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Almost half of unpaid carers risking their health, survey shows

Nearly half of unpaid carers in the UK are jeopardising their health due to a lack of support, according to a survey.

Carried out by Carers Week, a group of eight charities including Age UK, Carers UK and Macmillan Cancer Support, the survey found that 40% of carers had put off receiving medical treatment because of the pressures of their role.

In addition, 87% of the 3,400 carers surveyed said caring had been detrimental to their mental health, while 83% said they had suffered physical health problems. Another 36% said they had sustained injuries such as back pain and insomnia while caring for sick or disabled friends or family.

Helen Clarke, Carers Week manager, said the government had to do more to support Britain’s 6.4 million carers – both practically and financially. She called for more sustainable social care funding, better signposting for support services and regular health checks for carers.

“It’s a scandal that carers can’t get the time or support they need to look after themselves, which could be jeopardising their health as a result. Carers are feeling the strain of a woefully underfunded system and still we’re seeing more cuts. Unpaid carers save the government a fortune – £119bn a year – yet they’re let down in return. It is time for urgent action to tackle the crisis in social care.”

Another survey conducted by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services last week revealed that social care budgets had been cut by £1.89bn in the last two years, and suffered a drop of 6% last year at a time when pressure from rising numbers of older and disabled adults continues to grow, at around 3% each year.

The Department of Health said it was responding to the carers issue via £400m in extra funding to the NHS for carers’ breaks until 2015.

Tracy Sloan, a carer for 20 years to her son Phillip, who has severe cerebral palsy, said she was diagnosed with cancer after missing a regular screening appointment. But once she had begun receiving treatment, there was still little time for recovery.

“Looking after Phillip is so full on, that it just didn’t occur to me to keep an eye on my own health,” she said. “I was really shocked when I discovered I had cancer and needed an operation. I came home from hospital exhausted, emotional and fragile. I really needed the chance to rest but instead I had to deal with Phillip’s demands too, and that took its toll on my recovery.”

Carers Week, which also includes the Carers Trust, Independent Age, Marie Curie Cancer Care, the MS Society and Parkinson’s UK, said that Tracy’s experience is not an isolated one.

A spokeswoman for the DH said: “Carers make an invaluable contribution to society and it’s vital that we support them to look after their health and wellbeing. We know how important it is for carers to be able to take a break from their caring responsibilities, to protect their own physical and mental health. That is why we have provided £400m additional funding to the NHS until 2015 for carers’ breaks, and why we’ve given the NHS the clearest ever direction to make carers a priority.

“We also want to place the rights of carers on a much firmer footing, so that the law recognises carers’ rights and their role in caring for others.”

According to Carers UK, 1 million carers – one in six UK carers – are forced to give up or cut back work to provide care, which can mean a significant drop in income. They said carers clocked up an average of 27 hours a week.

Angela Eagle, minister of state for pensions and ageing society has said the government would introduce reforms that would enable carers working for more than 20 hours a week to build up an entitlement to a basic state pension.