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Helen Walker welcomes Carers Week 2020

Helen Walker 2019Carers Week is usually a time for us to celebrate our carers, to campaign for better rights for carers and showcase the phenomenal contribution they make to our society, to recognise the incredible commitment that they have to do the job that they do – and then to get the bunting out and have a cup of tea together. How different this year is and will be – we are in lockdown albeit slightly eased at differing levels across the nations.

This year Carers Week is going virtual – and we want to see action taken for carers now. We are asking you to pledge your support for carers and add your voice to the wall of voices – we need to shout louder than ever. We will still be having cups of tea together with our online ‘care for a cuppa’ meet ups, more important than ever this year – but it seems inappropriate to consider any kind of bunting during a global pandemic when carers are on the edge of burnout.

On top of everything, today, for the start of carers week, (led by Carers UK with five supporting charities Age UK, Carers Trust, MND, Oxfam GB and Rethink Mental Health), we are launching a shocking report that shows, during this crisis, 4.5 million more people have taken on a caring role to support a disabled, older or sick relative or friend. So that literally means in only a matter of weeks the updated estimate of 9.1 million people caring has leapt to 13.6 million. Of course, not all of those carers will be doing 35 hours a week or more, not all of them will be changing dressings or administering medicine but they will be providing, shopping and prescriptions and vital emotional support, frequently from a distance, for those simply not able to cope during these difficult times.

Many will have taken on the care that professional care workers would do in normal circumstances, for fear of them bringing infection into the house, of not having the right PPE or quite simply because there weren’t enough care workers to go around. Respite centres are shut so those carers who may have cared for less time in the past are now looking after someone 24/7 there is no respite for them they are nearing burn out and financial ruin.

As lockdown starts to ease – we need to see carers prioritised, we need to see respite centres open first and with adequate PPE supplies and we need employers to start thinking about the carers in their workforce. 1 in 7 employees were juggling work and care before Covid-19 and of these ‘new’ carers 62% are working carers – what implications does this have for employers as people come out of furlough learning for the first time how to juggle their responsibilities? Will employers be more flexible having seen our ability to fundamentally change the way we operate overnight? Could this have positive benefits and be more inclusive for carers moving forward? Or could it mean more people giving up work to care on the back of the pandemic?

This Carers Week we have to take action. We have to get the Government to recognise the value and support unpaid carers are providing through this crisis without whom the health and social care systems would have collapsed. We need them to know that it’s not an infinite resource they can pop in their plan marked ‘contingency - the family will pick it up’. Unpaid carers need support, they need services and they need financial support worth more than £67.25 a week. The Government must urgently address the issue of Carers Allowance and they must bring forward plans to rebuild our social care and support services, coupled with long term investment in them. This would enable the UK’s families to lead better quality lives, and allow unpaid carers to continue caring without putting their lives on hold indefinitely.

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