Unpaid carers are a lifeline to those they look after and are of huge benefit to society as a whole. A staggering 7 million of us in the UK are carers and so the relief to NHS services is truly incalculable.
Supporting carers and enabling them to care effectively and lovingly is vital. Our home carers are our forgotten workforce and the mainstay of many people in society. It is incredibly important to ensure that our carers are themselves cared for; their wellbeing is fundamental to ensuring they can continue to sustain the lives of some of the most vulnerable in our communities.
Who counts as a carer?
You may well be a carer without realising it.
Being a carer does not necessarily mean you are caring for someone twenty-four hours a day. You may be doing less hours but still being of critical support to someone.
The following criteria can help you recognise your role. According to the NHS, if you perform any of the following, you are technically a carer:
- Regularly looking after someone because they are ill, elderly or disabled.
- Generally helping someone with washing, dressing or taking medicines.
- Helping with shopping, cleaning and laundry.
- Helping someone to pay bills and organise finances.
- Providing emotional support by sitting together to keep them company or watching over someone if they can’t be left alone.
Sadly, carers are often under-recognised and suffer many hardships, often including loneliness, themselves.
This is worrying for the health of the seven million of us who care. On top of this, there is also a dreadful knock on effect harming the vulnerable people they care for. Ill physical or mental wellbeing in a carer can – understandably – lead to neglect of the person requiring care. In extreme cases, elder or other types of abuse occur.
It is clear that carers require far more help than they currently receive. The facts are stark:
- 35% of carers are entitled to financial state support yet don’t claim it.
- 72% of carers suffer mental ill health due to their caring role.
- According to Martin Lewis of MoneySavingExpert, 100,000 people are being over-charged council tax and could claim 100 of 25% of their payments back. Visit https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/reclaim/severe-mental-impairment-dementia-council-tax-rebate/ if you think this could apply to you. Councils are poorly informing people of their benefits – an MSE study found 31% of councils giving out the wrong information.
[For more information about the difficulties of caring, and to read a personal care story, do have a read of our article Challenges facing carers.]
Key strains for carers and ways to help:
- Physical respite (taking a break).
- Financial support (governmental and charitable).
- Emotional support (helping the carer’s wellbeing).
- Charities that can help.
Do not underestimate the restorative power of taking a break from your caring duties especially – but not only – if you are living with the cared-for person.
65% of older carers (aged 60-94) have long-term health problems or disabilities themselves. Scarily, one third of these carers say they have actually cancelled treatment or an operation themselves because of their caring responsibilities.
Respite allows the carer to take much-needed time off. It can prevent exhaustion and illness in the carer. It can be hard for a carer to do this. But it’s crucial that carers look after their own health too. This means occasionally prioritising your own needs and trying to avoid stress or guilt whilst doing so.
Remember, time to oneself and indeed, time off for holidays, are not luxuries but an essential component of the working year.
Your respite could be for a few hours or even a few days. The cared-for person could have a professional carer with them during your absence, or they might enter a care home temporarily.
Other possibilities to consider:
- Homecare with a paid carer.
- Short stay in a care home.
- Friends or family covering you for a short time.
- A respite holiday.
- ‘Sitting’ services.
NHS Advice on receiving council-aided carer respite
An assessment will then need to be conducted on your own needs as a carer, as well as the person you’re looking after.
Your local council may fund your respite, but even if you are willing to pay yourself, the assessment is useful in determining what type of care is best needed for your cared-for person. To request an assessment, contact your local council or carers’ centre.
To request an assessment , you should contact your local authority – you can find yours using this website link To arrange one, contact your local services; you can find these here. https://www.nhs.uk/service-search/Local-Authority-Adult-Social-Care/LocationSearch/1918
The assessment is free for anyone over 18.
The assessment will involve someone from the council (or associated organisation) asking you questions about how you’re coping with caring (physically, mentally) and how caring has affected your work, free time and relationships. This assessment is mostly done face to face and lasts around an hour.
To prepare for the assessment, bring your:
- NHS number.
- GP name, address & phone number.
- Contact details of anyone coming with you.
- The details of the person you care for (including NHS number if possible).
- Email address.
During, give as much detail as possible about how your life has been affected by caring. The NHS has provisions to help and can do so best if it has all the information possible.
A carer’s assessment could result in a recommendation of the following:
- The carer to take a break from caring whilst someone else fills in.
- Financial help with taxi fares if the carer doesn’t drive.
- Regular gardening and housework help.
- Household safety training.
- Advice about benefits for carers.
- Providing the carer with links to local support groups.
Other respite options
Day care centres:
These are often run by councils, or local charities. These offer people a chance to socialise and enjoy some activities such as teas or arts and crafts. It can give the carer a break for a day.
Charities which offer these services include Age UK and Contact the Elderly.
Paying for care
Paid carers are staff who are either live-in carers (providing 24 hour support) or regular carers (one day a week, or four times a day etc.).
How to find a carer:
- Local council’s directory of homecare agencies (check their website).
- NHS’s list of local homecare agencies and national homecare organisations.
- UK Homecare Association’s list of approved homecare agencies.
- Carers Trust’s homecare services.
- Age UK offers some homecare services for paying clients.
Arranging a short stay in a care home:
You can use the NHS website to arrange this. Have a look at their page https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/social-care-and-support-guide/support-and-benefits-for-carers/carer-breaks-and-respite-care/
Family and friends
If you feel able to ask them, getting friends or family to stay with the cared-for person for a bit can be a wonderful (and free) way to get a break. Make sure they have all the information about the cared-for person with them before this takes place. It might be best to have a shorter, trial run of a few hours before committing to a longer break.
This will allow you, the carer and the cared-for person to predict any difficulties and create a friendly rapport.
Charities offering respite holidays
The following charities offer supportive holidays for free or at a discounted rate for carers and the cared-for. You may like to make further inquiries with them.
- (holidays for dementia patients and their carers).
- (subsidised holidays for elderly or disabled people).
- has planned breaks or grants and can help low income families referred by a social worker, GP, health visitor or charity.
- grants low income families with disabled children holidays.
Sitting services: temporary respite
These services are either free or significantly cheaper than others. Contact your local carers service,
Self-payment for respite care: you can help the person who needs care find the financial means to pay for this. This could be done through:
- Benefits (Attendance Allowance)
- Personal savings
There’s no way around it; caring is hugely expensive. Respite care costs £700-800 a week or up to £1500 for staying in a care home or having a live-in carer.
This is worth considering as a staggering 35% of carers are not claiming for benefits they are entitled to!
If you care for at least 35 hours a week and are over the age of 16, you may well be entitled to Carer’s Allowance which would provide you with £64.60 per week. This is true even if you are not related to and/or do not live with the person you are caring for.
Visit the government website, talk to your local GP or council, or ring one of the helplines listed below to get further advice & guidance on this. Make sure you receive what the government wants to give you.
Relocating practical tasks can help you save time and conserve some of your much-needed energy. The internet could be a huge helping hand here. You might like to consider doing the following:
- An online food shop – these will save your time and energy. You can even schedule repeat orders weekly or monthly.
- Order repeat prescriptions using NHS services. Although, you will want to speak to your GP before doing so, and do not rush into using an online pharmacy service, as these could prove risky as we describe in our report here.
- Use an app called ‘Jointly’, run by Carers UK, which helps you stay connected you’re your friends and family. https://www.jointlyapp.com/
Read our article on tech for elderly people which details more invaluable tech solutions which can ease carers’ anxieties; from automated beds to motion sensitive lighting. https://onlinefirstaid.com/technology-for-elderly/
The charity Marie Curie has a wonderfully extensive page with details on wellbeing of carers to help with practical aspects of care such as how to help someone go to the toilet. It is a wealth of useful and under-shared information:
It is called ‘Becoming a carer’ and can be found here. https://www.mariecurie.org.uk/help/support/being-there/helping-someone-cope/carer-role
Being a carer is stressful: you are responsible not only for your own wellbeing, but the livelihood of another vulnerable individual. Carers UK have a page that can help you to manage your stress levels – mindfulness, meditation, respite and exercise are all recommended.
Healthy eating can also do wonders in this field. Staying in contact with friends and family, or going to local community events will give you time out and hopefully some conversational therapy time, too! Don’t be afraid to let others know of the difficulties you face as a carer. So many of us have had caring experience that others are bound to sympathise directly. Even if they haven’t, they will want to hear and relieve some of your burden for you.
Some carers feel pressure not to complain about their position, because they may feel lucky in comparison to the unwell person they are caring for. But it is absolutely normal to find caring extremely taxing. Find support in others if you can.
Carers should consider counselling if they feel especially stressed, depressed or overburdened. It’s a good idea to make sure your GP is aware of your caring duties and the potential for it to affect your wellbeing.
A good article to read if you are considering counselling can be found here. https://carers.org/article/counselling-carers
Free NHS health check for over-40s
Anyone over 40 should book a health assessment with their GP and are advised to do so (also for free) every five years. Carers are advised to be especially vigilant in checking their own health.
For more information, click here. https://carers.org/article/free-nhs-health-check
Free flu jabs
If you have Carer’s Allowance, or assist in caring for an elderly person, you will qualify for a free flu jab each Winter. It is strongly recommended that you take this opportunity to prevent you or the cared-for person developing an illness.
Support in case of an emergency
It is important to think about who you could contact if an emergency prevented you from caring for the looked after person.
A relative, friend or neighbour would be ideal. It would be sensible to approach this person and agree the arrangements with them.
- Have access to the property (door keys, or knowing the code to a safe).
- Have a relationship with the looked after person or have met them, in order to understand the care required for a short while.
- Have a set of notes (electronic or a physical copy) about what to do. This could include medication information as well as any other essential caring information.
Charities that have specific help for carers
There are more of these than you might have thought. They offer services from phonelines (listed below), social events, financial support and more. The charity may have a local branch in your area for you to contact.
Regular short breaks for constant carers
All UK employees are legally guaranteed a 20-minute break per 6 hour shift they work.
You may not see it this way, but caring is a job and therefore carers should be taking regular breaks of some form too.
Make a plan
The best way to make sure you don’t skip a break is to embed it in your schedule. Plan some time to relax and get away from your role at least once a week. Making this part of your routine will help ingrain the habit and decrease the chances that you neglect this time much needed to look after yourself.
Some suggestions are:
- Weekly exercise class, such as gentle yoga.
- Weekly coffee date with friends.
- Scheduled time each evening to relax with a book or watch television.
Whatever you choose to do, providing you prioritise yourself in these moments – doing something enjoyable (a hobby or spending time with friends) or simply de-stressing alone – you will benefit from the relaxation and maintain your ability to care well.
Importance of a debrief
Professional councillors, medical staff and many others have ‘debrief’ sessions in which they can speak with colleagues about stressful conversations they have had in their jobs.
Find someone, a professional, charity volunteer or friend with whom you can share your daily experiences with someone. Even if you don’t think you need this, it is of great help to have someone who knows what you are going through and who could be of support to you if it became necessary. Speaking about your caring experiences with an exterior person can help you see your situation in a more objective manner.
If you are feeling isolated, remember help exists to be used. From face to face local guidance (both governmental and charity run) to the numerous telephone help lines, these exist to help people who care.
Don’t underestimate the value of your work and please feel entitled to make use of the resources designed to help you.
In doing so, you’re looking after yourself and safeguarding the person you care for.
Written by Emma Hammett, CEO of First Aid for Life
First Aid for Life provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information. It is strongly advised that you attend a First Aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency.
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