Why Care Work Matters – Even More than you Think.

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Since the beginning of this pandemic, we have seen an increase in attention paid to the importance and vulnerability of carers. This article highlights how crucial caring professions are, not just for the sick and disabled, but for the whole of society.

At Bench Outreach we believe that everyone should be entitled to enough money to live on, whether they are working or whether they have to rely on benefits. From couriers to care workers, hardworking people are struggling to get by and feed their families; this is completely unacceptable in one of the richest countries in the world.

However, this pandemic has really put a spotlight on carers. When carers are unable to work, it can throw so many lives into chaos. It is easy to forget that without carers, your elderly or disabled relatives would rely on you to provide care as well as to earn a living, care for children, and do whatever makes you happy. That is to say that carers enable thousands of others to work and contribute to the economy because they know their loved ones are being looked after while they’re busy.

Carers are employed to help the person they care for to live a full life, but also those around them. Those who cannot afford or access carers may have a relative that cares for them. Those carers often state that they never get a break; even if they love caring for a loved one, it can be exhausting. Not to mention that carer’s allowance is truly pitiful and certainly does not provide a decent income replacement.

Carers provide some emotional and physical distance. Caring for a family member can be emotionally very intense, especially as family relationships are often very complicated and can bring up a lot of trauma. For some, they do not want to be cared for by someone they know because they feel embarrassed. There are so many reasons why professional carers are crucial, these are just some.

Carers who need help

Sadly, we see carers or ex-carers quite regularly in our office, looking for housing or benefits support. One client, for example, was forced to stop caring as she needed both knees replaced and simply couldn’t get around any more. She fell into debt and had to sleep on a friend’s sofa, unable to find somewhere affordable to live. She had to postpone her knee replacement surgeries for months because she didn’t have a safe and stable home to return to; they couldn’t discharge her back into homelessness.

When we approached the council for help, they took four months to assign her temporary accommodation, at first stating she was not in “priority need”. They later agreed that she was in fact in priority need and entitled to emergency housing. The council often has to be brutal because there simply isn’t enough affordable accommodation around, but according to homelessness legislation they are obliged to help someone deemed in priority need due to physical or mental health or other vulnerabilities.

During this four month period, the client’s mental health was in decline. She was so anxious that she would never find somewhere to live and that her surgery would be cancelled altogether. She had already waited two years to get the surgery she needed. She was in a huge amount of pain, struggling to walk with inflamed and swollen knees.

This client is just one example of a carer who has not been cared for properly by the state. She has helped countless individuals and families to live full lives by caring for them and was thanked by being left physically disabled and sleeping on a friend’s sofa for months.

She is not alone; today, it has been reported that three quarters of carers earn below a ‘real’ living wage. Appallingly, that’s thousands of people who cannot afford food or to heat their home in the winter. These workers support people to live their lives fully; meanwhile, the carers themselves are struggling to survive.

What can I do?

  1. Write to your MP. You can find their name and contact details here. Make sure you include your name and address. Tell them you support a pay rise for workers in health and social care, so that those who keep society functioning aren’t relying on foodbanks to survive.
  2. Support foodbanks. They shouldn’t have to exist, but they’re a crucial resource at the moment more than ever and could do with volunteers and donations. At the moment, drivers are especially helpful for delivering to those who cannot get out of the house.
  3. Support carers. If you employ a carer, check in with them. They may be struggling, and their may be help you can offer. Check with the agency you use that their employee rights are respected and that they are well-treated. Just checking in can make a big difference.

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