Sociologist argues carers need more support

In the high-stakes discussions taking place in a number of countries, a British sociologist argues countries should support one group more: carers.

Some 6.4 million people in the UK care for sick, disabled or frail friends and relatives – and they’re often punished for doing so. Many of them pay a “triple penalty”: damage to their health; a poorer financial situation; and restrictions in everyday life. The intrinsic unfairness of this situation is made all the more remarkable by the fact their work and effort saves the public purse £119bn a year – more than the whole budget of the NHS. But in the current climate of public sector cuts, how can we make their lives better without costing the earth, and support those who wish to care without giving up paid work?…

Our report New Approaches to Supporting Carers’ Health and Well-being: evidence from the National Carers’ Strategy Demonstrator Sites Programme highlights ideas that work to help carers stay well and healthy, to get a short break or chance to meet their own needs. For carers struggling to make ends meet, small investments in gym memberships, laptops or short holidays make a real difference, yet cost only a fraction of what needs to be spent if their care breaks down or cannot be sustained.

Special health and wellbeing checks spotted many physical and mental conditions, including diabetes, depression and cancer, which – as carers often put their own needs second to those of others – were previously undiagnosed. When GPs or hospitals work together with social services and voluntary agencies in their area, support for carers can really improve at a comparatively small cost…

Circle researchers have consistently made the case for better carer support. Our work has informed policy developments under both Labour and coalition governments. Unsupported, carers risk exhaustion, isolation and stress – yet when valued and offered flexible services, many see caring as among the most rewarding and important things they have ever done.

In the debates over health care costs in the United States, I haven’t heard much about carers. I wonder if some might argue that these caring duties shouldn’t be rewarded by the government but rather are familial or relational duties. But, if health care costs are a public problem, might it not make sense to invest here?

I wonder how millennials feel about this. Frankly, it probably hasn’t entered their minds much.

If sociologists have some interest in concepts like the sick role, do we have notable scholarly works addressing the role of carers?

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