Becoming a carer shouldn’t mean the end of your career

Jackie Ashley’s honest reflections on the tough realities she had to deal with in caring for her husband Andrew Marr, and the reaction of so many to her very powerful personal account have cast a welcome spotlight on a rising and critical social issue.

Whether through serious illness, disability or growing older, rising numbers of people need help with daily living. Most often it is family and friends who give the everyday care and support they need and, as Jackie so rightly observes, we need society to grasp the impact not simply on individual lives, but on business, workforce, personal, health and social services and all aspects of our lives.

In the UK today there are 6.5 million carers. They may be caring for an older parent, a seriously ill partner, a disabled child. Many care full-time and around-the-clock. Rising numbers are trying and often struggling to juggle work, family and care. Very often caring is hidden, taboo even, with full-time carers isolated by responsibilities, working carers feeling unable to seek support from employers as they might over childcare.

It is 50 years since the Rev Mary Webster launched, through the Guarding, the pioneering campaign which began the carer’s movement. Huge progress has been made on carers rights and public understanding, but caring is an ever evolving social issue and there remains real challenges to address.

Mary Webster’s initial concern was that the role of carer was seen as the preserve of the single women in families and that their contribution to society was going unacknowledged and unsupported.

Today, 6 in 10 carers are women. Jackie is absolutely right that the pressures of caring are falling hardest on those in their older and middle years and in particular on middle-aged women. At the age when they are at the peak of their careers, when their ageing parents are also starting to need support – 1 in 4 (24%) women aged 50 to 64 are now providing unpaid care.

Looking after those we love is something we do. It should, however, be something we do with reliable support all around us – from employers, colleagues, care services as well as our nearest and dearest. None of us, male or female, needing time-out to support a loved one should have to fear the end of their career.

Caring is a huge social issue and it affects us all, maybe not today, but very likely in each of our lifetimes. Carers UK believes caring should not mean crisis or a life on hold. With the right support carers can look after their loved ones but also live their own lives.