Unpaid carers looking after older, disabled and seriously ill relatives say they are facing a bleak holiday, with the majority telling Carers UK they have gone so long without support this year they don’t expect Christmas to be any different.
Over the course of 2020 many have seen vital face-to-face community services they relied on before the COVID-19 outbreak – such as day centres – significantly reduce their service or close completely.
Carers report being worn out and physically and mentally exhausted after months of caring without respite and have very low expectations for Christmas.
A poll of more than 2,200 carers by Carers UK found over half (59%) were too worried about COVID-19 to risk seeing their family and friends this year, meaning many will go without the helping hand they might usually have at Christmas-time to take the pressure off.
Two thirds (68%) said they had already gone without lots of support this year so Christmas will be no different. 44% said they were very worried about the fact that they will have no support.
45% said they were very worried about the extra costs while half (49%) of carers said Christmas makes them feel more lonely than normal.
When asked what would make Christmas better for them, a resounding 81% of carers said they wanted to go into the New Year with a clear sense that the Government values carers and will provide more support and recognition. 59% said being able to see family or close friends and get a break from their caring role would help. A third (36%) said help from a supportive community would make a difference, such as an offer to cook a hot meal.
More than half (52%) said they will miss seeing other family and friends this year but they will still enjoy Christmas, with rules around support bubbles making a difference for some.
Helen Walker, Chief Executive of Carers UK, said:
“Caring is 24/7, 365 days a year and it doesn’t stop for Christmas. Carers are burning out after nine months straight of caring round the clock without respite, and they won’t get time out at Christmas like many of us will.
“On Christmas Day alone, carers will save the UK state £530 million in the care they provide
“This has been a difficult year for all of us, but for carers it has been extraordinarily challenging and draining. The majority have taken on many more hours of care and it has had a huge impact on their physical and mental health. We encourage communities to come together and offer help – a small favour could make a big difference.
“Carers say they feel invisible and that the Government doesn’t value them. Government must acknowledge everything they’ve contributed and give back to carers by ensuring those caring more than 50 hours get a funded break this winter.”
Carers UK is calling on the Government to urgently review carers’ breaks services and invest in them to ensure carers can take a significant break over the winter.
It is also calling on the Government to increase the income of carers entitled to Carer’s Allowance, just £67.25 a week, by £20 a week, to match the increase made months ago to Universal Credit, helping carers manage the higher costs of caring in the winter and the lack of services available to help them stay in work.
In the longer term the charity wants to see the Government implement a New Deal for Carers that recognises the enormous contribution of unpaid carers.
Carers UK’s helpline will be open as normal from Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm, including Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day to offer advice and information to carers. Carers UK’s online forum will also be open throughout the holidays.