We spoke to Mike, who is a carer for his parents in South Wales. Mike lives with his Mum and Stepfather, in order to care for them as they are both elderly and have a range of illnesses and disabilities that make everyday tasks more difficult for them. Mike describes his Mum as having "fibromyalgia and the 'brain fog' associated with that. It can also make her very forgetful and depressed on her worst days, so she often needs reminding to take her medication amongst other things."
It is her son's role to ensure her medication is taken and to support her mental health. This is quite a large responsibility. Mike's stepfather "has a heart condition, diabetic neuropathy and is recovering from bladder cancer amongst several other conditions." The diabetic neuropathy means he also has trouble with things like fastening buttons, opening jars or packets and tying shoelaces due to the pain his fingers. Mike is a complete support for both of his loved ones 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Mike being a carer means that "they can remain at home and know that there’s somebody there to care for them and their needs."
We asked Mike about the range of tasks he carries out in his role as a carer. It is often hard for non-carers to picture the life we talk about and we hope this window into Mike's life will help illustrate this. On a daily basis Mike describes "sorting medication, preparing meals, maintaining a clean and tidy house, helping them around the house, helping with dressing and washing and providing emotional as well as physical support."
In addition, Mike comments that he needs to attend GP and hospital appointments with them, when possible, but that this" has become harder to do during the pandemic." This is a concern many of us have during this pandemic. The fact that the people we care for have often had to attend appointments alone.
We appreciate that discussing the challenges of your caring role can be difficult to talk about, so are grateful to Mike for expanding upon this. He describes one of the main challenges of being a carer is "losing the ability to switch off at the end of the day. My parents may be in bed sleeping, but I’m still in 'carer mode' and find it very difficult to relax." I think this is a comment that many of you will identify with. When did you last switch off?
We asked Mike what, in his experience needs to change in order to improve the lives of carers and the people they care for. He commented that "the admin side of being a carer can also be extremely challenging at times and the DWP and local councils don’t make things any easier. There definitely needs to be an easier process when it comes to things like claiming benefits and completing benefit reviews. For example, our council tax benefit was recently reviewed and, despite the council having all the evidence of income from previous years, we still had to provide some of the exact same evidence again, even though nothing had changed.
My parents are both due a PIP review in the near future and I’m dreading that." We certainly understand that feeling of dread and worry when it comes to paperwork and assessment processes.
One of the themes of Carer's Week is Carer's breaks. Mike states that "It’s been several years since I’ve had anything like a holiday, or a proper break from caring, and during the pandemic even something as simple as going out for a coffee has been impossible due to the fact that we’ve all been shielding at home for over a year now."
Put yourself in Mike's shoes. You haven't had a break from your job for over 7 years. Not even to stop, sit down and have a coffee in a cafe. Can you begin to imagine what kind of a toll that takes?
In his final comments, Mike states "I feel that all four governments of the UK need to take a good look at how they treat Unpaid Carers, and especially at how, during the pandemic we’ve had all support services withdrawn, with no signs yet of them restarting. They also need to start recognising how valuable Unpaid Carers are in keeping the social care system afloat and start to see us as equals to paid carers.
Many of us do far more for those we care for than the paid carers, yet we’re treated with less respect and often as if we don’t matter. They also need to stop seeing our roles as a choice, because for many of us becoming a carer is something we do out of necessity, rather than by choice. During the pandemic carers and those they care for have been pretty much abandoned and there needs to be an assurance that this won’t happen again, alongside a plan putting in place for if we should ever find ourselves in this situation again."Mike's petition for a National Register of Unpaid Carers in Wales
Earlier this year whilst Unpaid Carers were fighting to be prioritised for the Covid vaccine it became apparent that none of the UK governments have any idea of how many of us there are in the UK or indeed who we are, so during that time I created a petition asking the Welsh Government to create a National Register of Unpaid Carers for Wales. During the election process all petitions were suspended, but hopefully as you are reading this article the petition will now be active again and open for new signatures.
I feel strongly that such a register will aid in the recognition of Unpaid Carers in the UK and make it easier for us to be contacted by government, local authorities and social services. Such a register will also help to ensure that carers can be easily contacted for future vaccinations and flu shots.
The link to Mike's petition can be found here
We would like to thank Mike for taking the time to speak to us and for such insightful comments on the issues so many of us experience.