Who cares for the carers?
There are almost 6 million carers in the UK, looking after a family member or friend who wouldn’t be able to cope at home on their own because of illness, frailty, disability or mental health or addiction problems. Without them, the fabric of society would crumble – it’s estimated that they save the government £119 billion a year in paid carers and other services. Yet a survey published by Carers Trust to coincide with the start of Carers Week reveals that all too many struggle on with no idea that there is support available to help them too.
Nearly two thirds of the 500 unpaid carers surveyed said they had never accessed any formal support services, such as respite breaks or counselling. Yet without help, you may not be able to care – almost 60% said their physical health has been affected by their role and more than a quarter had seen an impact on both their physical and mental health.
If you are a carer, your GP should be carrying out an annual 'carer’s check', asking about support you need and signposting you to Social Services for a formal carer's assessment to help you access the support you and your loved ones need. As a carer, your GP will also give you a check-up of your own health and an annual flu immunisation. They may be able to offer input from the district nursing service; navigate you through the repeat prescription service (perhaps getting medications delivered); arrange transport for hospital appointments; or help organise your GP appointments at times when someone else can take care of your loved one for you. But to do this, they need to know you’re a carer. This isn’t as obvious as it sounds. In the 'olden days' when GPs largely worked alone, your GP would usually be looking after you and your loved one. Today, when they often work in group practices, your GP may not be the same doctor who looks after the person you care for. Do tell them so they can help!
As a carer, you’re doing an invaluable job. The government recognises this, which is why it makes all sorts of benefits available to carers. The benefits system can seem daunting – but don’t be put off. You, or the person you’re caring for, may be entitled to:
- Council Tax reductions or Council Tax benefits.
- Travel or taxi cards.
- Attendance allowance for over-65s who need care.
- Carer’s allowance.
- Social Fund payments (eg one-off costs for cold weather or winter fuel expenses).
Your needs may be very different from those of another carer, and your own needs as a carer may change with time. It may help you to speak to others in a similar situation, and Carers Trust can help you access carers' centres and support groups. For more information on services available, take a look at patient.info's carers resources page - you really deserve it.