Baroness Jill Pitkeathley is Vice President of CarersUK and a backbench Labour Peer in the Lords
Not that long ago, maybe 20 years or so, the word ‘carer’ was virtually unknown; so unfamiliar in fact that it was frequently misspelled as ‘career’. Things couldn’t be more different now, of course. In twentieth century British society the word ‘carer’ is familiarly applied to many different professions and occupations in the field of health and social care.
But in this Carers Week we must be sure to remember the real carers; those 6 million people in the UK who provide care at home for their frail elderly, their disabled children and those with a physical or mental illness which leaves them struggling to cope alone. These carers make an incredible contribution to our society and I can never resist giving the statistic that they save the Government £119bn every year – the cost of another complete NHS – by the care they give willingly and for very little reward.
We have learnt this week that that contribution has its own cost. We are reminded by an important research report published by CarersUK and seven other Carers Week charities, including Age UK, Macmillan Cancer Support and the MS Society.
In Sickness and in Health shows that 8 out of 10 carers have seen a negative impact on their physical health as a result of caring. A shocking 9 out of 10 report that caring takes a toll of their mental health while over a third have suffered actual physical injury as a result of caring. Most carers blame this on the lack of practical support from a care system which is under threat and many feel is in crisis. Professionals who are responsible for delivery of care often give similar warnings. Carers are bearing the brunt of this and we simply must respond to the call from CarersUK and others to increase and improve both the financial and practical support they receive.
We fought a successful battle to get carers recognised 20 years ago and much progress has been made in making them central to policy discussions and future planning of services. Most people would now agree that it makes strong moral good sense to support the main providers of care. But we simply must not forget that it makes strong economic good sense too.
As our population ages and more people live longer – something to celebrate after all – but often with major disabilities, we are going to need more, not fewer carers. And if their health breaks down, as this week’s survey indicates is happening, who will provide the much needed care then?