Pandemic-invisibility: Suffolk, Covid & unpaid Carers

Despite the Covid pandemic ,it seems that Suffolk’s family carers remain officially hidden, and officially unsupported. In this county – as in this country – this is a disgrace.

A recent SCC briefing on the subject merely said: “One of the challenges at this time is helping carers to explore the options for having a care ‘back-up’ or contingency plan, should circumstances change and alternative care be necessary for the cared for adult.  While not new to discussions with carers, the prospect of carers knowing people in their network, or community is especially important during a pandemic of this sort. “ In other words: “Hop to it, Cinderella! Go find your replacement!”

Disingenuously, this  wording suggests that a full-time  unpaid family carer has made a positive career decision and  is actually in the position to form a strong support network within their community and to leverage it to the unlimited free care cover that the state has expected from them. I cannot tell you how angry this makes me.

So, who will elect to do this massive amount of care unpaid? How many senior members of county or country administration will come forward and publicly commit to taking over the unpaid, unacknowledged 24/7 care of an anonymous local resident with significant needs? Don’t all shout at once, eh?

Come off it! We all know it is not a realistic plan for the county ( or indeed the country)  to expect  unpaid carers to source other replacement unpaid carers to cover their own isolation/ sickness/death from Covid19 on top of everything else they do.To articulate this expectation is not only unrealistic, it is inappropriate in the extreme.

At the best it can only put extra stress on already over-stressed individuals. At the worst it might make them lose all hope. How will – how can – a sole carer looking after eg a spinally complicated quadriplegic do this? Or the elderly, physically frail, carer of a partner with dementia?  Or the unacknowledged child carer of a troubled adult?

We should be deeply disturbed that Suffolk’s message is that if you are a lone and unsupported carer, looking after somebody who is vulnerable because the state is not coming forward to assist, the county merely reiterates that it is this carer’s responsibility to  go out and find someone else to look after (for free) the person they care for (for love and duty).

This briefing is a distancing manoeuvre rather than practical help in a pandemic.  More, it is a gross abrogation of moral responsibility by authorities elected to safeguard our society.

Worryingly, Suffolk’s Plan B seems to be to tell concerned councillors “If you are worried about an individual, do report them to Home But Not Alone.”

But what about all those who are under the radar? I am not concerned about ‘an individual’. If I know about ‘an individual’ it is possible to provide support. I am worried about all those other individuals – the sole carer of a spinally complicated quadriplegic, say, the elderly, physically frail, carer of a partner with dementia, the unacknowledged child carer of a troubled adult- that we simply do not know – the ones who are home alone.

CarersUK estimates there were 8.8million unpaid carers in the UK in 2019: 13% of the population. That’s approx 100,000 Suffolk carers (possibly more as Suffolk has an older population than the country as a whole). Suffolk Family Carers confirm they only have 14,000 of these carers on their books – and this includes people like me, whose maximum caring responsibilities are currently reduced.

The state has no official method of identifying family carers beyond whether they claim Carers Allowance or not. But many carers are not eligible (students, pensioners, people earning more than £120 per week, children ,etc).  Within the unidentified category are many of the most vulnerable: lone parents of disabled children; hidden child carers of adults with poor physical or mental health or addiction issues; and older persons looking after older partners/spouses, both with poor health – and all of these caring 24/7. Such carers have increasingly frail support networks, particularly vulnerable to breakdown at this time. Many are living lives of quiet desperation.

In my own 20 years’ experience as 24/7 unpaid family carer, no elected body, either local or national, has wished to challenge or address these statistics because it leaves them obliged to recognise the magnitude of the underlying problem. (And deal with it. )They edge away like a cat that has inadvertently put its paw near something strong-smelling.

SO  can we do anything? I believe  we can! Suffolk  – at county, district, ccg and other levels, has various lists which would allow an overarching interest (should one exist!)  to piece together a patchwork index of vulnerable persons. No, not the 1.5 million shielded people  –  of whom I am one. We may be vulnerable  to covid, but often far from vulnerable financially or societally. The real vulnerable people. I  urge our county – as I urge our country – to go further and ask each individual parish to start at once to try and identify their f local hidden carers- house by house, street by street – and report back. We could ask  the media to get involved and make this a whole-county initiative. Better, a whole country one.

Many family carers are invisible behind closed doors. We must identify them, because otherwise, while our society is under its current great stress , they can literally be dying behind closed doors, unsupported.

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