Ashton MP Angela Rayner has spoken out about the emotional burden carried by unpaid carers across the UK.
To launch Carers Week 2020, Angela – who cared for her mother from the age of 10 – has paid tribute to the millions of people who are looking after loved ones during the coronavirus crisis.She said: “Whether it is family members dropping off the weekly shop for elderly relatives who are isolating, mutual aid groups supporting vulnerable neighbours or volunteers organising food deliveries for families in need, this crisis has seen millions of people come together in a spirit of unity, compassion and solidarity. With so many of us taking on caring responsibilities and supporting relatives, neighbours or friends, Carers Week feels especially pertinent this year.”
Even before the pandemic struck, there were already at least six and a half million unpaid carers in the UK. At the last census in 2011 one in eight adults were looking after a family member, partner or loved one who had a disability, mental or physical illness or who simply needed extra support as they grew older. Experts believe this has now grown to at least nine million due to our ageing population.
Many of these unpaid carers are young people, still technically children in the eyes of the law, who are balancing their education and the challenges of growing up alongside caring for a parent or family member.
Angela, Labour’s Deputy Leader, said: “When we think of a young person of school age we think of someone who should be cared for, not someone who is them self already responsible for caring for a parent with a disability or illness.
“I know how tough it can be for unpaid carers because of my own experience growing up. From the age of 10, when I was at primary school, I was caring for my mother as she suffered from severe depression. At times I had to bathe her, feed her and look after her as best as I could, but it was the emotional burden that was hardest to bear.
“It’s hard being a carer when you’re still only a child. You have to grow up quickly, worrying about problems that most children don’t have to worry about. As well as caring for your parent you have to learn the hard way how to look after yourself and deal with all the challenges of growing up.
“All carers make huge personal sacrifices to put the needs of their family member or loved one first, and this can have an impact on carers’ mental health and their own personal relationships.”
Research has shown that carers are seven times more likely to be lonely compared to the general population. Across the board carers are more anxious, less happy and less fulfilled than the general population.
Carers Allowance is £7 per week less than Job Seekers Allowance leaving many carers struggling to make ends meet.
Angela added: “Millions of people would be left to manage without any support at all if it wasn’t for these millions of unsung heroes. They surely deserve better than this.
“This year, Carers Week provides an opportunity to reflect on the fact that there are millions of unpaid carers in this country who will need our support after we get through this crisis. It is also an opportunity to say thank you and commit ourselves to supporting our unpaid carers.
“For too long their vital role in our society has gone underappreciated and undervalued. Their work is done behind closed doors in their own homes or the homes of their loved ones. Many can’t clock off from their caring responsibilities, go home after a long day or enjoy a weekend off after a tough week.
“When we get through this crisis it will be because of the hard work and sacrifice of so many, putting the needs of others before their own. It must be in this spirit that we make sure we don’t leave our unpaid carers behind again.”