After five years of caring for my wife it has been made clear to me that there fundamental problem in the way that social care is delivered in the UK. The system is geared toward supporting people only when they've reached a point of crisis.
For carers, like myself, this means that help won't be provided until it's already too late.
This reflects the way in which the system perceives unpaid carers. It treats them like a usable resource, a cog in the machine. The welfare of the carer becomes an afterthought. It's just not prioritised until the pressure becomes too much and they break under the strain.
I have found myself in the position that social care was refused to my wife. It's not because she's hasn't been incredibly ill and in great need. Their reluctance came from the fact that I was there to take the strain. I hadn't let my wife get to point where she was living in squalid condition with her basic needs not met.
The uncomfortable truth is that there have been a lot of times in past when I haven't coped. Whilst it pains me to admit this, it's important that I'm honest about how carers are being failed.
I found myself in a position where I had to balance full time caring responsibilities with completing a degree and part time employment. I got to the stage where I was so overcome by exhaustion and depression that I wasn't able to look after myself, let alone deal with my wife's care needs. We weren't eating, we didn't leave the house, and everything that mattered fell by the wayside. I had been so overwhelmed by the pressure that our lives fell apart around us. All we could do was watch.
My wife and I became casualties of a failing social care system. Until we got to this point, social services wouldn't listen to our pleas for help.
This leaves carers like me in an awful situation. We become faced with the decision to continue to care for loved ones on our own, and at the expense to our health and financial stability, or pull away and watch them suffer in the hope that social care will eventually step in.
In a sense, carers are punished for their decision to support someone through their illness or disability.
The problem with this situation, apart from the fact that it places unnecessary pressure on people with disabilities and their cares, is that it operate on a false economy.
Ultimately it just places more and more pressure on other services such as the NHS and Welfare. It's estimated that £5.3bn has been wiped out of the British economy in lost earnings due to people who've dropped out of the workforce entirely because of caring responsibilities. Whilst 50% of carers experience depression, and a carer is twice as likely to become seriously ill or disabled themselves. By ignoring the need for expenditure in social care the country isn't saving money. It's just pushing the cost further down the river and allowing unpaid carers and those who need care to suffer needlessly.
I know from my own experience that it takes so much more work to piece your life back together than it does to stop it falling apart in the first place.
I have no doubt that encouraging a system that is proactive rather than reactive would start a decline in the number of unpaid carers citing depression, loneliness, debt and illness. In the long run the state would save money.
To be clear, I don't blame social workers or care workers for this. They are just the people on the ground having to make the best of an organisation which is not fit for purpose. Most are as frustrated with this situation as everyone else, despairing at the idea of having to support more people on a smaller and smaller budget.
The problem comes from higher up. The people who control the purse strings and dictate policy need to realise the reality of what they're doing. In cutting money here and there they are destroying lives. They're taking away what might be the difference between life and bust.
The way we continue to overburden and use up unpaid carers is nothing short of a stain on our country. We can't kids ourselves that we can ensure a care system which treats people with dignity and values the welfare of carers without investing into it first. When you consider that the rapidly aging population is likely to see the number of unpaid carers rise by as much as 40% you realise that the crisis of social care will continue to deepen without major reforms and investment.
Posterity will look back on social care as it stands in much that same way that we view healthcare in pre-NHS Britain. Future generations will despair at the human cost, the indignity and the short-sightedness.