This week is Carers’ Week, and the theme is ‘Making caring visible’ . In part one of our two-part story on unpaid carers, UniteLIVE highlights the issues they face in and out of the workplace.
Unpaid carers – from the parent looking after their young children, to the young person caring for their mother with dementia, to the adult living with their sibling with a disability – are everywhere.
The vast majority of Britons are or will one day be unpaid carers, and while they will contribute billions to the economy – equivalent to a second NHS — they and their struggles remain largely hidden.
This week is Carers’ Week, and highlighting the contributions of carers has never been more important than now. The UK-wide lockdown amid the pandemic has pushed unpaid carers even further below the radar, explains Kate Cubbage, head of external affairs for the Carers Trust in Wales.
“Unpaid carers are caring behind closed doors amid the lockdown, often without any break,” she tells UniteLIVE. “Respite provision is very difficult to achieve at the moment. For parent carers, for example, the break of having a child go to school is generally not happening.
“We know that many unpaid carers struggle to do the things that matter to them; to have a break from their caring role even before lockdown. Now they are locked in with no break and no outside support.”
Unite regional women and equalities officer Jo Galazka knows precisely what it means to shoulder the challenges of caring – when she was just nine years old, she became a carer for her mum, who has bipolar disorder. It’s a role she continues to play today alongside her brother.
“I know what the struggle is like,” she says. “It is why I care so passionately being a women and equalities officer to make sure we as a union do our part to support carers.”
Jo notes why this support – from their union, from employers, their communities and government is so critical.
“One in 7 people in the workforce right now is a carer. And a huge percentage of those will drop out of the workforce altogether. That’s why it is absolutely vital that we get this right – that we ensure carers get the support they need.”
Jo highlights the fact that many people do not even realise they count as carers – and so don’t understand the support that’s available to them or the rights that they have.
“So many don’t recognise they’re carers because they’re just getting on with it – doing what they do out of love and respect for the people the care for,” Jo explains. “We need to send that message out – that you as a carer deserve a life around and outside of caring.
“You’re not just a carer. You’re an individual who has career aspirations and dreams too. It’s almost as if carers are forced to be resigned to that role and that’s not what they want. They tell us they want to live a full life, but they just need that extra support and some recognition.”
Unite has long been a union that has championed the voice of carers in the workplace. Day in and day out the union supports its members who are carers in practical ways, Jo explains.
“We ensure that people are protected from discrimination. We fight and campaign for policies in the workplace that change the lives of carers – from paid emergency leave to flexible working and more. We provide training to our equalities reps and officers to highlight the issues carers face. We also signpost our members to organisations like the Carers Trust so that they can get the help they need.”
It is this training, now delivered to Unite reps by the Carers Trust, that has ensured carers’ issues are at the top of the agenda in Unite workplaces.
Kate of the Carers’ Trust in Wales explains.
“The focus of our training really is at the heart of what we do – to make sure that organisations and professionals across all sectors understand what it means to be a carer; that they can empathise with some of the challenges that that might present,” she notes, adding that education about carers’ rights is central to the organisation’s training delivery.
“Unpaid carers have the same legal rights as the people they care for. They have a right to support; they have a right in Wales to a carer’s needs assessment through their local authority. And if any eligible rights are identified through that assessment they have a right to have their needs met. If you need domiciliary care or respite care to enable you to go to work, you are entitled to it. These are quite strong legal rights that local authorities are obliged to look at and to address.”
Stay tuned tomorrow (June 11) for the second part of our Carers’ Week story, where we hear more from Kate and Jo – and also catch up with Unite rep Justin Morgan, who is working to set up a carers’ policy in his workplace.
By Hajera Blagg