We all know someone who is a carer for a loved one. Whether that someone is caring for their parents in old age or whether it is parents caring for a disabled child or, indeed, a child or young person who helps care for one of their parents in cases where they are struck by serious illness.
There are an estimated 6.5 million in people in the UK providing unpaid care for a loved one, and in Cornwall it is estimated that this figure could be as high as 64,000 unpaid carers. The care they provide is estimated by some groups to be worth the equivalent of £132 billion per year if it needed to be replaced by formal, paid care.
Moreover, between 2001 and 2015 while the UK’s population increased by 6%, in the same period there was a 16% rise in the number of people providing unpaid care which shows that as our society ages, more people find themselves in caring roles.
Caring for a loved one in need is the most natural calling of all, but I think it is important to ensure that there is support in place to help carers take care of their own wellbeing too. It can become an isolating and all-consuming role. Sometimes a little bit of support such as respite or a small amount of occasional help from a personal assistant or assistance from a friend can make all the difference.
A few weeks ago, I met some trustees from the Helford River Children's Sailing Trust to discuss a new project they are working on. The idea is to provide holiday accommodation for families who have a disabled child. It's a point often overlooked that having a disabled sibling can also affect opportunities open to other children in the family unit because it limits the activities a family can consider when choosing a holiday. If that can be tackled with specially designed, inclusive facilities offered here in Cornwall, it's a great step forward.
Last week I met Promas, a local community run company that provides free courses for unpaid carers in Cornwall. The key focus of their work is on helping train carers to be able to deal with the health conditions they are managing and also, crucially, to teach carers how to have regard for their own wellbeing and make time and space for themselves. If a carer cracks under the strain, then no one benefits. The courses are a great way of offering support to carers who can often feel isolated.
Promas offers a variety of courses covering things like dementia, mental ill health and managing stress and they do a great job of making people feel welcome, important and understanding the difficulties which people experience.
Another charity I have visited on several occasions is Shared Lives which is an independent charity that provides a range of services for people with additional needs but in a home environment. The central feature of the model is that adults with some special needs join a family and become lodgers in a carers home, rather than being placed in a more formal care setting. It can be a really powerful approach with a homely ethos.
They have just begun a recruitment drive for more carers to help vulnerable people in Cornwall. The charity has been running for over 15 years and now with an influx of new people needing care they’re calling for more support. If you can help or even if you just want to find out more then do contact Shared Lives South West and they will be happy to provide you with further information.