Carers Week 2021: better breaks for unpaid carers
As Scotland gradually emerges from lockdown for many people the promise of a break, whether a change of scene in the form of a day out, or a longer holiday away from home has helped sustain them through the long winter months. More than ever, we understand the importance of a break from routine, and the impact this can have on our health and wellbeing.
For Scotland’s unpaid carers and those they support, a break has never been more needed, nor has it seemed so unattainable as many short break and respite services struggle to return to their pre-pandemic levels of provision. While many keenly feel the loss of their annual fortnights holiday, for unpaid carers their aspirations are much more modest: an hour or two to have a coffee with a friend, to take some exercise, or just spend time quietly resting and recharging their batteries.
Access to regular and meaningful breaks from caring is one of the most crucial factors in carers being able to maintain their own health and wellbeing. Yet, evidence shows that too many carers continue to struggle to access breaks that meet their needs. And while this has been an issue since long before the advent of COVID-19, the suspension of short break and respite services as a result has undoubtedly pushed many carers from a situation where they felt they could just about cope, to one of complete overwhelm and crisis.
The ‘Breaks or Breakdown’ report from Carers UK published to coincide with Carers Week 2021 highlights the scale of the situation with 71% of carers surveyed (in Scotland) saying they have not had any breaks during the pandemic. Three quarters of these carers have seen a deterioration in their mental and physical health as a result.
There are, of course, examples of short break services that have – in current parlance – pivoted. Adapting their traditional ways of offering services in ways which are inspiring in their creativity, dynamism and empathy. But for all those who are gladly benefitting from these adapted services, there are many more who want and desperately need to see a return to normal provision – the re-opening of day services, residential breaks and other forms of support which offer stimulating and enjoyable activities in a safe, social setting.
Looking ahead, we must set aside time for a conversation – one that includes unpaid carers – about how we ‘build back better’, recognising that pre-pandemic levels of short breaks provision was not good enough. We strongly support the Carers Week Campaign, ‘Better Breaks for Unpaid Carers‘, and its call for significant levels of new investment to expand the range and availability of short breaks. We also support similar recommendations in the recent Feeley report into the future of adult social care in Scotland, which also includes a ‘right to respite’ for unpaid carers. Our immediate focus however must be on the remobilisation of short breaks and respite services as quickly and safely as possible.
So we call on all organisations – central government, local authorities, regulatory bodies, and short breaks services themselves – to please give this the highest priority. We must ask ourselves what more can be done to help providers – many of these being third sector organisations – to remobilise and be financially sustainable. We must also ask carers what they need and how we can help them regain their confidence. And above all, we must ask ourselves if we are doing everything possible to get these lifeline services in place to support Scotland’s unpaid carers.
“Last year was really too long and hard, it was a real struggle. I’m praying for some time out, some laughs with friends and to be able to reconnect with other carers and just… breathe again!”
Marie’s Story, Breaks or Breakdown, Carers UK, 2021
Shared Care Scotland