of the UK Carers Trust, said: ‘As this survey shows many unpaid carers have never accessed any support services to help them in their caring role. We already know that many carers simply don’t have any awareness of the kind of help that is out there and what a huge difference it could make to their lives.’
Trying to carry out caring responsibilities without support can lead to serious problems that can affect carers’ working lives and their mental and physical health. Norman’s story is an example of what can happen.
Case study: Norman
Norman had to stop working in 2008 aged 56 to become a full-time carer for his wife, Linda, who has multiple sclerosis. He explains: ‘I was struggling with keeping my job going and trying to ensure that my wife was safe enough to allow me to go out to work. The pressure on me eventually led to my own health failing. The stress of trying to manage a challenging job and cope with Linda’s needs led to me ending up in the cardiac unit at our local hospital.
‘I was left with no choice but to give up my job and become a full-time carer. The impact of this choice had serious financial implications and this led to depression and a feeling that I had gone from being a person to a resource called “carer”. I was invisible.
‘When I first contacted my local carers’ centre, I spoke to a Carer Support Worker and for the first time in many years, there was someone willing to listen to me rather than offering the usual retort of “but it is much worse for your wife because of her illness”. The carers’ centre helped me to restore my self-respect and confidence and now I feel proud of what I do to look after Linda.’
In this topic you have learned that the idea of being able to perfectly balance work and the rest of your life is not realistic, and this can cause people more stress by trying to live up to unrealistic expectations.
What is possible, though, is to seek a better balance in your life, with work and the rest of your life. This will help give you a quality of life that you can manage without making yourself physically or mentally ill. It is not possible to achieve this without help though, and we know now that employees have rights that will support them to achieve this balance. Unpaid carers also have support, although many of them are less aware of the kind of help they can expect.