Carers Week 2018: why we need more conversations about Croydon carers

By - Monday 11th June, 2018

Helping local carers get the support they need from the community

daughter with mother looking to the side

Photo public domain.

It’s Carers Week from 11th to 17th June 2018, an annual campaign to champion carers in our community. Over 33,000 Croydon residents care for a friend, family member or neighbour due to illness, disability or old age, and it’s only right that we recognise that fact. Carers support people who may have high support needs and complex conditions to stay safe, well and as independent as possible, saving the UK economy almost £60 billion every year and giving back so much more to our local communities.

This year’s national Carers Week campaign encourages us to supports carers to stay healthy and connected. But despite the rise in recognition, too many carers still feel that they are struggling alone. According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), people with caring responsibilities are thirty-seven times more likely to feel frequently lonely, and the national charity Carers UK found that eight in ten carers have felt lonely or isolated because of their caring role.

“You can feel lonely in a room with twenty people. They haven’t got a clue what your life is like.”

So said a Croydon carer for an adult with a learning disability recently. Research shows that lacking social connections is as damaging as smoking fifteen cigarettes per day (Holt-Lunstad, 2015), and is therefore worse for our health than obesity and a lack of exercise. With loneliness already on the rise in the general population, such disproportionately high levels of loneliness and social isolation in carers should seriously concern us.

To take a local snapshot of this issue, the Carers Information Service conducted a survey with over 100 Croydon carers on caring and loneliness, and performed nine in-depth interviews of carers to discover their personal experiences. The responses were startling; 64% of carers said that caring stopped them from socialising as much as they wanted to for most or all of the time, and 45% felt chronically lonely. Caring, it seems, risks cutting you off from the rest of society.

Everyone’s experience of loneliness is different, but there were several key trends in our findings. For many, the main barrier was lack of time; juggling the responsibilities of caring alongside everything else pushed quality time with friends and family to the back of the queue:

“Caring for my parents, especially my mum with dementia, has taken most of my time. I used to socialise or have ‘me time’ on my days off from work but my caring role has taken over this. My life is now centred between work and caring so that I rarely see friends any more and can no longer have holidays with my partner. I’m afraid that this role is putting a strain on my relationships – with others, with myself, as well as with my parents whom I care for.”

Carers who struggled with loneliness often reported symptoms of poor mental health, including high levels of guilt, stress and anxiety. Other concerns raised in our survey included a lack of support from friends and family, pressures on other existing relationships, and even complete relationship breakdown. Several carers told us that their relationship with their partner ended as a direct result of the pressures of caring. Such a state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue.

Local support services such as the Carers Support Centre play a key role in reducing carer loneliness and isolation. With support from Croydon Council’s community fund, the Carers Support Centre provides face-to-face information and advice, emotional support, factsheets to keep carers informed, wellbeing activities to give carers a break such as massage, dance and singing, a drop-in carers’ café, workshops, and much more. According to our findings, 78% of carers who had used the Carers Support Centre said that it reduced their feelings of loneliness. Carers told us that they valued having a place to go when they needed help or simply someone understanding to talk to.

“It’s just great knowing that the Carers Support Centre is there. You can walk in and see familiar faces or have a coffee and someone is there to listen.”

Yet, as our survey results show, the need is growing and there is clearly much more to be done. Carers told us that they needed increased support, both in the form of respite breaks and help for the person whom they cared for. Last year’s national State of Caring Survey found that one in four carers have not had a day off in five years. Given the increasing number of people who need support to maintain their independence and the pressures on local social care budgets, carers are taking on increasing levels of care and are in desperate need of a break.

“People don’t always understand your role as a carer…”

As well as an increase in support, carers also wanted a cultural shift in understanding. According to a national Carers Rights Day poll, 51% of the British public say that they do not know a single friend or family member who cares for someone, yet around one in ten of us has a caring role. There is a growing need to speak more honestly and openly about caring in all corners of society, whether that’s with family and friends, in the workplace, out in the community or at the doctor’s surgery. Carers are all around us, and we all have opportunities to do something to help.

This Carers Week, the Carers Information Service is calling on individuals, organisations, employers, professionals and local policy makers to make a pledge to take action for carers. Whether that’s offering a non-judgemental, listening ear to a friend or family member, showing greater awareness as a professional or influencing for change, we can all play our part. By working together, we can all make sure that no one has to care alone. You can find out more about #CarerConversations in Croydon and make your pledge for Croydon’s carers on our Carers Week webpage too.

Amy Deakin

Amy Deakin

Amy Deakin is the Communications and Publications Officer at the Croydon Carers Support Centre, a drop in advice centre for unpaid carers based in George Street, Croydon town centre.

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