Shared Care Scotland has welcomed the useful and timely State of Caring 2017 Survey results published by Carers UK last week.
As preparations continue in Scotland for the introduction of the Carers Act in April of next year we particularly welcome the focus this valuable piece of research brings to the importance of short breaks for carers, and the barriers carers continue to face in accessing them.
The survey findings are, to a large extent, consistent with those of previous research, however, there are a number of key findings specifically related to short breaks that are worth further attention.
Carer Health and Wellbeing
The importance of the relationship between short breaks and the health and wellbeing of carers should not be underestimated. In the introduction to the findings Carers UK go so far as to state:
“too often carers are being pushed into poor health through lack of access to practical support and breaks.”
This is evidenced in the results which show that 61% of carers state that their physical health has worsened as a result of their caring role, and 70% have said they have suffered mental ill health.
Respondents were asked to indicate what would make the most difference to their health and wellbeing. Access to regular breaks was the most significant: 42% of carers placing it in their top three things.
“The effect of not having a rest from caring is shattering, with carers describing being close to breaking point, desperate for some time to themselves, to sleep, recuperate, and see friends and family. Carers who reported not having had a break from caring within the last year, were also more likely to report having suffered mental ill health as a result of caring or that their physical health has worsened.”
Barriers to Breaks
Although the survey demonstrated the significant benefit regular breaks could bring to health and wellbeing, it also demonstrated that barriers to breaks remain.
One quarter of all those surveyed (25%) reported that they had not had a day off from their caring role for more than five years. Four in 10 of respondents (40%) had not had a day off in more than a year. One of the most significant results of the survey is that of all those surveyed, only 13% said that they haven’t struggled to access a break from caring. Although 6 out of 10 (65%) of carers surveyed had had an assessment of their caring role, only 3 out of 10 thought that their need to have regular breaks form their caring role was thoroughly considered.
Again, findings on the barriers to breaks from caring remain consistent with those from previous surveys: costs, and the cared-for person not being willing to accept care from others are the most commonly reported at 31% each. Lack of suitable care, lack of confidence in the quality of care, and not knowing how to get a break were reported at (27%, 19% and 16% respectively).
The introduction of the Carers Act in Scotland may go some way to addressing the issues highlighted by the State of Caring Survey. This legislation will apply to all unpaid carers in Scotland from the 1st April 2018.
The Act creates new rights for carers including the right to have an Adult Carer Support Plan or Young Carer Statement. Where eligible needs are identified within these plans, carers will then have the right to be supported. Crucially, the Act places particular emphasis on the importance of carers being supported to have a break from caring and this must be considered as part of support planning for both adult and young carers. Local authorities are also encouraged to use their powers to support carers who don’t meet eligibility criteria. There is considerable evidence to show how occasional breaks can help prevent or delay needs escalating which then requires more complex, and intensive forms of supports placing further pressure on our already stretched health and care services.
The Act also places clear duties on local authorities to make available information and advice. In relation to breaks, local authorities will be required to publish a Short Break Services Statement. Regulations will specify the minimum information that must be provided by these statements but the purpose is to clarify the range of different options available locally and how these can be accessed.
Other developments in policy, including the expansion of self-directed support, are also influencing the design and flexibility of short breaks provision. However, these must be seen against a backdrop of severe budget pressures which is threatening the viability of many services and which, if not addressed, will significantly reduce the amount and choice of short breaks provision available to carers.
About Shared Care Scotland
At Shared Care Scotland we work to improve the choice, quality and availability of short breaks in Scotland. To do this we offer a range of services including an online directory of short break services and a telephone enquiry service. We share information on short breaks through events, publications and research reports and, as one of seven National Carers Organisations, we also contribute to the development of policy and best practice for carers.
We operate the Short Breaks Fund on behalf of Scottish Government, providing grants to third sector organisations that support unpaid carers to take a break.
This summer we have also been running our first campaign on Why Holidays Matter. Through social media, our website, and guest blogs we’ve started a conversation to get everyone – from short break service providers, local carers centres, and carers themselves – talking about why holidays matter to them.