The word ‘carer’ has been on all of our lips recently. Those who work tirelessly in our NHS, in care homes, as paid carers for people in their own homes – and we have thanked and praised them for the work that they do for us.
From the 8 to 14 June, it’s Carers Week and time to thank those unpaid carers who, young and old, care in the home for someone in their family.
Around 6.5 million people in the UK are carers, looking after a parent, partner, child or friend. A carer is someone who provides unpaid care and support to a family member or friend who has a disability, illness, mental health problem, substance misuse issues or who needs extra help as they grow older.
Carers Week is held every year to raise awareness of caring and to help highlight the challenges carers face. It recognises the contribution they make to families and communities throughout the UK.
Thousands of individuals and organisations organise activities and events during the week, drawing attention to just how important caring is. www.doyoucare.co.uk gives advice about how people can get involved in supporting and celebrating the work of unpaid carers.
In Sheffield, there are around 65,000 carers at any one time in the city, and most of them are hidden in that they don’t recognise themselves as a carer. This means that very often they don’t think to ask for help and support. Two charities that are part-funded by the council to offer this much needed support are Sheffield Carers Centre which does everything that it can to help adult carers and Sheffield Young Carers which supports carers who are aged 8-25.
We spoke with John, an unpaid carer in Sheffield, who cares for his wife and his niece. He is 64 and looks after his 46 year-old wife who has had ME since she was 15. John met his wife when she was 27, and at first she was able to cook for herself, she worked for a time and knew that if she paced things she would be OK. As time moved on, she was no longer able to drive or cook, but she can still dress herself.
John gave up his job to care and was paid Carer’s Allowance. He’s been told since then that because he is a carer he is entitled to a ‘carer’s assessment’ to help with his needs; he thinks everyone who cares should know this early on so that they get the support they need. He compares it to when you go to casualty and you are triaged to make sure you get the right treatment. He feels that same ‘triage’ should automatically happen for carers.
In 2017, John’s niece came to live with him and his wife due to family circumstances. She too has ME as well as joint hypermobility syndrome, which causes her significant pain.
Listening to John’s story, it’s clear just how many things one carer needs to think about in a day. He said: “We all have to do what’s needed to meet the basic needs of a family but being a carer means that on top of that, you have to do all of the other stuff too. You’re up against it every day.”
John worked hard to help his niece become independent, with the council’s help he was able to find her suitable ground floor living because her mobility was so affected. She now receives care three times per day from paid carer workers, but John is still there to make sure that she has what she needs. On Sundays he makes sure that the three of them share a meal together, which he cooks.
As a result of an operation in June 2018, which left his wife in constant pain, she now needs 3-4 injections per year. She hasn’t been able to have the latest one due to the impact of Covid-19. John was keen to point out though that in many ways the virus hasn’t really made any difference to their lives as they are still fighting the same battles. He said that sometimes, as a fighter, you have to withdraw, rest and then come back ready. With a middle name ‘Luigi’, which means warrior, John knows what that feels like.
Some days are really tough for John, because he has to work with many different organisations to get what he and his family need. He said: “I want to be part of the future, fighting for the right things – good services for people most in need. It shouldn’t be about money, it’s about resources and people. What we all benefit from is when people look at the whole situation and then act together to make the right things happen. On time. Every time.”
His view of Sheffield Carers Centre is that they are ‘the bee’s knees’ and said “I wish I’d known about them earlier. They help with the issues and problems that I face. They’re brilliant and my very own sounding board.” The centre contributed towards a holiday for John and his wife and he said they could never have afforded this without their support.
As well as the many adult carers in Sheffield there are many young unpaid carers too. We spoke to Kristian who is 14. He said: “I started caring at around the age of 8. I care for my dad. I care for him because he occasionally has fits, pain spasms and he has fibromyalgia, so he is sometimes unable to move. As a carer I have to tidy the house and if heavy objects need moving I’m normally the one doing it.
“Also I have to do runs to the shop when my dad can’t order things to the house. One of my biggest lows was when my dad was unable to speak for a month because his vocal cords stopped. So I had to try to adapt and communicate with him. Lockdown has been hard – it’s put more stress on me as a young carer because now I always have to be at home and here to do things when I’m needed.”
George Lindars-Hammond, Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care at Sheffield City Council said: “Carers Week reminds us that carers contribute a massive amount to Sheffield, and without them the city would grind to a halt. If carers weren’t doing what they do, it would cost the equivalent of the NHS budget to replace them. That’s how important their role is, and we thank them for everything that they do. We know that caring can impact on carers’ health so we’re offering as much support to them as possible so that they can keep healthy and well.”