Caring for Carers

Blog
12 June 2015 by Wanda Wyporska
This week is Carers Week and 2015 has been the year of the carer for ATL, and whether we are talking about adult carers or young carers, many of the same issues have been brought to the fore. At all the TUC equalities conferences this year, ATL has raised the profile of carers and the multiple issues they face, often on top of holding down a job.

We know that many of our members are carers and we know that many of them care for a relative who does not live in their home, but in many cases they live an hour or more away or even at the other end of the country. We also know that members have been forced to resign or give up work because of the impact that multiple caring duties has on their ability to work. Flexible working is one way of dealing with such issues, but often the carer needs time off for emergencies, which cannot be predicted. After countless nights of broken sleep caring for a partner or relative and the stress that this brings, it’s no wonder that carers often have very little left after a hard day’s work in the classroom. They are often stressed, worn out and struggling to cope with the extra demands now placed on education staff.

It’s not just mental health and wellbeing that is suffering. Carers are predominantly women and part-timer workers are predominantly women, the former is often a cause of the latter, leading to financial problems.

New research from the State of Caring Report 2015 by Carers UK, says “based on the experiences of 4500 carers, nearly half (48%) of carers are struggling to make ends meet. 40% of carers want increasing financial support for families providing unpaid care to be Government’s top priority.

“The research found that 8 in 10 carers surveyed (82%) say that looking after a disabled, older or seriously-ill relative or friend has had a negative impact on their health, with three-quarters (74%) struggling to get enough sleep and three-quarters (76%) expressing concerns about the impact of caring on their health in the future. A third (29%) of carers are calling on the Government to make increased practical support services a top priority.”

Those of you who were at ATL Conference will remember the extremely moving accounts of members who are carers, speaking of their experiences. However, we know that children and young people are also carers and also under strain in the classroom. Our survey earlier in the year found that more than half (51%) of teachers, lecturers, support staff and leaders have a young carer in their school or college. However, only 30% of education staff work in a school or college that provides special support for young carers.

Here I have to declare an interest. I was a young carer from the age of 12 to 18. I missed school trips, I missed going to the cinema after school with friends and I missed going to bed earlier than 11pm which was when we had to do our last night duties for my grandmother. But I was lucky. My mother was the primary carer and I helped her. So many young carers are themselves the primary carers, with no-one else to help. They are caring for parents, siblings and other relatives, with very little respite and immense responsibility. Many of them are robbed of their childhood, mature before their time and find it difficult to relate to others of their age who seem to them to live carefree lives. Such stress cannot but affect their mental health, adding to the ticking timebomb that is the state of children and adolescent mental health.

Education staff want to know more about young carers in their classroom, so that they can help in any way they can and so that they can spot the signs early on. ATL’s flagship Safer Schools network hosts resources and information about the Young Carers in Focus programme run by Carers Trust and The Children’s Society, to help members to care for the carers.

By ATL equalities officer Dr Wanda Wyporska.

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Equalities