I hate that moment in a conversation when you get to the “So, what do you do?” question. Partly imposter syndrome in my case, but also because so many of us “do” lots of things and the fact that you may be a qualified astronaut is only one aspect of your rich and busy life.
Hands up all those who would call themselves as a carer when asked that question? You may be one but more likely you’re a spouse, a daughter or a son juggling the astronaut thing with looking after others as well as everything else. And I would bet good money that very few of us would say we’re a carer. At a push, we might mention that Mum or Dad needs more help these days which takes up a bit of time….
It’s National Carers Week next week and the theme this year is ‘Make caring visible and valued’. I applaud the ambition. But, it also makes me sad as it’s not particularly inspiring – certainly not a call to action or a demand for change. Which seems something of a wasted opportunity after the last 15 months where families have stepped in and stepped up in the most dramatic ways to protect and care for elderly relatives.
The value of unpaid care in the UK – i.e. that carried out by family members or friends/neighbours runs into the billions – £2.3 billion in 2020 according to Age UK. People like you save the NHS and the Government not just money, but also time and resources. Often at great personal cost to yourself and your family.
Somehow, we need to shift the perception and with that the expectation of how we regard and support the millions of people who are in fact carers. Who all deserve so much more than visibility, or a clap.
Not identifying as a carer is the first step. What constitutes care beyond what one might reasonably expect a family member or friend to do? We need to untangle in our own minds and crucially the minds in Government the things we do for love and the things that need to be done. And recognise that doing the shopping, washing Dad’s hair, paying the bills or taking Mum to an appointment is both what you do for love, but it is also care, with a capital C. And it’s something to be proud of.
I’m not suggesting that every little task should come with a price tag. But only by recognising that you or a family member are a carer – or have caring responsibilities – can you start to see the implications, and think about help or support. This may be financial – such as carer’s allowance; or it could be practical such as respite care. Or the recognition itself might just be enough – giving permission to actually be a carer.
With an ageing workforce we need to equip employers to provide better and formal support for employees who have caring duties. It’s slowly improving but still up to the employer‘s discretion regarding time off work or flexible working.
There are 7 million UK adults providing unpaid care right now. Today. And tomorrow, and next week. With very little support or help often. But that’s 6.9999 million others – you are not alone. Such a powerful potential group. We need to galvanise ourselves into action way beyond “Making caring visible and valued”. Time to embrace that question in a conversation and say “I am a carer”.
It’s about so much more than the things we do for love.
Annabel James is the founder of Age Space. Her continued love of 10CC – and her views – are her own.