National Carers Week is an opportunity to look at what needs to change in work and across the board if we are to cope with the demands of an ageing society.
It’s National Carers Week and the statistics being released are alarming. Carers UK is highlighting the number of unpaid carers who are missing out on support.
For instance, it says roughly 1.5 million people in Scotland have provided unpaid care or support to an older, disabled or seriously ill relative or friend at some point during their life, but have not identified themselves or been identified as a carer and therefore are missing out on help.
That includes help from their employer, if it exists, such as a carer passport so a carer doesn’t have to keep informing different managers about their needs as they move to different jobs in an organisation and carer’s leave.
Despite the fact that so many of us will have caring responsibilities in the future if we don’t have them now, particularly as people work longer, too many unpaid carers get very little support or the right kind of support.
There have been some positive moves recently in terms of legislation. A Private Member’s Bill on unpaid carer’s leave of up to five days recently won Royal Assent, but it is really a drop in the ocean of what is needed. A new book by Emily Kenway, Who cares, is a passionate call for care to be much more embedded in everyday life, including in work, and for people to recognise that it is everyone’s responsibility because we will all be affected sooner or later. Kenway argues that we are just tweaking things around the edges at present and that the debate on care tends to centre on logistical, task-based issues rather than care itself, which is undervalued. She says: “Care isn’t an occasional interruption of an otherwise relatively steady pattern of life. For many types of long-term illnesses, it’s the inverse – interruption is the constant.”
For many parents, caring responsibilities for partners or older relatives are the norm, with women in the so-called sandwich generation shouldering the biggest burden, with impacts on their own health. After years of pandemic and health and social care crises, there is an urgent need to wake up to the need for care to form a much more central part of our lives and, in a world of AI, for workplaces that recognise the full implications of what it is to be human.