In the UK there are estimated to be 6.5 million people caring for a loved one, relative, friend or neighbour. Every day it is calculated that 6,000 new people become carers, which amounts to 2 million new carers a year.
Becoming a carer can put incredible stress on a person, so we spoke to Francis Ngale of Carers Network to better understand what defines someone as a carer and what kind of support and rights they are entitled to.
Are you a carer?
It might seem like a strange question but on average it takes people 5 years to identify themselves to a local council as a carer. That means they have been giving up their time to care for someone for 5 years before even thinking about how they themselves can be supported by local authorities.
Often someone becomes a carer more through circumstance than by choice. “People often fall into becoming carers simply by being good relatives or friends,” says Francis. “They give up a couple of hours a week of their time to help someone out and, more often than not, that time increases as the years go by, so the pressure and responsibility on that carer becomes greater.”
So it is key that if you are giving someone any kind of care, no matter how small you might feel it is, you identify yourself to your local authority. Charities such as Carers Network will conduct a Statutory Carer’s Assessment on behalf of a local authority.
“The main objective of the assessment is about having a conversation with the carer to understand what the level of care they are providing entails,” says Francis. “If you’re helping someone get their mail or with picking up their prescriptions – things that they would struggle to do by themselves – then you are a carer. It is important to understand that and not underestimate the important role you are playing in the person’s life.”
How does being a carer impact a person?
Francis identifies five key areas that can impact a person when they become a carer:
For many people, a couple of hours a week of their time is not going to make a difference to their income. However, as the person being cared for needs more and more care this can begin to impact on a carer’s work situation.
“It is essential to let your employer know as soon as you become a carer,” says Francis. “As an employee you are entitled to ask your employer for flexible working hours in order to look after the person you are caring for. An employer can then help you find ways of making your job – and therefore your income – work alongside your carer responsibilities.”
For some, continuing working while being a carer is not always an option. “This is where it is so key to have identified yourself as a carer,” says Francis, “because if you suddenly find yourself out of work – or even having a drop in pay as a result of having to be a carer – you become eligible for certain grants and financial support from local authorities.”
As a result of people becoming carers they often have to give up their own time. The first thing to be sacrificed is often a person’s social life. “Carers’ social lives are often overlooked,” says Francis. “They cancel attending social events with friends a few times and before long they never go out. This can be particularly damaging as it can lead to isolation for the carer.” Again, you might be entitled to certain allowances for things like laptops that can help you stay in touch with friends while you are a carer.
If you are caring for someone you might find you’re having to help them in and out of a bath, for example, or out of a chair. “I see carers who have to provide so much physical support they have clearly been impacted physically themselves,” says Francis.
If you find yourself caring for a loved one this can affect your relationship changes with the person you’re caring for. One example Francis cites is between spouses: “If a wife has to start caring for her husband who has always paid all the bills and so on, that can impact them in ways you don’t realise. As people we fall into dynamics that work for us, and when that changes it can have an enormous impact on a person’s life.”
With all the above playing a part in impacting a carer’s life it is understandable it would all take a psychological impact. “It is important to promote the mental wellbeing of carers because it is more likely to go unnoticed and we can all do this by encouraging and supporting carers identification.” says Francis.
What to do if you are a carer?
Becoming a carer can raise a number of concerns, but there are people who are around to help. Francis recommends contacting two key organisations: “The first is your local authority, to ensure they know you are now a carer. But equally important is contacting your local Carer Centre.”
As has been outlined above, the local authority will help assess the level of carer’s rights you are entitled to, but this can often be at a statutory level rather than a personal one, “Local charities and Carer Centres are often much more embedded in the local carer community so they can help you understand local groups that can act as an essential support network,” says Francis. “Local charities and centres can give tailored support and insights into what specific needs and entitlements a carer should be given access to.”
What are you entitled to if you are a carer?
Much of this is dependent on your individual circumstances, but things such as income, time given to caring and other people who might also be caring for that person all play a part. “There is no one size fits all with what a carer is entitled to,” says Francis. “The amount of potential support for carers is a long list; Carer’s Allowance, Carer’s Credit, Personal Independence Payment and accessing Universal Credit are just some of the ways you can be financially supported. But those who work with carers also understand what they are going through, and we pride ourselves on offering them not just the right financial support advice but also emotional and social support.”
Look After Yourself
When you are caring for someone else it is easy to put their needs above your own. “The sacrifices some carers make is incredible and all too easily overlooked by society,” says Francis. “We need to raise awareness of the essential work these amazing people do and who give so much of themselves to caring.”
Our Hospice takes great pride in supporting carers in our area. If you are looking for carer respite then contact our Hospice to see if we can help 020 7806 4040.