Carers at breaking point, Older People’s Commissioner says

More needs to be done to support carers who are at breaking point, the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales says.

Sarah Rochira is concerned that too many carers across Wales are missing out on much-needed help and their work is often undervalued.

She said it can often lead to a deterioration of their mental and physical health.

Ministers said much had been achieved in policy to support unpaid carers since devolution.

Speaking on Carers Rights Day, Ms Rochira is worried at the pace of progress in a strategy to help carers and said she wants to ensure Wales gets it right for its 370,000 carers.

“Without the care provided by unpaid carers in Wales, estimated to be nearly £6bn a year, many of our statutory services would, quite simply, be unable to cope,” she said.

“Carers should therefore be seen and treated as one of our greatest assets.

“Many of the carers I have met as part of my Engagement Roadshow are at breaking point – they feel that no-one listens to them, despite asking for so little.

“In so many cases they just want a little bit of help before a crisis occurs, such as information, advice, help to make decisions, practical help and training, and advocacy – someone to speak up on their behalf.

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Simon Harvey, carer from Newport

Myself and my wife are carers for our son. He’s got complex needs and challenging behaviour.

Some days we’re at our absolute wits end – the tears flow and you do feel alone and isolated.

We are one of the families along with many others where local authorities felt we do a fantastic job as parents and there’s no need for intervention.

However, what that leaves parents like us is having the full-on responsibility 24/7.

What I think is important is individuals like us are filling a role. If we weren’t there for our children or our family, there would be a huge strain on society looking after them.

None of us are looking for medals but just a little bit of recognition that the work we do is difficult and very tiring.

“These are all things that would not cost a lot of money to implement, but would make a significant difference to carers’ lives.

“Carers shouldn’t have to fit around the system, the system should fit around them.”

Ms Rochira said the Welsh government’s Carers Strategies Measure, which was launched in 2010, was a “welcome step forward”.

It is a requirement on the NHS and local authorities in Wales to work in partnership to prepare, publish and implement a joint strategy to help carers.

But while she said improvements were starting to be seen, she added she had “real concerns” over the pace of the progress and that she intends to review the impact the measure is making with carers being at the heart of the review.

She told BBC Radio Wales: “Change is beginning, but I am concerned. I do not think the pace of change is enough, it needs to speed up and we need to very quickly get it right for all carers.

“I do not want to continue meeting people who tell me just how hard their life is. I don’t want to continue meeting people who tell me that the price they pay for caring for the person they love is just too hard and too difficult to bear.”

She also wants service providers to work together more effectively and focus on what carers want, not what they think the carers need.

Keith Bowen, director for Carers Wales said there are over 20,000 carers in Wales who are missing out on support all together worth a total of £66m a year.

He told BBC Radio Wales: “Carers often face financial implications for their role often having to give up work while their outgoings go up and income’s gone down.

“It’s vital that carers get the right information at the right time and claim these valuable benefits.”

The Welsh government said: “We should be grateful that so many people in Wales are prepared to care in this way.

“It is important that unpaid carers are supported and are not disadvantaged as a result of their caring role and have all the information and support they need to continue in this role and maintain their own health and wellbeing.”

The spokesperson said a refreshed carers strategy was published in June and “much has been achieved in terms of policy, legislation and service development” for unpaid carers since the first version in 2000.

This includes the Carers Strategies (Wales) Measure in 2010 which requires health and social services to engage with carers.