Family carers have been all-but forgotten by Government and local councils during the Coronavirus pandemic, furious campaigners have claimed.
Family members who provide unpaid care for loved-ones, with little or no financial support in the form of welfare benefits, say they have become “overwhelmed” by the crisis and are close to “burning out”.
New research published today by Carers UK reveals how 70% of unpaid carers in the UK are having to provide more care for their loved ones during the Coronavirus outbreak.
A third of these (35%) are having to provide more hours of care because their local care and support services have been reduced or closed.
The survey of nearly 5,000 unpaid carers showed that, on average, carers are picking up an additional 10 hours of unpaid care per week.
And with reduced care support from local services the UK’s army of 6.5 million unpaid carers are having to work all hours to care for some of the most vulnerable people in society, with little or no help from Government or local authorities.
More than half (55%) told Carers UK that they feel overwhelmed managing their caring responsibilities during the outbreak and are worried about burning out in the coming weeks.
The survey also found that 87% of family carers are worried about what will happen to the people they care for if they have to self-isolate or become ill.
Mike, 59, from Devon who cares for his wife Lynda who has multiple sclerosis, said: “Despite the complexity of my wife’s condition we’ve mostly managed ourselves, but Lynda would have hyperbaric oxygen therapy in Exeter and physiotherapy in Barnstaple.
“I used to look forward to those few hours a week as they allowed me to recharge my batteries, have some time to myself knowing she was in the hands of professionals.
“Now I am on duty all the time psychologically and it is absolutely draining.”
The research shows 81% of carers are having to spend more money during the outbreak. The top increases in expenditure include spending more on food (72%) – due to lack of supermarket delivery slots and need for specialist food – and household bills (50%).
Worryingly, 1 in 10 claim to be spending more on equipment for the person they care for.
Helen Walker, Chief Executive of Carers UK, said: “Unpaid carers are fighting the same battle as care staff and many of our NHS workers: yet they do it behind closed doors and with far less recognition.
“Unlike our fantastic frontline workers they are unable to clock off from their caring responsibilities. Many are overwhelmed and incredibly anxious about how they will manage in the weeks ahead.
“Unpaid carers are just as vital in the national effort to keep vulnerable people safe yet many fear that continuing to care around the clock will lead to them burning out.
“Carers tell us they feel ignored and invisible in this epidemic. The Government must ensure their physical and emotional well-being is supported at this challenging time and monitor the impact of the reduction in care services on carers.”
The charity is urging Government to increase Carer’s Allowance – the main benefit for people caring unpaid for 35 hours or more each week, just £67.25 a week – to recognise the crucial role they are playing in the country’s fight back against coronavirus.
Helen Walker added: “The financial penalty of caring for someone is so much bigger at the moment, with the vast majority of unpaid carers spending more on food and household bills on top of what they already contribute towards care costs, installing adaptions in the home and increased fuel bills.
“It is simply unacceptable that Carer’s Allowance is the lowest benefit of its kind when unpaid carers contribute so much and at a significant cost to their own finances. The Government should raise it.
“This crisis needs to be a turning point in how we as a society treat carers. Going forward, Government must invest in the care and support families so desperately need.”