05 March 2019
There are over 18,500 carers in Surrey. The number is growing as the population ages. At CARBS we have a lot of clients who need help with problems they face as carers and problems facing the person they look after. What resources and support are available to carers in our borough? And how do they feel about their lives and their work?
Carers, voluntary groups and service providers met to discuss these questions at an event in Redhill in February*. There were overlapping discussions on: whether carers feel valued, what stops carers getting the help they need, and what single change would make a difference.
The conclusions were important, including a general challenge support groups highlighted: many of the people who might benefit from support don’t actually identify themselves as carers.
The strong message is that carers do NOT feel valued. They experience many pressures without knowing what is happening or what help is available. They have a strong sense of duty but often feel guilty, isolated and exhausted. And this is made worse because they don’t feel society validates or properly understands what they do.
Many carers have given up a job and with it an important part of their identity. They may have lost contact with friends and time for personal interests is now taken up with hospital visits or other care duties. The responsibility is relentless 24/7 and without some form of regular respite carers can often feel close to breakdown.
Red tape and paper work are important but the overwhelming problem is lack of funds. No one wants to pay for things. There are exhausting battles over funding and who is responsible. Conflicts arise between adult and children’s services, health and social care. There are tribunals it is essential to attend but are very time-consuming.
Authorities mean well but achieve little if they don’t know what is available and carers have to hunt for information themselves. The official support effort can be misdirected. For example, funding is made available for home visits as a one-size-fits-all solution, but not for a day centre, although many carers and cared for want (need?) a change of scene or an afternoon’s respite. Or consider the parents who are desperate to keep their son in a preferred home but every meeting or discussion is not about care but money.
There were 2 main ideas. First, provide access to respite to give the carer a proper break and the cared-for a change in secure, sympathetic surroundings.
Second, make the care system properly cohesive. There are issues; for instance, the GDPR information rules hinder sharing because different requirements are set for different benefits. But positive signs are emerging. A carers’ passport scheme is being piloted at 125 GP practices, and a Care Action Plan developed which look at carers with mental health conditions including hidden conditions such as alcohol dependency that may be hidden.
Perhaps the best summary of how the system (including Citizens Advice) should work to help carers is to keep in mind a comment made by one carer at the Redhill meeting: “I hate people saying ‘you’re wonderful’ and would rather they offered help.”
* Organised by Reigate Deanery.