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UK unpaid carers are suffering through lockdown

A national charity is warning that the latest lockdown is leaving many unpaid carers worn out, exhausted and close to breaking point.

Already lockdown restrictions imposed to halt the further spread of Coronavirus are causing widespread challenges for everyone in the UK – people are having to stay at home and only go out if they have a ‘reasonable excuse’. For unpaid carers, tighter restrictions are making their caring role even tougher.

Before Covid-19 the carer could count her break from caring in hours, now it’s minutes.

Helen Walker, chief executive of Carers UK, said: “After 10 months of caring around the clock for loved ones without any breaks and significantly limited support, going into another national lockdown will have left unpaid carers despairing.”

In Gloucestershire a 69-year-old carer said that her caring role had got ‘a thousand million times worse’ because of the pandemic.  She has single-handedly cared for her 93-year-old mother for the last four years. During the lockdowns she has not been able to see her two children or any of her grandchildren. She monitors her mother, who has complex physical needs as well as vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, with the help of Telecare cameras.  Her mother needs 24-hour surveillance.  Before Covid-19 the carer could count her break from caring in hours, now it’s minutes. She said: “I put the camera on when I go out into the garden, because that’s been my respite really, my five-minute breaks, just whipping out and doing a bit of digging and stuff.”

The carer only discovered Gloucestershire Carers Hub in September.  The organisation provides advice and support for the county’s unpaid carers and is part of the PeoplePlus group.

Carers are very fearful at the moment.

She said: “I’d hit rock bottom by that time because I had had all those months without being able to go out and without seeing people or talking to people. It made a huge difference when I found them.”

Lisa Walker, carer services manager at Gloucestershire Carers Hub acknowledges that carers are badly missing their contact with other people and that many are anxious.  She said: “Carers are very fearful at the moment, they fear strangers coming into their homes, they fear getting the virus, they fear the increased uncertainty the pandemic has caused.”

Before the pandemic, one in eight adults (around 6.5 million) were unpaid carers – looking after vulnerable friends or relatives who couldn’t cope without this support.  The figure has risen steeply, and as of 2020 Carers UK estimate that 13.6 million people are caring through the pandemic.

The charity released ‘Caring behind closed doors: six months on’ in October 2020. The report details the continued impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on unpaid carers.

Charities and organisations supporting unpaid carers across the UK are aware that a third lockdown is subjecting carers to increasing pressures and that many carers are exhausted and close to burning out.   Barbara Cormie, marketing and communications manager at Action for Carers Surrey agrees carers are despairing.

She said: “Our facts bear this out because we have a helpline and numbers are up for enquiries and requests for support, information and advice. And the complexity and the length of calls themselves and the enquiries that people have are just harder, more difficult, and more complicated.

“And the people themselves – we have facts round this – are more distressed.”

She explained that many carers are feeling even more isolated; the shutdown means that friends and family can’t just pop round. They are unable to rely on statutory services, which have been cut back or closed down along with clubs and cafes. At the moment many carers have no opportunities for human contact outside the home.

Throughout the UK Carers’ organisations have responded quickly to the heightened level of isolation and to the feedback that carers are mentally and physically exhausted.  Phone calls and mailings continue but many are upskilling their carers and delivering their services online via Zoom.

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In the south of England, Barbara Cormie, said: “Zoom has really helped – it’s helped people currently because that’s that social contact.”  

Action for Carers Surrey is using Zoom for informative sessions and for social activities.

Barbara added: “The support groups are now running on Zoom.  We do – ‘More things for you’, ‘Time out’, meditation, crafts, knitting, relaxation – there’s a nice range and that’s really helping.

“We’ve got some lovely feedback from people telling us how much they are enjoying it.”

The Carers Hub in Gloucestershire also delivers a mix of sessions on Zoom.

One Gloucestershire carer’s Zoom connection is her lifeline.

She said: “Just want to say how invaluable I’m finding all the virtual activities provided by The Hub and I’d be concerned if these stopped on Zoom after the pandemic finishes. I found this programme halfway through the first lockdown and was really feeling the effects mentally and physically of the weight and responsibility of my caring role and having to deal with the isolation and lack of social support.”

She added: “Every day there is something to look forward to and I’m sure this makes me a happier and better carer. I can’t praise the Hub enough and for me I will continue to need this level of support as we will still be housebound after the pandemic ends because of mum’s needs.”

As part of their ‘Caring Behind Closed Doors’ campaign, Carers UK is urging carers to take immediate action, write to their MP, and share their own personal experiences of caring in the pandemic. In the longer term the charity is calling for carers to be put ‘at the heart’ of a reformed and sustainable social care system which provides more support to ‘both those giving and receiving care’.

Further help and support is available from Gloucestershire Carers Hub, Action for Carers Surrey and Carers UK.

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