The Office for National Statistics has released data on the impact of lockdown for people looking after family, friends and neighbours. Their report is a startling reminder of just how many people have a caring role, and how important it is that we are supporting them properly.
Mobilise is run by carers, for carers. We’re working with local authorities across the country, providing unpaid carers with the community, information and support they need at an acutely difficult time. Here’s how the ONS data matches up with our experience ‘on the ground’ (or, more accurately, ‘in the cloud’)...
We need to update our understanding of who a carer is
The ONS have found that during lockdown 48% of adults have been supporting somebody they don’t live with. This ranged from doing shopping and providing meals, to support with paying bills etc and helping to get dressed.
That’s half the adult population involved in a crucial form of social care, which too often goes unrecognised.
We also learned from the ONS data that the age profile is not what we might expect - the vast majority of carers are in their 30s, 40s and 50s. It’s important we recognise that unpaid care is not limited to retired couples - carers are a diverse bunch. Many are working and maintaining childcare responsibilities on top of their caring role. We need to make sure that the support available reflects the full diversity of the carer population.
One of the most common phrases in our virtual cuppas is “I don’t really see myself as a ‘carer’ but…” There’s clearly a massive disconnect between what we imagine a carer to be, and the reality of those helping to look after someone.
Perhaps more troubling, employers often don’t recognise what a carer looks like - many in our community have been disappointed by their employer’s approach to flexibility around their caring role. This might be because we haven’t realised just how commonplace it is to have a caring role.
There’s an urgent need to support those who care
Readers of our e-support package tell us that one of the greatest challenges for them in lockdown was the stress and anxiety of supporting and protecting someone whilst juggling the practical and emotional challenges of their situation.
Again, our experience matches the evidence of the ONS:
Carers experience greater levels of stress and anxiety than non-carers
Carers feel a greater strain on their personal relationships
Carers describe their mental health as being worse
But we also know that this is not inevitable. We’ve found that talking to others in a similar position can make a real difference - not only with emotional support, but also in picking up the all-important practical tips and tricks that others are finding helpful.
One carer, Virginia, who accessed one of our one-to-one coaching calls said "Anyone struggling or needing some direction or support to focus and unscramble anxious or muddled thoughts, lacking motivation or feeling overwhelmed ...the call helped me enormously ...I spouted out all my anxieties and thoughts and Suzanne helped me focus and set a small goal to work on no pressure ....go for it!"
Caring can be rewarding and enjoyable
Let’s make no mistake - looking after somebody who is dependent on you can be incredibly hard and stressful. But it would also be a mistake to assume it can *only* be negative.
The ONS survey picks up on a crucial aspect of the caring role, which is often missed: “Those who provided help and support are more likely to feel they are playing a useful role.”
Carers in the Mobilise community have regularly been talking about the different sides of their caring role. Mobilise have hosted over 100 Virtual Cuppas for Carers throughout the pandemic. We’ve found that our carers leave the call feeling lighter and that’s an intentional part of the Mobilise way. We love the light bulb moments too, when someone has a tried and tested answer to a current challenge.
While for many lockdown may be easing off, the vast majority of carers are facing many more months of their enhanced role. We’re proud that so many carers are coming together as part of the Mobilise community to support each other and exchange practical advice.
If you know someone who could benefit from a chat, please send them our way!