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Opinion

It’s Carers Rights Day – but why should I care?

23 Nov 2023 4 minute read
Photo by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Rob Simkins, Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Carers Wales

If you ask many people in Wales what comes to mind when thinking of “carers”, they’ll probably be cast back to 2020.

Whole streets stepped out of their homes once a week and clapped, banged pots and pans and even played the drums into the evening air. This act serving as a thank you to the beleaguered health and social care workers and other “key workers” who – unlike many of us – left the house every day to go and keep society’s wheels turning during a once-in-a-century pandemic.

Some may think of community nurses, domiciliary care professionals or respite workers. More often than not, you won’t hear somebody refer to the nearly 450,000 people in Wales who provide unpaid care to ill, older or disabled friends and family. Many of whom toil round the clock, giving up their jobs, social lives and identities.

They save the Welsh Government over £10bn a year providing care which would otherwise fall upon the already-strained NHS or stretched social care services.

Many of whom see this as their duty as a parent, partner or child and won’t consider themselves an unpaid carer.

So, this Carers Rights Day, we want to put unpaid carers at the forefront of people’s minds and ignite a spark among everybody to uphold carers’ rights today, tomorrow and in the future.

Protected

You’d think, given the huge financial and social benefits unpaid carers provide in Wales, they’d be protected and supported with a comprehensive set of rights.

Sadly, this is not the reality for many of Wales’s dedicated unpaid carers. Despite the positive aspirations of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, which includes a Charter for Unpaid Carers, for many the picture has never been more bleak.

Over the summer, nearly 1,200 unpaid carers responded to Carers Wales’s annual State of Caring in Wales survey – giving us an insight into their health, finances and work lives. The findings were shocking.

Nearly 1 in 4 carers are cutting back on essentials and utilities, having to choose between eating or heating. More than 1 in 3 carers are struggling to make ends meet and more than 1 in 10 are in arrears to utility companies. 85% of carers feel stressed or anxious, 51% of carers feel depressed, 49% feel lonely and 76% of carers were worried about being unable to provide care in the future.

We asked unpaid carers to tell us what this meant for them. Carers spoke of how days rolled into one, how they sometimes felt that it would be better if they didn’t exist anymore, how they’d pleaded not to be cut off from vital services but were met with no sympathy. Carers spoke of having their identities stripped away, of not having had chance to see family or friends, and seek advice and treatment for their own health and wellbeing.

Invisible

Carers feel invisible, unappreciated and at rock bottom. Unfortunately, there isn’t a silver bullet that can solve the issues unpaid carers in Wales face. There are lots of small steps to be taken and we need to start that journey today.

This will require action from politicians, health and social care professionals and you, the public and people of Wales.

Carers Wales are already on the march. Our Carer Aware project provides free training – co-produced with both unpaid carers and social workers – to all councils in Wales.

This is a key tool for increasing recognition of unpaid carers by social care professionals, enhancing the relationships between social workers and carers and ensuring open and effective communication.

We were delighted to support a recent debate in the Senedd, examining the cost of caring for unpaid carers across the political spectrum, however we still have a long way to go to drive unpaid carers up the political agenda – despite how fundamental they are to the fabric of our society in Wales.

But we can’t do all of this on our own. And that’s why, this Carers Rights Day, we’re asking you to help.

Nearly everyone in Wales knows someone who is an unpaid carer. When was the last time you checked in with them? Picked up the phone? Told them they were appreciated and you care about them? There’s never been a better time to take this small action, and show unpaid carers that we care.

Send them this article, signpost them to some of our information, advice and support and show them the solidarity they deserve. This Carers Rights Day, let’s all pledge to support carers rights – today, tomorrow and in the future.


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