It’s time to start a conversation about caring, as new research from Carers UK shows more action is needed to support unpaid carers who feel isolated and lonely. Greater understanding from friends, colleagues, and the public, as well as more opportunities for breaks and social activities, are all needed to combat a ‘silent epidemic’ of loneliness affecting those providing support to ill, older or disabled loved ones.
More than 8 in 10 (81%) surveyed unpaid carers described themselves as “lonely or socially isolated” due to their caring responsibilities, with those affected facing a potentially damaging impact on their mental and physical wellbeing. The report suggests that current carers who have not felt lonely were less likely to suffer mental (42%) and physical (35%) ill-health compared to those who did. Carers who had felt lonely or isolated were almost twice as likely to report worsened mental (77%) and physical (67%) health.
Amongst carers, an unwillingness to talk to others about care responsibilities was a key barrier to inclusion at work, home and in the community. One third (32%) felt “uncomfortable” talking to friends about caring, as did those who felt “isolated” at work due to care responsibilities (32%). Alongside a lack of understanding from others, carers most frequently ascribed loneliness or social isolation to a lack of time or money to socialise and the difficulty of leaving the house due to caring commitments.
According to carers, the following would make the biggest difference in combatting loneliness:
– Regular breaks from caring (54%)
– More understanding from society (52%)
– Being able to take part in leisure activities (40%)
– Support paying for social activities (31%)
– More understanding at work (30%)
– Being in touch with other carers (29%)
– Feeling more able to talk to friends and family (23%)
– Being able to take part in education or training (21%)
The research reveals that certain caring circumstances are linked to lonelier care experiences, such as younger carers under 24 years old (89%), carers of disabled children (93%), people who care for 50 hours or more per week (86%) or ‘sandwich carers’ who look after loved ones alongside parenting responsibilities (86%).
The findings are released today as part of the charity’s work with the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness. The Commission aims to ‘Start a Conversation’ around loneliness, mobilising the public to combat the ‘silent epidemic’ by destigmatising a prevalent but often unaddressed issue.
As a founding partner of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, Carers UK is joining forces with other charities including Age UK and Carers Trust to shine a spotlight on loneliness in caring, along with ways to break isolation.
On 16th September, Carers UK will remember Jo Cox when they announce the winner of the Jo Cox Poetry Prize as part of Carers UK’s Creative Writing and Photography Competition which includes a category for images and written pieces which address loneliness.
Helena Herklots CBE, Chief Executive of Carers UK, said:
“Loneliness is a powerful, sometimes overwhelming, emotion which all-too-many carers experience in silence. Caring touches all our lives yet society and public services often fail to grasp how isolating looking after a loved one can be. Caring for someone is one of the most important things we do but without support to have a life outside caring, it can be incredibly lonely worsened by financial pressures, poor understanding from friends and colleagues, and a lack of regular breaks.
Given the significant mental and physical health benefits of breaking this isolation, we’re asking everyone to start a conversation about caring.
Jo Cox said that “young or old, loneliness doesn’t discriminate”. We are honoured to be working as part of the commission to work towards her ambitions for a more understanding and supportive society and to be remembering Jo in our creative writing competition with the Jo Cox Poetry prize. Together, we can show how starting the conversation can help break isolation.”
Carers UK is urging both carers and the wider public to do the following:
· Among friends and family, we can start by putting ourselves in the shoes of others and seeking to understand each unique caring situation through honest conversation.
· In the workplace, we can start a conversation by talking about caring issues with colleagues and promoting carer-friendly policies.
· In the community, we can start a caring conversation as we go about our daily business, whatever we do for a living – whether for example we’re a shop assistant, a GP, a leisure centre manager, a pharmacist, or work in an office.
· As carers, we can identify the key triggers for our loneliness and start a conversation with somebody in a position to support us. This could mean opening up to family and friends, or checking out Carers UK’s online guides (www.carersuk.org/help-and-advice) to see what help is available or joining Carers UK – a supportive community and movement of carers and former carers www.carersuk.org/how-you-can-help/join-us
· To feel more connected to other carers, ‘Starting a Conversation’ in the Carers UK online forum (carersuk.org/forum), via social media using the #HappytoChat hashtag, or within a local support group carersuk.org/help-and-advice/get-support/local-support can help you connect to people experiencing similar situations
Seema Kennedy MP and Rachel Reeves MP, Co-chairs of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, said:
“There is no ‘quick fix’ to all the challenges of caring for a loved one but we can all tackle the lack of understanding that can make carers and their families feel alone.
Jo Cox strongly believed that ‘we have far more in common than that which divides us’. We know the power that the right conversation can have – whether at work, with a friend, with your GP, or with a stranger in a supermarket queue. Working together – individuals, government and as a society – we can reduce loneliness, one conversation at a time.”
Carers UK’s annual State of Caring survey of 7,286 carers and former carers throughout the UK-Read it here