The Cost of Caring

Stephanie Swann by Stephanie Swann Additional Needs

Stephanie Swann

Stephanie Swann

I live in Stockport with my partner and 5 year old little boy Joseph. Joseph suffered from a grade 3 Hypoxic brain injury at birth and has subseque...

The Cost of Caring

Most people don’t ever expect to become an unpaid carer. I certainly never did. I had always been aware that there were people that did this for their family and friends and had a lot of admiration for them for giving their time and energy freely for those they love.

Beyond that though, I had no idea of the realities of what this responsibility entails. I had no idea of the vast number of unpaid carers there actually are.

The reality of this role that so often is not chosen but forced upon people with no other choice (even children as young as 5 years old) is much different than I ever could have begun to imagine.

The demands of this job, and I say job because even though the government refuse to recognise it for what it is, it is the hardest job that I have ever undertaken and the demands of it far surpass what is expected of any employee.

Even the most stressful care providing jobs within the NHS, staff are paid at the very least in line with national living wages and get to clock off for an adequate rest. A basic need and yet a luxury to unpaid carers.

The unpaid carer population (approximately 5million people in England and Wales) is over 3 and a half times the size of the entire NHS workforce (1.4million). Our thankless labour saves the UK economy £162 billion per year.

Almost an entire second NHS service.

Carers Allowance can be claimed when caring for somebody for over 35 hours per week, although in many cases the hours are much higher than that. Carers allowance is currently £269 per month for caring for somebody for 35 or more hours per week. The rate does not increase despite many probably caring for well beyond 35 hours. Some people the equivalent to 2 full time jobs. This is a paltry £1.92 per hour for 35 hours of the care they provide. The current national minimum living wage for over 21’s is £11.44.

For even more disturbing context, back in 2015 (national minimum living wage at £6.50 per hour at the time for over 21’s) a textile sweatshop was exposed in Leicester. They were paying their workers £3 per hour. Yes, an illegal sweatshop was paying their workers significantly higher than carers are given. This is meant to support them in their role and help them to provide for their loved one.

To say carers are criminally underpaid by the government would be an understatement.

The average weekly cost of placing a child with complex needs in residential provision is £7,739, with the weekly cost of an emergency placement costing £10,597 per week. That works out at £402,428 per year for nonemergency placements. Over a hundred times more than a carer’s yearly £3,991.

I, like so many others have given up so much for this role that I didn’t choose, that I found myself in by circumstance, and yet I don’t shy away from my responsibilities, for it was born of unconditional love for my son. Yet I feel as though this vital job I’m doing is completely disregarded by wider society. The option to select employment status as ‘unpaid carer’ has never appeared on any forms I’ve had to fill in, which cements this feeling even further, that this role simply does not matter.

The personal cost to carers is phenomenal. It affects every aspect of our lives from physical, mental, and emotional health, financial pressures, to social isolation. This list is endless. We are often carrying out complex medical care with subpar, if any formal training and often whilst extremely sleep deprived.

The pressure that carers are under is only growing and growing.

The pressure that carers are under is only growing and growing.

If this grossly unjust devaluation from the government continues, it will cost many lives. As pressures and burdens increase, inevitably many more carers will become too burnt out, sick themselves through mental, emotional and physical exhaustion and unable to continue, it will undoubtably be the collapse of the NHS entirely.

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