We’re proud to be one of the seven organisations taking part in this week’s Carers Week (10-16 June) which recognises the 8.8 million carers who provide invaluable support to their loved ones, day-in and day-out. We know from our daily work with carers, as well as the research from our When I’m Gone campaign, that being a carer for a disabled loved one brings with it a number of triumphs and joys but also a number of challenges.
One of the fundamental challenges that carers can experience is the sense of loneliness and feeling disconnected from society.
According to research conducted by Carers UK, a third (35%) of unpaid carers reported feeling always or often lonely. There are many reasons why this can be the case including time and resources to participate in leisure acitivites, but also a general lack of understanding from the public on the role and challenges of caring. Compared with just five per cent of the general population who feel lonely, this statistic becomes even more troubling. In addition, carers placed their life satisfaction at over a third lower (39%) than the rest of the UK and reported levels of happiness over a third lower (37%).
This sense of disconnect from their local communities reported by unpaid carers is what has inspired the theme of this year’s Carers Week – Getting Connected. This could be getting connected to society, to each other, to their local services or to information and advice more generally. At Sense, our vision is that no one is left out of life and that everyone is connected; this includes carers.
We know from work on our When I’m Gone campaign how important it is that carers are connected to each other but also to local services and support. We estimate that there are around 1.7 million disabled people in the UK who are cared for by family and friends. These friends and family members often provide vital care and support, day in day out but 75% don’t have a plan in place for when they are no longer able to provide this.
77% of family carers we spoke to told us that they found the process of making decisions about future care and support difficult as they didn’t know how to navigate the system:
“It’s hard to find help and I don’t know who can help…we have always had to find out things for ourselves”
We believe that getting carers connected is the key to beginning to tackling this issue. Getting carers connected to their local groups, each other and services means that not only do they have the peer support they need but also access to information about what services are available and what support they might be eligible for.
Our research has found that 40% of families report a lack of local services available to meet needs but also that one third of councils don’t know how many disabled people in their area are supported by friends and family. Connecting carers and their families to services is therefore vital, to ensure that local authorities understand the needs of their population and that services can be developed to meet these as required.
To support families to be more connected, we launched our toolkit ‘Decisions to Make, Steps to Take’ which helps families to take the first steps in planning for the future.
However, it is not only through our campaigning work that we are helping carers get connected. I‘m extremely proud of the range of ways Sense provides support and helps carers build connections. Our Information and Advice service, for example, gives essential guidance to carers across a range of issues including financial wellbeing, social care and housing. Our Sense Holidays and Short Breaks also provide vital support for disabled people while giving carers a break from caring and allowing themselves to reconnect to other aspects of their lives.
Whilst we’ve been making great strides here at Sense, it is clear that more needs to be done across the UK to help carers get connected and that’s why weeks like Carers Week are so important. I’m proud that this Carers Week, we at Sense have pledged to continue to support carers and highlight the need for better and more holistic support for those who care for disabled loved ones. You can also pledge your support for the week and carers by making your own pledge on the Carers Week website.