Being a carer is challenging at the best of times but being a carer in the middle of a pandemic has been a whole new ball game, writes Mia Rees.
For those unsure, a carer is someone who provides unpaid care and support to a family member or friend who has a disability, illness, mental health condition, or who needs extra help as they grow older. A carer can be any age, from any background and live anywhere.
In Wales at least 370,000 people are carers and three in five of us will become a carer at some point during our lifetime.
This week is Carers Week and new research released has found that carers lost, on average, 25 hours of support a month they previously had from services, family or friends before the pandemic. Added to that 72% of carers have not had any breaks from their caring role at all.
Unsurprisingly 74% reported being exhausted as a result of caring during the pandemic, and 35% said they feel unable to manage their unpaid caring role.
Carering for someone is full on but for many it is not full time. Many carers also work, go to school or college and enjoy spending time with their friends and family – like we all do. But the pandemic completely changed the way we worked, studied and caught up with friends and many carers lost the critical non-carering time needed to recharge.
There are approximately 30,000 carers under the age of 25 in Wales and the challenges of the last year for them has been particularly acute. They have had to juggle their schoolwork from home, not being able to see their friends and their support systems often becoming out of reach.
Other pandemic related issues flagged the role that many young carers take on to the wider public. For example, at the beginning of the pandemic supermarkets were not letting young carers into stores at certain times due to their age and they were often being questioned by members of the public on their right to be there.
There is light on the horizon with the introduction of the Young Carers ID Card in Wales and I hope that this simple system will stop the need for young carers to explain themselves every time they need to collect their parent’s prescription from the pharmacy or do an essential shop at an odd time.
The theme of this year’s Caers Week is “Make Caring Visible and Valued”. Carers deserve to be recognised for the work they do and feel valued for doing it. But they also need to know what support is out there so they know where to reach out for support and a listening ear.
Cardiff YMCA provides support to young carers in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan. They provide the space for children and young people with caring responsibilities to meet other young carers, get education or employment support and access group respite activity sessions.
Of course, during the pandemic this support has changed, much of it moving online, but YMCA staff have kept in touch, gone for socially distanced walks with young carers, and just been there when the pandemic was at its most challenging.
Knowing there are people out there who care about you, understand what it is like to be a carer and can give you support is invaluable.
So this Carers Week I have one ask. Speak to your friends and family members who care and make them feel visible and valued – too often they are not.
Councillor Mia Rees is Cardiff Conservatives Shadow Cabinet Member for Children and Families.