Even though you’re reading this (perhaps you’re ‘caring curious’), it’s likely you don’t identify yourself as a carer even if you are actually helping someone. Interesting isn’t it? I’m guessing the ‘carer’ tag isn’t a very ‘sexy’ identifier, perhaps even brings some negative imagery with it? My friend, that has to change. If we don’t change perceptions and attitudes around those who freely care for friends or relatives, thousands of people will not get the extra support they need and are eligible for.
I have to put my hand up. I didn’t consider myself a carer for the first six years of caring for Marj, even as she lived in our house and increasingly came to rely on me. For example, I hid the full extent of my caring responsibilities from my employer, thinking they might perceive me as less committed. On paper there was no need for me to think that, they were an increasingly ‘woke’ employer and more advanced than many. I didn’t ask my GP for help or advice either, though they must surely have known and/or been able to help.
Equally though, the ‘being a carer’ bit of what I do just wasn’t that interesting to any non-carers around me. In the same way as discussing parenting with someone who is not ready, wanting or able to start a family, it’s equally dull (or even painful) for them. However, it’s important that we do talk about (and support) family carers, so more people can choose to care and work if they want to (in the same way that society seeks to help people parent and work).
Carers Bucks estimate that every £1 invested in supporting carers saves the public purse £10. This is due to their cared for relatives needing less hospitalisation, residential care and/or other social support because they are given personalised support on a regular basis.
Now back to you.
Do you pop in to see your dad every weekend, do a spot of cleaning perhaps? Dude, you’re a carer.
Do you ‘just’ do some shopping for your mum every now and again? Babe, you’re a carer.
It’s awesome what you do for your relative. Yet even if you don’t think you need it now, you’re going to need help in the future. I’ve learned that being prepared for the ‘next stage’ (whatever that is) is vital.
There are experienced and kind people waiting to help you nearby, on the phone or face to face. Any meet-ups are during the day or in the evening to accommodate your other responsibilities. In Bucks Carers Bucks are the first port of call for carer support, in Oxon Carers Oxfordshire has an affiliation with Oxon County Council, but it’s worth checking with your local authority (LA). Other LAs will be different so try googling or asking your GP who should know.
Speaking of GPs, at the Carers Bucks’ AGM the practice manager from the Haddenham Medical Centre (Ellen) talked about the incredible support their practice team and GPs give their carers. As a result they have won an ‘Investors in Carers GP Standard’ Award. I’d love every GP practice to provide the sort of support they do, in the meantime ask your GPs how they might be able to help you.
Also at the AGM, Carers Bucks role played examples of the typical calls team members get everyday from carers. It made me tear up. Why? Because it took me back to the time when I badly needed help and didn’t know where to turn. Despite thinking I could do it all on my own, I found myself in an unfathomable infinity loop inside Social Services, clearly a time of strong emotions. Sally at Carers Bucks helped me find the way forward and get the support Marj needed, which in turn meant I could regain my own balance.
AGM attendees learned that an estimated 50,000 people in Bucks are carers, that’s just over 9% of the total population. There are likely to be many more people ‘casually’ yet consistently looking after elder relatives, because that is just what you do. People for whom English is a second language or with less time (large family/single parent/more than one job) or without the resources (no internet access) are at particular risk of being trapped in a Social Services unfathomable infinity loop, look out for them.
Let’s identify ourselves and access the support for us and our elders. Perhaps we can help each other out a bit through this blog too.