Having worked on an insight project on the subject of unpaid carers, I was keen to watch the Panorama double bill last week ‘Crisis in Care’. Bleak viewing indeed and a sad reminder of the human costs of austerity.
We spent considerable time looking at data, listening to people’s stories and researching how different organisations are trying to better support unpaid carers, despite savage funding cuts. It’s miserable to hear about parents having to reapply for funding to support complex medical conditions, or respite care being cut, but I’m keen to share a positive aspect to this complex picture.
One in ten people in the UK voluntarily care for others. Whilst some struggle, others are really resilient. Care charities nationally and locally are doing great work to build resilience and offer support. Some councils have an excellent carer support offer and others are working towards solutions in a difficult climate.
Having observed as an outsider, and leaving aside the obvious need of realistic resources that are proportionate to the local demographics and needs, supporting unpaid carers comes down to four broad things, (in my humble opinion) which all happen to start with the letter C:
Clarity – a well-constructed support offer that is easy to access and understand (eligibility can be a particularly confusing topic and access in rural communities is tough).
Collaboration – third sector, public sector and the NHS working together. Budget cuts and staff shortages make this really hard, but the digital tools are there for better communication and collaboration.
Continuity – longstanding third sector providers offering excellent information, advice and support. It’s impossible for busy health professionals to recommend services when they’re not kept up-to-date. Respite care requires continuity in order to be of use.
East Sussex, Hertfordshire and Wiltshire offer great examples of this in action.
And the fourth C (no, haven’t forgotten) is community. Our research showed that carers (nearly half) rely on family and friends to support them in their caring role… that’s way more than any organisation. Around a third manage their caring role on their own. For some of these people, they’re managing fine, often alongside busy jobs and family lives, or perhaps doing other volunteer work if they are retired. But for others, if their own health is failing and family isn’t close by to help, the logical thing is for others to step in and do their bit. Whether that’s being more aware of neighbours who are providing care and offering a helping hand ad-hoc (even if it’s just a lift or a shop), or volunteering for a local carer support organisation, there has to be a way.
Timebank and Carers UK launched a project in 2013 called Carers Together, to improve Carers’ lives through the provision of online and face-to-face mentoring. Supported by the Big Lottery Fund’s Reaching Communities Programme, the Carers Together project sought to reduce social isolation, improve emotional wellbeing and help carers cope with the stresses and strains of caring. The evaluation report posited success, but why hasn’t it been rolled out and extended to pull in a wider range of volunteers to support carers?
Charity starts at home, but it lives and breathes in a community.