Calls for better recongition of our army of unpaid carers in Suffolk

Unpaid carers

Unpaid carers - Credit: Archant

Health chiefs and charities are calling for Suffolk’s army of 77,000 unpaid carers to receive greater support in recognition of the £250million savings they provide the county.

Suffolk’s Health and Wellbeing Board is recommended to raise the profile of unpaid carers and build on the action already taken to support their “crucial” work helping the county’s most vulnerable while ensuring their own welfare is not compromised.

A report to be discussed at the Board’s meeting on Thursday highlights findings of the Carers Joint Strategic Needs Assessment which identified a total of 77,745 people of all ages providing unpaid care in the county, representing nearly 11% of the population.

More than 17,000 of those people provide care on a full-time basis – 50 or more hours a week – and the report says there is “good evidence” that increasing hours of care “has a significant impact on carers’ health and wellbeing”.

Carers interviewed during the needs assessment reported the need for better information about the support available, “significant delays” accessing respite services and a desire “to be acknowledged” for their work.

It found that the key services offered to carers were guidance, emotional support and respite, and made a number of key “must do” recommendations to help.

Councillor Alan Murray, chairman of Suffolk County Council’s Health and Wellbeing Board, said the role of unpaid carers was “vital” in ensuring vulnerable people get the support they need.

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“Carers do this selflessly and often at the expense of their own health and wellbeing needs,” he added.

“All of us that provide public services, local authorities, the health service and the voluntary sectors need to work together to support the crucial work that carers do by ensuring their health and wellbeing is not neglected.”

Mr Murray said the authorities in Suffolk have a “well-established track record of supporting carers” that included working with Suffolk Family Carers, Age UK Suffolk and others in the voluntary sector but he was looking to do “even better at supporting these outstanding members of our community”.

Kirsten Alderson, chief executive officer for Suffolk Family Carers, said she was “very pleased” the Board was raising the issue of unpaid carers as it is “vitally important” to support them.

Ms Alderson said many people experience caring in their lives, often for a close family member, which can involve round-the-clock duties, placing a “massive impact” on their own life, work and income, leading to anxiety and stress.

Suffolk’s ageing population will see an increase in older carers, which Ms Alderson said was a “particularly vulnerable group”.

However, there are also carers as young as five, who she says can become susceptible to social isolation and bullying. She said family carers “significantly reduce the financial burden on the health and social care system”.

“Without them, undoubtedly the system would be in crisis,” she added.

Suffolk Family carer provides guidance and workshops to help family carers “care with confidence” and works with thousands of people every year to offer support.

Ms Alderson says she would like to reach more family carers by raising awareness in society, “so that everyone understands the issues of caring and is clear how to support people they know who have a caring role”.