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25 Nov 2020

Unpaid carers 'exhausted' and unable to take breaks during the pandemic

The closure of local support services and social distancing restrictions are taking their toll

Many unpaid carers are at risk of burnout this winter.

Eight out of ten people who care for a loved one told charity Carer's UK they had been doing more with fewer breaks since the pandemic began*.

We've previously reported that many more people have had to care for a friend or relative during the coronavirus crisis than in normal times. And existing carers may have had to provide more care than usual due to the temporary closure of local services.

Plus, friends and family members who usually assist with caring responsibilities may have been unable to help out due to social distancing restrictions in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Helen Walker, chief executive of Carers UK, said: u201cWithout a shadow of a doubt unpaid carers are bearing the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic - providing extraordinary hours of care for family members with significantly reduced help from formal services, and at an enormous cost to their own health and finances.u201d

The importance of breaks

Caring is an important role but it shouldn't completely take over your life. It's easy to feel worried or guilty about taking time off as a carer but it can give you valuable time to focus on looking after yourself. Carers who take regular breaks are able to provide better care in the long term.

Taking a break from caring, while the person you look after is cared for by someone else is called 'respite care'.

Respite care takes many forms such as:

  • Daycare centres
  • Support at home
  • Going to a care home
  • Getting support from friends and family
  • Respite holidays

Respite care, in whatever form it takes, can give your loved one the opportunity to meet new people and take part in activities they wouldn't ordinarily be able to try.

It also gives carers and their loved one an opportunity to test out alternative services that could be needed in future.

Respite care during coronavirus

For most carers, the uncomfortable truth is that arranging a break during the pandemic has been more easily said than done. Carer's UK found almost two-third of carers (64%) have not been able to take any breaks from their caring role during the crisis.

People caring for a loved one reported high levels of fatigue and stress - almost three quarters (74%) said they felt exhausted and worn out. While 44% of unpaid carers told the charity they are reaching a breaking point.

One respondent said: u201cI used to get a break by family helping but as they have jobs and their own family they cannot risk helping. It's all down to me now.u201d

Many unpaid carers say they are still unable to access services that they previously relied on, as many have not reopened in their area during the continuing restrictions.

u201cI would normally get 84 respite nights per year,u201d said a respondent. u201cI've been offered 12 between now and January 2021. Didn't get any during lockdown.u201d

Financing respite care

Local authorities will sometimes finance respite care, but only for people they have previously assessed as needing it. This is decided during a needs assessment for the person who needs the care or a carer's assessment for the person doing the caring.

The funding a carer will receive for respite care will then be determined by a financial test.

But during the coronavirus crisis, many council assessments have been postponed. And local authorities are now facing a significant backlog of assessments.

Carers Rights Day

November 26th is Carers Rights Day. It aims to ensure carers are aware of their rights, let carers know where to get help and support and raise awareness of the needs of carers.

Find out how to get involved.

If you are trying to balance caring responsibilities with the pressure of a job, read our guide to carers' rights at work.

Charities say extra support for carers urgently needed

Carer's UK wants the government to ensure the return of essential services is prioritised during the coronavirus crisis. It is also asking for an urgent review of breaks provision to find solutions for carers. And it wants families and friends supporting disabled or older people to be able to form 'care bubbles' where social distancing is not needed.

While the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), a charity representing adult social services in England, is calling on the Government to provide £480 million for social care, and a further £1.2 billion to fund carers' breaks.

James Bullion, ADASS President, said: “This is not a nicety. It is a necessity. Without a stronger focus on care at home and greater support for family carers, those of us who have care and support needs will not receive that care, and our family carers will face an intolerable winter.u201d

Help raise awareness of the challenges carers are facing this winter - add your support here.