Working carers …a delicate balancing act
By Sean Tunnicliffe, Communications Officer, Forum Central
Val Hewison, Chief-Executive of Carers Leeds talks about the issues faced by working carers, something that affects one in eight workers in the UK, and the support Carers Leeds offers.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting up with Val Hewison, to discuss carers issues and to write a blog about it. Such is Val’s passion about carers I ended up with enough material to write two or three blogs but will focus this one on working carers.
Val has been working for Carers Leeds for 17 years and when she started the carers (supported by carers Leeds) were predominantly older people caring for other older people but this has changed and people using Carers Leeds services are now all ages, the youngest being just 16 years old.
Without the aid of a safety net
A lot of these carers are working which means trying to balance their jobs with caring. These carers are often invisible as they are not often known to social services and their employees might not know that they have caring duties.
Val explained that for a working carer there is often a lot of juggling to be done, at any time of the day they could be called on for care duties meaning they might have to leave work at very short notice. This leaves them reliant on the goodwill and support of not only their employers but also their co-workers which can lead to guilt on the part of the carer. There can also be conflicts such as whether to stay late at work to get something finished or leave on time to look after the person they are caring for.
Getting the safety net in place
Val is pushing to get Carers Leeds into workplaces and to get into the mind-set of people to push for change. Val said that Carers Leeds will work with local employers to help them to support working carers in Leeds as well as supporting employees.
She believes that there should be more opportunities within the workplace for workers to say that they are a carer and to ask for support from their employers. Employees are a valuable asset so it makes good business sense to take care of them and to offer them support and Val feels there needs to be more recognition within the workplace. Getting the support right allows the carer to function better.
There can be a reluctance on the part of the carer to open up about their role if they are caring for someone with drug or alcohol dependency (Carers Leeds refers to these people as Concerned Others). There can be a whole host of extra issues for Concerned Others such as stigma, family conflict and loneliness, all adding to the stress of being a carer.
Carers supporting someone with mental health issues can also be reluctant to talk about their role, possibly for similar reasons to those of Concerned Others. All the more reason for Carers Leeds to get into the workplace and change people’s mind-set.
Val spoke about the need for carer awareness across the board, it’s being done well in some areas but needs to be wider. A lot of people are still not aware of what a carer is, even some carers don’t realise or accept that they are a carer but instead see themselves as a parent, spouse/partner, son/daughter who is taking care of a loved one.
Combining working and caring can mean that there is little in the way of respite and only limited opportunities for carers to have time for themselves to relax or recharge. As a result, the carer’s own health and wellbeing can be neglected and suffer accordingly. Working carers will even take annual leave when they are ill as they feel guilty about taking sick leave.
Val believes that every city should have a carers centre for people to get the right support in place for working carers. It’s not just emotional support, finances, housing, and transport can often be an issue and Carers Leeds can advise on this. There are still carers who aren’t claiming Carers Allowance even when they are eligible or know about their right to have a Carers Assessment.
Val spoke about changing demographics and said that with increases in the pension age for women and people living longer there is more than ever a need to ensure that the right support for carers in the workplace is put in place so that they are able to remain in work should they wish.
Carers Leeds ethos
Val spoke about the ethos of Carers Leeds as a ‘business with a charity heart’. When someone walks through the door …whoever they are there is a welcome, a smile and an offer of a cuppa. A worker or one of Carers Leeds fabulous volunteers will sit and chat with the person in order to draw out their back story as once they know this they can decide what support to offer the individual carer.
Val said that many carers do not know what they want until it is offered so as the charity has a vast amount of services, specialist support services, events, activities, groups and training it means it’s a bit of a ‘pick and mix’ offer for carers to help them decide what will help. For some carers it’s no more than a listening ear and for some it’s being given choice to help them make decisions to support them in their caring role.
Carers Leeds with 24 years of experience and knowledge are able to adapt to the changing needs of carers. Carers Leeds has 50 members of staff and 70 volunteers who are supporting 12,500 carers.
It is a source of excellent information and advice, including one-to-one sessions and workplace advice, which give carers the support to be able to make decisions that will help them remain in work whilst being able to perform their caring role.
The value of ‘free care’
Val is clearly passionate about and rightly proud of the work that Carers Leeds does and she is also a wonderful advocate for carers. She’s not afraid to get on her soapbox and shout about the huge importance of carers and everything they do as well as their value. The cost of ‘free care’ provided by carers in the UK is a staggering £132 billion, which is certainly worth shouting about.
When Val talks about carers she reels of facts, figures and personal human stories to back up what she says, I know this because I have often listened to her doing it, although for the sake of balance I should add that Val is also an excellent listener and very generous as she demonstrated at the end of our get-together by gifting me a jigsaw for the Forum Central office.
What is a working carer?
A carer is anyone who cares, unpaid, for a friend or family member who due to illness, disability, a mental health problem or an addiction cannot cope without their support. A working carer is someone who has caring responsibilities, but is also in paid employment. You can find out more at the Carers Leeds website:www.carersleeds.org.uk
Do you have an issue you are passionate about that you want to share?
If you do, please contact Sean Tunnicliffe at sean.tunnicliffe@forumcentral or ring him on 0113 244 1697 to discuss it. We are always happy to meet up with Forum Central members to talk about and highlight the work they are doing.