In celebration of Good Care Week, we look at another side to caring, that of the unpaid carer, of which there are over 70,000 in Leeds. We find out what an unpaid carer is; what support the voluntary organisation Carers Leeds can offer and what their Chief Executive Officer, Val Hewison has to say.
Defined by the Carers Trust, a carer is:
‘someone of any age who provides unpaid support to a family or friend who could not manage without this help due to illness, disability, mental ill-health or a substance misuse problem’.
Funded by Leeds Adult Social Care services, Carers Leeds is the largest voluntary provider supporting unpaid carers across the city. With the number of unpaid carers rising, so is the need for Carers Leeds to be there to help them when required. As one carer said:
“As a young adult carer I don’t think I would have made it through each day without the support from a Carers Leeds support worker who understood what I was going through. They helped so much; answering questions, giving me guidance and being someone I could talk to whenever I needed to. I will be eternally grateful for this”
Carers Leeds provides a range of services to support carers, including:
- information, advice and support – the bedrock of their service
- a range of support groups, events, activities and carer training courses
- financial support with the cost of getting a break from caring
They also run a drop-in service, appointments in the city centre, in the carer’s home or at a community venue.
We interviewed Val Hewison, Chief Executive Officer, to find out more about what they do.
If you could share one message today about carers, what would that be?
This sounds small, but it often causes confusion of who we’re here to help at Carers Leeds – unpaid carers. If I was given a £1 for every time I explained it, I’d be on a cruise somewhere in the Caribbean!
The difference between paid carers, care workers or Personal Assistants who we don’t support, and the unpaid carers who we do support, is an important distinction but often misunderstood. It is absolutely the reason why we at Carers Leeds exist; to support the unpaid carers who don’t necessarily have anyone to turn to, who may feel isolated and don’t receive any financial reward for looking after those closest to them. They may claim a welfare benefit called Carers Allowance, but this is a benefit and not a payment.
In contrast, paid carers, care workers or Personal Assistants often have support mechanisms in place from the organisation they get paid by or their management team and co-workers. There are in-house ‘systems’ if paid workers are struggling with workloads, the challenges of their role or having what we call ‘an off day’. That isn’t always the case for our carers whose only outlet is often either us or no-one at all. They can feel very isolated.
What are the challenges for your organisation?
At the moment, we support over 7,000 unpaid carers in Leeds and we know that our service helps the power-house of care that comes freely from these people. We’re told so many, many times how we’ve become a lifeline for those that seek our support. But it is estimated that there are more than 70,000 unpaid carers in Leeds. 70,000! – that’s just under a tenth of the Leeds population. I always wonder if we could be doing more to help those that we don’t know about and don’t know about us. That is a huge challenge and one we’re always aware of.
What are the main challenges for carers?
Many people don’t see themselves as carers, – they see themselves as a husband, wife, parent, son or daughter, doing what they need to do; what anyone would do for a loved one or friend.
It is important, however, that people who are caring identify themselves as a carer, so that they can access the support that is available to them if they need it. In order to care safely and in good health, carers tell us they need information, support respect and recognition. For example, you’re looking after your partner who has a mental health problem, but don’t see yourself as a carer – if you become very stressed or distressed, you may not know about the carers services that might be able to help you.
From the 7,000 carers we support, I think isolation is also common challenge. As I mentioned earlier, they don’t always have the support in place to help with problems or the ‘unknown’. They are, after all, not care professionals, just decent and loving friends or family trying very, very hard to do the right thing for the ones closest to them.
At Carers Leeds, we can help. We can fill the gap of isolation. We can be there.
What difference do carers make?
For the individual who carers look after? I’ve mentioned ‘lifeline’ before and I don’t think even that is strong enough a word to describe how invaluable carers are. They play such an important role in society, touching people’s lives. They are extraordinary people doing extraordinary things to support and care for those closest to them.
It’s almost immeasurable in emotional and physical terms but we can put it into financial terms.
The number of carers in Leeds is estimated at 71,598 – this figure comes from the 2011 Census. It is estimated that carers save the economy £119 billion a year – in Leeds alone, carers are saving a massive £1.5 billion. Imagine how much poorer our society would be in so many different ways, if people gave up caring.
What’s the best part of your job?
There are so many!
It’s a humbling experience helping people for the first time and actually seeing signs of relief that they’re not on their own, that we really are there for them. Most stay with us for a long time and on that journey with us, we’re often told how critical we’ve become to their lives. To play such an important role is what drives both me and the team here to do everything we can to make a difference to their daily lives.
And the fun times we all share together. We have an annual summer fete in June where we all come together, staff, carers, families and friends. It’s one big party celebrating each other and having plenty of fun on the way too!
Thanks to Val for letting us know more about what Carers Leeds do to help.
Maybe you or someone you know may need care one day?
Carers Leeds is member of Carers Trust and the largest provider of generic carer support in Leeds. Please get in touch with them if you would like more information.
They can offer information, advice and support in community Asian languages. All of their activities are published in a bi-monthly Newsletter.
6-8 The Headrow
Leeds LS1 6PT
0113 246 8338