THE BLOG

Should Free Time Be a Right?

24/11/2015 13:00 GMT | Updated 23/11/2016 10:12 GMT

These people can be of any age, ethnicity or gender. They always put someone else's needs and welfare before their own, often without recognition or praise. Many have little chance to socialise, which can lead to isolation; and they have an overwhelming sense of responsibility. Who am I talking about? The UK's 'hidden workforce' of unpaid carers.

There are an estimated seven million unpaid carers currently spending significant time caring for their loved ones in the UK. The real numbers are actually thought to be much higher because so many people find themselves fulfilling the role of a carer before being identified as such. The charity I lead, Create, works with carers on a daily basis but awareness days provide an opportunity to ensure their stories are heard by the public and educate others about the challenges that they struggle with.

Although financial support for carers is clearly a hot topic, a key recurring theme when it comes to talking about the struggle of caring is something that money can't buy: time and the freedom to choose how to spend it.

In September, new figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre were released stating that almost half of carers are providing over 100 hours of support a week. Four in 10 carers haven't had a full day off from caring in over a year and 13,000 children are caring for over 50 hours a week.

For young people, the challenge to manage school alongside these responsibilities is often too much, with one in 20 missing classroom education in order to care: overall, young carers achieve the equivalent of nine grades lower than their peers at GCSE level. When they do attend school, causes of stress include worrying about the person that they care for. One 12 year old young carer I spoke to admitted,

"When I'm at school I sometimes worry about the person I care for hurting themselves. I just want them to be safe and happy."

What is clear is that even time spent away from caring can be infiltrated with the concerns that come with being a carer. With little time to relax, carers are experiencing a health and wellbeing crisis. According to the State of Caring report 2015, 80% of carers said that caring has had an impact on their physical or mental health, up from 78.5% in 2012, showing this as a problem that is getting worse.

A lack of time dampens their ambitions, self-esteem, ability to further their education and makes it virtually impossible to relax. The message is clear. Carers need time off in order to cope. With undeniable impacts on their personal health, their quality of life depends on it.

When talking about carers' well-being and the importance of being able to take time off to de-stress, the creative arts fall naturally into this mix. Taking part in drama, music, art, film-making or creative writing workshops can fulfil so many health, social and educational needs simultaneously. They enable carers to deal with pent up emotion without the focus necessarily being on their identity as a carer. As one young carer from Nottingham told me,

"When I get stressed, I usually keep it bottled up. I don't want to bother people with my problems. But doing artistic things like this helps because it takes your mind off being a carer. If I had more time, I'd like to join a youth theatre or dance group because dancing makes me feel free."
Crucially, the arts can provide relaxation.

As the argument for arts on prescription starts to accumulate gravitas, hopefully their benefits to carers will become fully recognised. Our priority now is to keep working with carer services and raising funds so carers all over the UK can enjoy the time off that they deserve.

To find out more about Create's work, visit www.createarts.org.uk