Despite carers saving the UK economy £87 billion annually by relieving pressure on health and social services, they are often left feeling isolated and lonely, missing out on opportunities others take for granted.
But in Shrewsbury a small, young charity, with a national remit, is delivering a programme to offer free support to unpaid carers.
Omega, The National Association for End of Life Care, is a charity working within and outside the National Health Service, with clinical staff, third sector organisations, care professionals, unpaid carers, expert professional advisors and others to achieve sustainable improvements in End of Life care.
Development director Tom Memery told the Chronicle the biggest challenge is in getting carers to recognise they are fulfilling a caring role as many simply think they’re doing their duty.
He said: “Nationally there are approximately six million carers and most of these carers are very busy getting on with their lives and won’t identify themselves as carers.
“Very often if they’re looking after a loved one they do not see this as a role in itself. There is research that shows that many people can be as long as 18 months in a caring role without realising they are a carer. Once you get over that hurdle then things are relatively easier.”
Omega was formed in 2007 and became active in 2008, coming into its own one year ago when it began delivering programmes designed to take some of the pressure off carers.
Mr Memery said as a charity they had delivered more than 500 sessions of the government funded Caring with Confidence – a knowledge and skills based programme which aims to help carers make a positive difference to their life and that of the person they care for.
Carers can take part in one or more free, local group sessions, by using self-study workbooks or by accessing online sessions.
But Mr Memery warned that funding was a major issue with regards to the future of the programmes.
He said: “We very much want to work more closely with carers but funding is very difficult. The programme we’re currently developing will not be funded beyond next March so we have to find other ways of seeking funding to support carers. Carers are really important in this time of economic crisis and we have got to regard carers as a resource.
“Every community will benefit from work carers do and small charities such as ourselves have the opportunity to support carers.”
National Carers Week running until June 20 is calling for better access to advice and information, improved funding for breaks, and support and flexibility for carers in the workplace.Forthcoming Caring with Confidence sessions will be held in Shrewsbury on June 23 and 28 and July 28. Call the carers helpdesk on 01743 245088 or email carers@ omega.uk. See www.omega. uk.net
Anne and Rob’s story
Anne Payne and her husband Rob, from Heath Farm, have cared for their teenage son Adam for the past 11 years.
Adam was just three and a half years old when he was diagnosed with Autism and severe learning difficulties and he requires 24-hour care.
Since his diagnosis, Anne has been unable to go out to work and Rob has had no choice but to work part-time in order to help look after his 15-year-old son in the holidays.
Anne, 49, said: “The first few years were really the hardest as we had lost our little boy and we both went into mourning. Adam became very difficult to manage. Now he is in puberty so it’s another rough ride, he also has bouts of hyperactivity and no two days are the same.
“He relies on us entirely for washing and dressing him, but he can feed himself. I’ve not been able to go out to work since. I couldn’t afford it because I would have to get specialist care for him in the school holidays and two people to look after him.
“When I’m home, like in the school holidays, I can’t do basic things like putting the washing out or popping to the shops because I can’t leave him alone for a couple of minutes.
“I got the point where I couldn’t manage Adam on my own. If he has an outburst now I’m physically unable to contain it so me and my husband work together on it.”
Anne first began to attend sessions at Omega one year ago which she describes as a ‘lifeline’ service and she attends a lunch club once a month.
She said: “It was just nice to think, ‘I’m not on my own in this’. I have felt alone because having a child who is disabled and dependent is quite lonely and you lose a lot of your friends.
“You can get some advice and help and some social time and it is a way of meeting like minded people.”
Anne added her carers allowance is currently £53 a week which she is only eligible for if she commits 35 hours a week to looking after someone.
“If you break that down it’s below the minimum wage,” she said. “I think groups like Omega are a godsend to people who can’t go out to work. I think they’re a lifeline, otherwise people are going to go into meltdown at some point.
“My husband doesn’t get carers allowance and he is working part time for us to keep Adam at home because if he couldn’t help, we would have to consider sending Adam into residential and we’re not ready to do that yet
“He’s our baby still and until he’s 18 we will try to carry on as best as we can and give him as happy a life as we can.”
By Charlotte Hester