Family carers in UK at breaking point as coronavirus closes support services

Charities call for increase to carer’s allowance after studies find most are looking after loved ones around the clock

Family carers whose support services have been closed or reduced during the coronavirus crisis are overwhelmed and close to burnout, two studies have found.

One, by the national charity Carers UK of nearly 5,000 unpaid family carers, found that reduced care and support services had left many families with no choice but to care around the clock for loved ones with complex health conditions and disabilities.

Most felt ignored and invisible and were worried about what would happen to the people they cared for if they had to self-isolate or became ill.

Mike, 59, from Devon, who cares for his wife, Lynda, who has multiple sclerosis, said: “Despite the complexity of my wife’s condition we’ve mostly managed ourselves, but Lynda used to have hyperbaric oxygen therapy in Exeter and physiotherapy in Barnstaple for a few hours, once a week.

“I used to look forward to that as it allowed me to recharge my batteries and have some time to myself knowing she was in the hands of professionals. Now I am on duty all the time and it is absolutely draining.”

Carers UK is calling for the government to recognise the extra pressures on unpaid carers during the pandemic and increase the carer’s allowance, which is £67.25 a week for those doing 35 hours or more of care.

Helen Walker, the chief executive of Carers UK, said: “Unpaid carers are fighting the same battle as care staff and many of our NHS workers, yet they do it behind closed doors and with far less recognition. Unlike our fantastic frontline workers, they are unable to clock off from their caring responsibilities. Many are overwhelmed and incredibly anxious about how they will manage.

“Unpaid carers are just as vital in the national effort to keep vulnerable people safe, yet many fear that continuing to care around the clock will lead to them burning out.”

The survey found that the cost of caring had significantly increased since the crisis began, with the vast majority of unpaid carers spending more on food and household bills.

“It is simply unacceptable that carer’s allowance is the lowest benefit of its kind, when unpaid carers contribute so much and at a significant cost to their own finances,” Walker said.

The Carer’s UK survey echoes research by Dr Siobhan O’Dwyer at the University of Exeter. Her team conducts weekly interviews with carers to see how their experiences are changing as the pandemic progresses, and her findings are shared with government departments to inform policy.

“Despite being the invisible scaffolding that holds up the NHS and social care in the UK, carers have been largely ignored in public discussions about the pandemic,” she said. “Today’s Carers UK findings paint a stark picture of life for carers in lockdown, and as time goes on the situation may become even more dire.”

A government spokesperson said: “At this time, the role of unpaid carers is even more important, and we have been clear unpaid carers can continue to claim carer’s allowance if they need to self-isolate. We have also been clear that providing emotional support counts towards the carer’s allowance threshold of 35 hours of care a week.”

Contributor

Amelia Hill

The GuardianTramp

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