Carers Week Finds Life for Unpaid Carers Stressful with ‘Negative Impacts’ on Their Health

This week is Carers Week, an annual campaign aiming to raise awareness of caring as well as highlight the challenges faced by unpaid carers. This year’s event runs from 08-14 June 2020, giving local authorities and businesses a chance to share a post about how carer friendly they are and extend their thanks – without having to actually do anything.

According to Carers Week, an additional 4.5 million people in the UK became a carer for an older, disabled or seriously ill family member or friend since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

This is on top of the 9.1 million unpaid carers who were already looking after friends and family members before the outbreak. This brings the UK total number of carers to around 13.6 million.

The coronavirus carer statistics comes from a new report by Carers Week, based on the results of a poll on YouGov in May 2020, of which 4557 people over the age of 18 living in the UK took part.

The new statistics show that the number of unpaid carers has doubled since the 2011 Census. Back then, it found that there were 6.5 million carers across the country.

In Bristol, the Bristol Carers Strategy 2015 – 2020 is based on the 2011 figures, which found there were 40,100 carers living in Bristol. A 9000 of those provided more than 50 hours of care each week. Based on these statistics, the Carers UK Valuing Carers report of 2015, found that carers in Bristol and South Gloucestershire combined, were saving social care services £1.9 billion every year with the unpaid care they were providing. The economic value of Bristol carers comes to £755.5m per year. Included in this statistic are 1,384 young carers – children under the age of 16.

Young carers are a problematic group in Bristol, with far more in existence than has been identified. They are considered a ‘hidden group’ partly due to not being seen as such within the family.

The number of young carers in Bristol, by 2014 ONS population estimates, is believed to be around 7,600. An 82 per cent of young carers in Bristol provide emotional support and supervision and 18 per cent carry out personal care.

The main benefit for carers is Carer’s Allowance, which is paid at the rate of £67.25 per week, falling far short of the national minimum wage. Claimants must also be aged 16 years and over, leaving families with young carers under 18 falling short.

To be eligible, the person being cared for must require a minimum of 35 hours care each week. They must also be claiming specific components of Personal Independence Payment, Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance, Constant Attendance Allowance or Armed Forces Independence Payment. The difficulties claiming disability benefits from the Department for Work and Pensions in the first place, despite claimants being eligible, are well documented.

When it came to the most challenging aspects of being an unpaid carer, 71 per cent said that the hardest aspect was managing the stress and responsibility they had. A 70 per cent put the negative impacts on their physical and mental health into second position. In third position, 66 per cent said it was the strain of not being able to take time away from caring.

In its Carers Week 2020 Research Report, recommendations included raising awareness of the role of caring and unpaid carers, to identify and provide carers with support, to identify and support young carers in education and end carers’ financial hardship.

On behalf of the charities supporting Carers Week, Helen Walker, Chief Executive of Carers UK, said: “Recognising the contribution of unpaid carers to our society and properly supporting them has never been more important than during this pandemic. An additional 4.5 million people are caring for sick, older or disabled loved ones – that’s the NHS workforce three times over. It demonstrates the scale of the care being provided behind closed doors, mostly hidden from view.

“Unpaid carers are the pillars of our health and social care systems. Yet many say they feel invisible and ignored. There are thousands caring round the clock without the practical support they would normally rely on to take a break, while others face increased costs accessing food and care products.

“The Government must not take unpaid carers for granted in this crisis. It must ensure their physical and mental health is looked after and it is imperative that, moving out of the pandemic, the Government rebuilds our care system so that carers are supported and families have the services they need to live better lives.”

From the end of October 2019 and into January 2020, Bristol City Council ran a consultation on a new Commissioning Plan for Carers Support Services as well as an engagement survey on its Carers Strategy for Bristol, though the new strategy has not yet been published.

The council has a statutory duty under the Care Act 2014 to support carers in the city, although the The Coronavirus Act 2020 means Local Authorities can currently make temporary changes to the way care is delivered.

In Cabinet on 18 June 2019, it was agreed to approve extensions to the contacts for Bristol Black Carers’ Support Services, Carers’ Support Centre, Chinese Women’s Group and Parent Carers’ Support Services from 01 April 2019 until 30 June 2020. The council first entered into agreements with Bristol Black Carers’ Support Services, Carers’ Support Centre and Chinese Women’s Group from 2007/2008, and parent carers’ support services from 2008. The agreements between the council and the groups have been viewed and extended a number of times over the years.

The re-commissioning of the groups until June 2020 was to give them time for the  Carers Strategy in Bristol to be revised, following which Bristol City Council and the Clinical Commissioning Group would start a new re-commissioning process.

The extension for the 2019/18 contracts for the four carer groups were worth £75,731 for Bristol Black Carers’ Support Services, £470,711 for Carers’ Support Centre, £45,641 for Chinese Women’s Group and £25,723 for the Parent Carers’ Support Services.

The re-commissioning of the adult carers’ services in October 2018 came only after what the council calls ‘unavoidable delays’ citing the ‘aspiration to consider a whole city approach to supporting carers’ which will bring together a set of separate contracts with a new strategic lead. There was also a delay in getting the CCG to establish the exact level of contribution necessary,

Cabinet authorised the recommissioning of carers services in Bristol within a total budget envelope of £3,089,030  from 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2025 – subject to joint CCG budget approvals.

Local health service issues were stated in the Bristol Carers Strategy in feedback from young carers and parent carers as far back as 2015/16, which lead to the CCG and Bristol City Council jointly funding Bristol Parent Carers to support ‘participation and engagement of parents’ who have disabled children to involve them in service redesign, commissioning and delivery with initial funding from April 2014-March 2017.

The strategy also aimed to focus on the identifying and supporting of carers from black and minority ethnic communities, young carers and young adult carers, carers of people with mental health conditions and carers of people with dementia.

But by November 2019, Ofsted and the CQC found in their Joint Send Inspection of Bristol, that there was a ‘fractured’ relationship with parents and carers a lack of co-production and variable engagement and collaboration.

Bristol was forced to address this with its Written Statement of Action to Ofsted. Under its outcomes in the document, the council and CCG state that it aims to include parents and carers having a positive experience of the SEND system in Bristol and that they ‘better understand Bristol’s communities and their needs, so we can reach out and communicate more effectively with all parents and carers and young people, enabling genuine co-production and consistently purposeful engagement and collaboration to ensure we are putting children, young people and families first; gaining their trust and improving their confidence in the system.’

In March this year at People Scrutiny Commission, Director of Education and Skills at Bristol City Council Alison Hurley, addressed co founder of Autism Independence Nura Aabe at Public Forum assuring her that the needs of Bristol’s BAME community would be taken into consideration at the local authority moved forward with improvements. She said: “We will be using for research to understand more about BAME and Send and how many children are accessing the services, the support they’re getting and what that looks like in terms of developing a culturally competent framework so that is written in. It’s an 18 month piece of work that will run alongside the other priorities through the WSoA.”

The highest concentration of carers in Bristol, according to the current Bristol Carers Strategy, are found in areas of the city with higher levels of deprivation – Avonmouth, Locklease, Fromevale, Hillfields, Hartcliffe and Withywood and Hengrove. This also corresponds to the parts of the city with higher levels of people living with a disability or long term health condition.

The 2018 statistics from the Carers Centre found that 63.8 per cent of carers were White British, 70.5 per cent of all carers were female and 42 per cent of its service users were over the age of 64. The 2018 Integrated Care Team Referrals and Direct Payments Analysis from Bristol City Council, found that 79 per cent of carers receiving Direct Payments are White British.

The council found that carers from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities had a lower uptake in its carers assessments and ‘lower incidence’ of accessing support services. Cabinet papers showed that they were facing ‘additional challenges’ if English was not their first language and of there were cultural needs that were not being acknowledged.

Papers continued to find ‘evidence of an under representation of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups receiving mainstream carer support services in Bristol’. This was particularly so with African and Pakistani groups – including the Somali Community.

Bristol City Council ‘recognised’ that statutory and other services needed to work ‘closely’ with community groups to provide appropriate services to carers and ensure their needs are met with the recommissioning of services.

Local GP and CCG clinical lead for mental health, Dr David Soodeen talked this week about why it’s important to recognise the contribution made by carers to families and communities. He said: Carers play a vital role in taking care of the most vulnerable people in our communities, and we know that carers across the area are facing new challenges because of the coronavirus outbreak. Many people are taking on more caring responsibilities for relatives and friends who are disabled, ill or older while they need extra support.

Looking after someone can be a hugely rewarding, but it often comes with difficulties and challenges and many people helping others don’t identify themselves as carers, simply seeing themselves as partners, parents, children or friends. This means many carers do not receive vital information and support which can help them with caring and support their wellbeing.

More than ever, it’s important that we highlight the challenges faced by the more than 100,000 unpaid carers living in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire, and help to promote the support which is available for them. There are some fantastic local and national organisations which provide support to carers, and carers can contact their local council for a carer’s assessment. This will look at the ways caring affects your life and establish support to help you, like breaks or carers allowances.”

On Twitter, Bristol City Council said: ‘This #CarersWeek it is more important than ever to recognise the contribution unpaid carers make to families and communities. We would like to thank all #carers for the amazing job they are doing, especially at this tough time.’

The latest Carer Strategy for Bristol has not yet been released


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