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May 28, 2012

Who Cares for the Carers (UK)

Who cares for the carers?
May 26, 2012
Caring for a loved one is difficult at the best of times, but reduced services, economic insecurity and an ageing population have made life tougher for people minding elderly or disabled relatives. ROSITA BOLAND looks at carers’ changing role
FAMILY CARERS ARE often invisible, under the radar, even though their numbers are increasing all the time. In the 2006 census, 160,917 citizens identified themselves as carers. The figure for last year’s census, which will be published in November, is expected to be much higher, at about 8 per cent of the adult population, according to a recent Quarterly National Household Survey. Yet despite the growing number of people who care for their parents, spouses, children and other family members, fewer resources have been available to support them since the cuts in public spending.
This year alone the HSE’s National Service Plan, which aims to save €750 million, includes 500,000 fewer hours of home help, a vital service for many carers. Other planned cuts include the closure of up to 900 public nursing-home beds. By the end of this year, 630 private beds from the Fair Deal nursing-home scheme, which helps provide affordable private nursing-home care, will also have been cut.
“A third of carers are older people, so emigration of family members is placing an additional burden on these people. It’s another layer of support going out of the network and makes life harder for them,” says Eamon Timmins of Age Action Ireland.
“We’re also seeing an older generation emigrate this time, along with younger people, which wasn’t the case in the 1980s. The parents of those older children wouldn’t have been expecting them to go now.
“And if you look at our ageing population, and the current numbers of younger people emigrating, then you have to ask the question: who’s going to be stepping in to help care for parents in the future?”
MANY PEOPLE DO NOT want to contemplate the difficult, emotive questions around health. Who’s going to take care of you when you’re elderly? What will happen if you have a serious long-term illness long before you’re elderly? Can, or will, someone in your family take responsibility for a relative, such as a parent, who can no longer take care of themselves?
It is human nature to hope for the best of health throughout life. Nobody chooses to think of themselves as becoming ill or dependent, or to think of the people closest to them being in that situation either. But people can fall ill at any stage of life, and they do get old.
Keeping people, particularly older people, at home as long as possible and out of institutions is agreed to be the best model of care. It also saves the State a considerable sum of money.
The Carers Association is a countrywide organisation with 16 support centres. In 2009, it published a report, Carers in Ireland: A Statistical and Geographical Overview. Using data from the 2006 census, the association estimated that carers were contributing 3.7 million hours of care a week, worth €2.5 billion a year. It estimates that carers now save the State €4 billion a year.
Along with other advocacy organisations, the Carers Association campaigned for a change to the census question asked of carers: “Do you provide regular unpaid personal help for a friend or family member with a long-term illness, health problem or disability?” qualified by a note: “Include problems which are due to old age. Personal help includes help with basic tasks such as feeding or dressing.” The question was asked only of people over 15.
Last year the question was also asked of under-15s. In November, when the CSO releases its carers data, the number of young carers will become known for the first time.

 Abridged
SOURCE:       The IrishTimes
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