Thousands of carers in Harrogate are at breaking point, according to research from Carers UK. Reporter James Metcalf speaks to those directly involved in trying to turn this alarming trend around.
A crisis point has been reached by thousands of people in Harrogate caring for loved ones.
Facing hours of unpaid work, social isolation, loneliness, depression, this alarming trend has been developing for years as people grow older and rely on that extra care.
Now a familiar pattern, but no less important for that, family members and friends are unwilling or feel unable to ask for the help that is available, pushing them to breaking point.
There are currently more than 16,188 carers in Harrogate - an 11 per cent rise between 2011 and 2001, when there were 14,524, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Of these, 2,751 provide 50 or more hours a week of unpaid care, and almost 11 per cent of these people are in either bad or very bad health.
Not only does this mean they cannot adequately help the person they are caring for, they also have no opportunity to help themselves and have to deal with debt and anxiety.
Anne Smyth, OBE, director of the Carers’ Resource which has its head office in Harrogate, is aware of this downward spiral and said she is worried about it.
“In the Harrogate district we know of carers who are isolated, either because they live in the more remote, rural geographical areas, or because they struggle to physically get out and about as often as they would like because of the demands on their time and energy due to their caring role,” she said.
“Either case can be difficult to overcome, especially for those who are not aware of the support we can give them to make a difficult situation a lot more manageable.
“Caring can be a very isolating role because of the sheer demands it puts on carers’ time and energy, and carers have come to us suffering from depression, anxiety and a whole host of other issues.
“This can all have a major impact on their health and wellbeing, as well as their capacity to care, and if we can get carers into a support network, like ours, we can begin to unpick their problems and find them the tailor-made support they need.”
The Carers’ Resource, which operates in locations across North Yorkshire, operates a support network for ‘hidden carers’ - one of the biggest challenges faced for the people properly placed to help and support carers at breaking point.
The research, by national charity Carers’ UK also highlighted the 4,047 carers in Harrogate who are aged 65 or over. That is 25 per cent of the total carers working what is a full-time job for no money when they could be or already are retired.
They do this work because they want and have to look after the people they love, but they sometimes need help to effectively manage their role as a carer before needing care themselves.
This is part of a UK-wide trend, where, on average, a quarter of people caring for an older, disabled, or seriously ill loved on need medical treatment as a result.
More than half of 5,000 carers asked said they suffered depression - 63 per cent - while 79 per cent reported anxiety.
To contact the Carers’ Resource team, call the Harrogate office on 01423 500555, or the Ripon office on 01765 690222.
As social care services in England are cut by £3.5 billion, and carers’ benefits by £1 billion, Carers UK has warned that even greater numbers of carers face crisis.
The national charity is therefore calling on all political parties to take urgent action to deliver urgent funding for social care services and place a duty on NHS bodies to identify and support carers - an aim North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) says it is working towards.
NYCC executive member for adult social care and health integration Coun Clare Wood (Con) said: “I am not surprised at the figures.
“It is very difficult to know the amount of carers we have. There are so many that are actually unknown so the estimates are probably higher.
“This is exactly what we are trying to do with Harrogate Borough Council - identify more carers because we know there are people out there who need help and I consider them the jewel of our society.
“It is so important to us that we do find out who those carers are and we support them the best we possibly can, and that it what we are about.
“What really worries me is health among carers being affected and that is exactly what we want to make sure doesn’t happen.”
Carers UK is also asking the government to end cuts to carers’ benefits and take urgent action to alleviate carers’ financial hardship and implement a right to paid care leave for people combining work and care.
There are currently restrictions on the amount of support carers can access from the council who can get help only if they are providing substantial care.
When the Care Act is introduced next year, there will be an extension to the responsibility of local authorities.
This means any carers needing help will be able to approach NYCC and there will be no set criteria in place, and any assessments carried out will be for the delivery of support.
Coun Wood added: “Carers often don’t believe they are carers, they just think it is what they should be doing and that it is their role, but there are things like respite and befriending and being able to talk to someone that are important.
“The isolation that can be caused through caring on a full time basis can be a very lonely existence and that is what is so important to us - that that doesn’t happen.
“They can talk to us, their GP, or the Carers’ Resource in Harrogate. Lets encourage people to make contact and perhaps we can get the statistics down. I think we would all like to do that.
“This is not just a duty, it is something we want to do and we know how important carers are.”
The figures released by Carers UK are troubling to Hazel Griffiths from the North Yorkshire Carers’ Forum, who gave up her job four years ago to look after her 30-year-old son Mark who has Aspergers.
She said: “Family carers, if we just downed tools the whole care system would be in a mess. We are a quiet group and we just get on with it.
“I am a bit concerned that public spending is being cut which is affecting family carers’ resources.
“I am not a big campaigner, but I feel quite strongly about family carers. Eight out of ten carers will have a breakdown at some point.
“We need to look after family carers as they do a fantastic job and take my hat off to all of them.”
Of the 50,000 carers in North Yorkshire, Mrs Griffiths said there is an urgent need for them to be aware of their rights, including access to help.
This is what she is campaigning for, not only for herself and her son, but for all family carers struggling with the role they have taken on.
She added: “I want family carers to have a voice, I want GPs to carry out annual health checks for carers and a hospital link worker to help carers and to stop delays in assessments.
“I think the voluntary sector is fantastic and they try their best but there are lots of delays with statutory services.”