Coronavirus frontline: How unpaid carers are coping in lockdown
Forgotten families juggling jobs, household responsibilities and the needs of vulnerable loved ones have been left to pick up the pieces after vital services were forced shut. Sue Law, 59, from Lifton, Devon, is the full-time carer for both her mother Enid Middleton, 85, and husband David, 62. She also has a son James, 18. Here, she describes the devastating and emotional impact of being an unpaid carer.
I didn’t choose this job. If I’d read the job description I would never have applied. Total responsibility for another person’s well-being is physically, mentally, emotionally and socially exhausting.
And it’s not paid, either. Most of us are doing it because we know that without our support, loved ones would deteriorate pretty rapidly.
We moved to Devon in 2006, when my husband David became ill. We had to downsize in order to survive financially. Fortunately I was still able to work from home.
David was diagnosed with Uncompensated Vestibular Disorder. It means he’s dizzy all the time. It’s permanent and irreversible.
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He was finally granted ill health retirement in 2008. We all live with the effects of his condition every day, but thankfully it was life changing, but not life threatening. I’m an only daughter, so when we said we were moving, my parents, who were then living in Yorkshire, asked if they could come too.
Dad, who was in this early eighties was caring for mum, who was nine years younger and registered disabled. We managed to find a house with an annexe.
Within 14-months Dad, who had heart problems, sadly passed away and I became solely responsible for Mum’s care, as well as for David and my son James, who was in primary school. Over the years, Mum’s health has slowly deteriorated. She has a long list of medical conditions, including arthritis of the spine, chronic kidney disease, Type 2 diabetes, neuropathy, macular degeneration and glaucoma.
I was working from home at the time in quite a demanding job. Soon the stress of trying to work and look after three dependent relatives became too much for me. I remember working one day and all the phones were ringing. My work phone, my mobile and the house phone.
It was obvious the sheer responsibility of running the home, being responsible for the family and holding down a job was becoming too much. I suffered depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, there is a cost to caring and I paid with my health.
One of the most difficult things I have found since becoming a carer is the battle with the social services and the constant form-filling.
But there are millions of unpaid carers across Britain who are the glue holding families together. It is not overstating the case to say that if it was not for us and the support we get from care services and charities, the system would collapse.
Unpaid carers are everywhere. It could be a child looking after a parent, an elderly couple caring for each other or someone like me. If we were not doing the job we do, people would suffer and the cost to the state would be a lot more.
I am responsible for everything – organising Mum’s care, shopping and banking, making her meals, ensuring she has enough medicine and that she attends all her appointments, of which there are many. Mum used to go to lunch clubs, day centres and church. She suffers with physical disabilities but she is still mentally able and aware of what’s happening. She misses her friends and social outings so I worry about the emotional consequences of self-isolation.
There’s no time off from this job and little recognition. Mum has said to me before: “Why don’t you just put me in a home?” But I couldn’t afford it and wouldn’t do it anyway.
So many people have become unpaid carers by default. We don’t want a medal, we do it out of love and necessity, but we are underfunded and undervalued, yet absolutely essential.
COMMENT BY HELEN WALKER
Unpaid carers went into lockdown thinking fast about how they could best protect their loved ones who are older, disabled or seriously ill.
Carers UK research shows that most are having to work even harder during the crisis.
For some, it means providing care around the clock in their own home, without any sight of a break on the horizon.
For others, it means doing more to ensure family and friends living at a distance are properly supported. Carers tell us they are anxious about the weeks and months ahead. More than half feel overwhelmed and worry about burning out.
A staggering 87 percent are troubled about what will happen to the people they care for if they have to self-isolate or become ill. Carers are also concerned about whether the support services they depend on will continue.
Unpaid carers are vital in this fight against coronavirus, and their mental and physical health needs to be protected.
If not, there will be even more strain on public services.
The Government must keep strong oversight of the level of care services being provided.
It should also consider raising Carer’s Allowance in recognition of the important role they play in this national emergency.
Helen Walker is Chief Executive of Carers UK
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