The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted just how much our society relies on carers – both paid and unpaid.
Unpaid carers provide practical support to family members who need help with washing, dressing, collecting medication, cleaning, cooking, sorting out the bills, and doing the shopping. But carers also provide emotional support and may help a loved one to deal with pain, fear, confusion, anxiety, depression and paranoia.
The free care that millions of people provide to loved ones behind closed doors saves the government billions of pounds each year. This vital work should be properly acknowledged and supported.
But unpaid carers have told me that they often feel invisible and ignored, which is why Carers Week and the ‘Do you care?’ campaign are so important.
From the 8 to 14 June each year, Carers Week raises awareness of caring, highlights the challenges unpaid carers face and recognises the contribution they make to families and communities throughout the UK. It also helps people who do not think of themselves as having caring responsibilities to identify as carers and access much-needed support.
To mark Carers Week, a local ‘Do you care?’ campaign has been set up by the two charities that support carers in Sheffield: Sheffield Carers Centre and Sheffield Young Carers, with support from Sheffield City Council.
The campaign provides advice about how people can get involved in supporting and celebrating the work of unpaid carers. Carers can find support, resources and information about the campaign at www.doyoucare.co.uk.
Millions of people across the UK have become unpaid carers for loved ones due to the coronavirus outbreak. Data released to mark the start of Carers Week on Monday estimates that 4.5 million more people are now caring for older, disabled or seriously ill family or friends as a result of the pandemic.
2.7 million women (59%) and 1.8 million men (41%) have started caring for relatives who are older, disabled or living with a physical or mental illness. This is on top of 9.1 million people who were already caring for loved ones before the crisis erupted.
Research by Carers UK found that 70% of carers are providing more care due to the coronavirus outbreak and, on average, are providing 10 additional hours of care a week.
There are over 65,000 unpaid carers in Sheffield alone, with 1 in 10 people providing care for a family member, and an estimated 7,300 of these carers are under the age of 18. The average age of a young carer is just 12, with many providing care from a much younger age.
Ministers must provide local authorities with the resources they need to support these unpaid carers both during and after this crisis. Carers often support people who are particularly at-risk from coronavirus, so they must also be given priority for regular testing and PPE. We must ensure that we have a properly resourced care system in place to provide care, particularly as many unpaid carers return to work.