Claudia Cannon discusses the dire need for increased support for carers in Wales and across Britain and the impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Since lockdown, towns and cities across the country have been gathering outside their houses cheering and clapping for NHS and social care staff, but what about those of us who are unpaid carers?
I have been caring for both of my parents since before lockdown but have taken on more caring responsibilities during COVID-19, whilst also trying to manage my own health issues.
Carers are already bearing the brunt of austerity after a decade of cuts has created a national care crisis, with vital services for them and those they care for being shut down. This combined with the recent and ongoing COVID crisis has led to many carers facing extra challenges during lockdown. Since lockdown many carers have felt overwhelmed and worried that they are going to burn out in the next few weeks.[i]
This week, the Welsh Government announced plans to secure £50,000 worth of funding for Carers Wales in order to support unpaid carers with their mental health during the crisis[ii]. Whilst this seems like a positive step, it is a huge injustice to see my own mental health and wellbeing valued as little as 10p by the Welsh Government, when carers save the Welsh economy £8.1 billion per year in care costs. [iii]
With support groups and day care facilities now closed, it is unsurprising to learn that over 200,000 people have become unpaid carers in Wales since the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing the total in Wales to over 600,000.[iv]
Last month, Plaid Cymru AMs called for unpaid carers to receive the same £500 supplement that was being issued to social care staff in recognition of their vital role during the pandemic.[v] This is a necessary step forward, but it doesn’t go far enough in recognising the work unpaid carers undertake.
Before lockdown, unpaid carers like myself were already exceeding the 36 hours a week necessary to qualify for Carers Allowance, but our caring responsibilities have since become around the clock care. Unpaid carers are unable to work flexible hours or have time off, and we are still only paid £67.25 a week in Carers Allowance.
We must have recognition as being part of an increasing workforce with needs that must be met, especially during a time like this. The Welsh Government still has no plans to ensure that unpaid carers have adequate PPE despite demand.[vi]
The current COVID-19 crisis has laid bare the injustice suffered by carers across the country and it is vital that we as unpaid carers, care workers and socialists stand together against it. Demands to increase the level of Carers Allowance and social care reform have already been called by CarersUK in response to the current crisis.[vii] We must go further and demand better pay and conditions, build fighting trade unions and bring council care services under democratic public control in order to rebuild the care system and transform the lives of carers and the wider society as a whole.
This will not only display a much-needed recognition of the vital role carers have played in the pandemic but will also future proof social care in the weeks and months as we move on from the pandemic.