I recently attended a Carers U.K. talk at my university, King’s College London, hosted by Carers UK’s Michael Shann and organised by my great friend Rahima Subhan – a wonderful woman who’s utterly committed to helping promote Carers UK on campus and provide help for student carers.
Michael led the talk, informing us of some truly shocking statistics about the number of carers in the UK. While I and several audience members guessed it would be around 100,000, the actual number is far higher – over 6.5 million at last count, projected to rise to 9 million by 2037. He also dispelled common myths about carers, such as the suggestion that people can easily be split into ‘carer’ and ‘non-carer’ groups; in fact, millions of people take on caring responsibilities each year, while millions too cease to be carers as the person they care for recovers, is moved elsewhere, or sadly dies. The number of people who have ever been carers, then, is far, far higher than 6.5 million – 60% of people, in fact – but often people are unaware they are carers, and so go without assistance. It was staggering, too, to hear that the work done by carers annually is priced by the University of Leeds as being worth £119 billion a year – far more than total NHS spending.
KCL’s Disabled Students Officer Nicole Walsh also spoke at the event, speaking about her personal experience in the area and also discussing on how often disability and carer issues overlap. Not only are several people being cared for disabled (58% of carers look after someone with a physical disability, 20% with a sensory impairment, 13% with a mental health problem, and 10% with dementia), but a number of carers are too; and these are often the carers in the most difficult situations. At the last census, 390,000 carers reported being in bad health, and 8% were receiving DLA as a result; these carers are also significantly more likely to give up work to care (61% disabled to 52% non-disabled) and more likely to be in debt (which often brings serious repercussions – 71% of disabled carers reported that their financial circumstances were affecting their health).
And on that note, we were reminded of how every section of society can be, and are, carers – and how often, those from more disadvantaged backgrounds are also more likely to care. Women are more likely to become carers than men (58% of carers are women), while ethnic minorities – who are often members of lower socio-economic backgrounds – care substantially more when age demographics are taken into account. These people – already earning less on average – then have to take on the additional burden of lost revenue which becoming a carer often brings – research found that 70% of carers were over £10,000 worse off as a result of lost earnings, while 2 million have given up jobs and 3 million have reduced their working hours in order to cope.
Like Rahima and Nicole, I’m keen to help Carers UK. And as someone who’s committed to raising awareness of disability issues – particularity autism, which has the lowest rate of employment among disabilities and thus must be the cause of a large number of people becoming carers – I’m aware of how carers issues affect every section of society, and therefore how vital and important carers are, both societally and economically. I’m no wide-eyed idealist, and am quite aware these issues can’t be solved overnight, or by writing a blog post. But at least it’s a start. I’ll continue to do what I can to raise awareness of disability and carers rights, and hopefully I can make a difference – however small or large.