No break for carers

One in four unpaid carers in Scotland has not had a single day away from caring in five years.

This shocking statistic was revealed in a report published last month by Carers UK.  The results from the Scottish carers taking part in their survey identified that many were close to breaking point, struggling with the demands of providing round-the-clock care to their loved ones, and experiencing a deterioration in both their mental and physical health as a result.

While the majority felt a break would significantly improve their health and wellbeing, only 16% were able to access them. With ongoing cuts to adult social care services, many carers talked of a reduction in the amount of support they are now offered, and expressed a growing anxiety about support in the future.

The Carers UK survey was published shortly after new figures from the Office for National Statistics revealed just how reliant we are as a society on the army of unpaid carers across the country: one in every 12 people currently provides unpaid care for a family member or friend. That’s 759,000 people in Scotland providing a service estimated to save the economy £10.8 billion every year.  Quite simply our health and social care sector would be crippled without them.

It’s crucial therefore that everyone providing this caring support is properly valued for the essential job they do and given the support they need, including regular short breaks.

Every day at Leuchie House we see the enormous impact these breaks have on carers. Many arrive at Leuchie physically and mentally exhausted, weighed down by the toll it takes to provide 24/7 care.  After a few days away from the responsibility of caring and a few nights of uninterrupted sleep, the difference is tangible, and often transformational.  

Next April Scotland’s new Carers Act comes in to force. As part of this local authorities will have a duty to support carers, including providing breaks from caring where required. This is a huge opportunity for Scotland to lead the way in valuing and providing for unpaid carers. We must do everything we can to seize this opportunity with both hands.

Mairi O'Keefe, CEO, Leuchie House. Published in The East Lothian Courier, 3 August 2017.