In wake of RCGP report and government proposals, Vitalise study points to an even deeper problem
As the government announces proposals for a ‘joined up’ health and social care service, and in the wake of a shock report by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), research by disability charity Vitalise shows that millions of family carers are putting their health at risk because they are unaware that support is available to them.
In response to the RCGP’s report, which found that 40% of carers were thought to be at risk of depression because of their caring role, a recent Vitalise study has revealed that this may be just the tip of the iceberg.
The Vitalise study, which collated the findings of research conducted over the past five years, revealed that many carers don’t see themselves as carers because they are unpaid and/or see it as a family duty. As a result they don’t realise they are entitled to statutory support and may be putting their mental and physical wellbeing at risk.
There are an estimated six million carers – around one in eight adults – in the UK, with another 6,000 people taking on a caring responsibility each day. It is estimated that the total number of UK carers will have reached nine million by 2037.
As the population ages and age-related disabilities such as Alzheimer’s and dementia increase, older carers are increasingly bearing the brunt of the problem. Many older carers can no longer find work or are forced to retire and find that Carers’ Allowance ceases at retirement age.
Worse, the study found that over half of older carers had not even received a Carer’s Assessment from their GP, since they did not regard themselves as carers. As a consequence they were unaware that local authority funding for respite care and short breaks existed.
The research was commissioned by Vitalise and presented as evidence that more needs to be done to reach out to carers and provide them with vital information about their statutory entitlements.
Vitalise Chief Executive Chris Simmonds said:
“The RCGP report highlights the incredible physical and mental toll that caring for a loved one with a disability can take.
“But what’s worse is that the RCGP’s figures are based on the carers who do realise they need and are entitled to help. How many millions more may be struggling on at home, unaware that their caring role entitles them to support?
“The problems people with disabilities and carers face in accessing essential support – such as funding for respite breaks – is already well documented, but many unpaid carers may be doubly disadvantaged because they don’t even know they are carers and therefore entitled to support.
“Clearly more needs to be done to reach out to this army of invisible carers across the UK, since without the escape valve of regular time off from caring, we know only too well that carers risk reaching breaking point and ending up sick, depressed, and facing the very real risk of becoming disabled themselves.
“Vitalise was founded exactly 50 years ago for the precise purpose of supporting families struggling to cope with disability and restoring hope and dignity into their lives. It would be a crying shame if the respite breaks we lay on at our centres went unclaimed because people in desperate need didn’t even know they were entitled to visit. The carers of the UK should not be left to suffer in silence.”
Vitalise is a national charity providing essential respite breaks for people with disabilities – including Alzheimer’s and dementia – and carers at three accessible UK centres in Chigwell in Essex, Southampton and Southport, with 24-hour nursing care on-call, personal support and a range of accessible excursions, activities and entertainment.