In England, we have a thing called the Carers Strategy, put in place by the government because people who look after their friends and family - unpaid people, doing it because they care about their friend or family member - often don't get any support. We need these people because otherwise the rest of us would have to pay for this care for our fellow citizens with disabilities, dementia, long term illness etc, and frankly we couldn't afford it.
We talk a lot about 'hidden carers' because we know there are a lot of people out there caring for friends and family but we don't know who they are, and we can't offer help if we can't find them. One of the key aims of the Carers Strategy is to encourage carers to identify themselves and come forward for help. I do wonder why this seems to be so difficult. We know that many people just don't identify with the term 'carer' and perhaps don't even want to. Maybe it's the term itself that is a problem. I wonder how something which should be relatively straightforward seems to be so difficult.
At the weekend, whilst in a pub at lunchtime on one of the first sunny Saturdays of the year, I paused to pay attention to the people sitting around me. And on looking, it became apparent that although it wasn't that busy, there were carers everywhere. Mainly people in their 50s, 60s and 70s, with elderly parents or aunts and uncles, out for a quiet lunch. I suspect that in the past I maybe haven't really been paying attention.
One group were supporting a gentleman - very elderly, and very frail. It was clear he needs pretty much constant support. Even to go out for lunch meant at least two physically fit people to hold him up and help him walk from the table to the car, with another person coaching him all the way along as he put one foot in front of the other - gentle, positive, but assertive. It was clearly a mammoth effort for everyone.
And I can only imagine that even a few hours out means a whole range of considerations to be thought about - helping him eat his lunch, making sure the loo arrangements are accessible and helping him use them, not least. And here they were, those three family members, ensuring he is included in family and has a good quality of life, not forgotten about or isolated. How easy it would be to say oh we'll take Uncle John next time and go for the easy option.
We talk a lot about hidden carers, but the truth is they weren't hidden. They were right there. They probably don't call themselves carers, they're just looking after Uncle John.
So the aim of the game has to be not to single carers out if they don't want to be labelled. The aim has to be to get the message across that if you're looking after someone and it's getting a bit much, then there are places you can go to get help. Help specifically for you, because you matter too.
With carers all around us it seems inexplicable we're so far away from cracking this communications issue.
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