This week is Carer’s Week, which exists to shine a spotlight on the amazing work unpaid carers do to support their family and friends, who need extra help to live their daily lives.
The number of unpaid carers in the UK is staggering – currently there are around 9 million people from across the country who provide unpaid care, including 9,732 people across Twickenham, Teddington, Whitton, St Margarets and the Hamptons. The value of their contribution to our society is immense, and they help hold communities and families together. Collectively, the value of unpaid care provision in the UK is estimated to be around £132 billion per year, which is roughly the same as the NHS’s annual running costs.
Yet, despite the amazing work they do day in and day out, very rarely do they get the recognition and support that they deserve. Whilst it is right that much of the national focus during this time has been on NHS and social care staff, we mustn’t overlook the invaluable support unpaid carers have been providing to the most vulnerable in our communities throughout this crisis.
The pandemic has placed particular pressures on this group. Before the crisis, many carers were already feeling overwhelmed and worried about burning out. Now, many are feeling on the brink of exhaustion and are struggling to go on. Carers UK recently found that on average, carers are providing 10 extra hours of care a week since the crisis began. Many can no longer access the respite services they could usually in normal times.
Caring can be hugely rewarding, but it can also bring significant challenges. Many providing care have worse health and wellbeing outcomes and carers are seven times more likely to report being lonely or isolated than non-carers.
Hearing from the experiences of local carers
Today, I had the privilege of being able to hear about these challenges first hand, through virtual meetings with local carers. These were facilitated by Richmond Carers and Crossroads Care, who do amazing work locally to support unpaid carers and to ensure that they have access to the services, and advice that they need.
It’s fair to say, I have been humbled. All of the carers I met have effectively either had to put their lives on hold or make enormous sacrifices in terms of their careers or personal needs, to care of loved ones. They’ve done battle with the system – be it the NHS, the benefits system or the local council, and they often feel unheard and unrecognised. One of the biggest fears they expressed to me was what if something happens to them, who is the back-up then?
The impact that caring can have was also recently demonstrated to me in conversations with a local carer, Natalie, who lives in Hampton Wick. Natalie is a sole parent carer to her chronically ill son. Since the pandemic, she has found her workload in caring duties increase immensely. This has had a knock-on effect on her finances, as she is unable to work due to her caring workload and the need to shield her son. She is also unable to access the respite services she previously could, which has made things even more tough.
Voicing the concerns of carers going forward
Despite the huge contribution that so many people like Natalie and the other local carers I met are now making, too often carers feel undervalued and go without the support they need.
That is why Carers Week matters. As an annual campaign to raise awareness of caring, Carers Week highlights the challenges unpaid carers face and recognises the contribution they make.
But valuing carers can’t just be an annual event. We must value carers all year around. I am incredibly grateful for the privilege of hearing the stories of local carers this week. I will use every opportunity I can to raise awareness of and advocate for them, both in Parliament and locally.
You can find out more information about Carers Week and pledge your support here