They save the country billions of pounds every year, but have to fight tooth and nail to make their loved one’s life – and their own – a little more bearable.
The life of an unpaid carer is a tough one, it’s 24/7 with little, if any, respite from looking after members of their family who have debilitating conditions such as chronic arthritis, brain damage and strokes.
To be classed as a carer you need to care for someone who wouldn’t otherwise be able to cope without your help to enable them to continue living at home.
According to the Scottish Household Survey (SHS) 2007-08, there are 21,929 of these people in the Falkirk area – 42,669 in Forth Valley. But staff at the Falkirk & Clackmannanshire Carers Centre believe there are many more “hidden” carers who are not identified or supported.
Recent estimates by charity Carers UK and the University of Leeds also show that it would take the whole of Scotland’s NHS budget – over £10 billion a year – to pay for the health care these carers provide.
In Forth Valley alone it would take £535 million.
Carers at the Falkirk centre in Bank Street have a drop-in session every Wednesday where they can get a couple of hours’ support, advice, respite and camaraderie.
They are a cheery and vocal bunch. But hidden behind their humour is a range of negative emotions they struggle with every day.
Guilt is one. Those who are being cared for often feel they are a burden on husbands or wives who sometimes have to give up their jobs to take care of them.
Depression is another. And many who turn up at the Falkirk centre have already reached breaking point.
Catherine Mochar (60), from Camelon, cares for husband of 39 years David, who has multiple health issues including Alzheimer’s Disease, diabetes, heart and lung problems and is confined to a wheelchair.
She said: “You have to fight for everything and it really gets you down sometimes. I feel there is a total lack of support for certain things.
“I had to give up my job as a cook at a nursing home to take care of him, but he is my priority. He feels guilty sometimes and shouts, but he doesn’t mean it. He just gets frustrated because he used to be such an active person and he is now confined to the house.”
There is now hope that carers will get the support they need through the Scottish Government’s Carers Bill, which is being roundly welcomed.
Falkirk’s centre manager Agnes McMillan said: “The carers movement in general is quite excited about the legislation for carers. We’re moving from recognition of carers to rights for carers. I think it’s a journey but I think it will never be quite there, but we’re certainly moving in the right direction. Early identification of carers is vitally important so we can get support in as early as possible and not leave it until carers are at some sort of crisis point.
“The evidence shows if carers don’t receive support, it can end up having an adverse effect on their health and well-being. Caring relationships can break down, or the carer’s health needs looking after. There’s still guidance to come out when it becomes an actual Act, so at this stage we still don’t know what it will all actually means.”
‘WE OWE THEM ALL A HUGE DEBT’
The new Carers Bill that will enshrine carers’ rights in law for the first time in Scotland will entitle every adult carer to their own support plan, with young carers receiving a similar young carer statement.
Measures will set out the needs of each carer and what they are entitled to with local authorities playing a crucial part in delivering them.
The Scottish Government is to fund short breaks so carers can have respite from their duties to the tune of almost £14 million from a carers kitty of £114m.
Health boards across the country will also share nearly £30m to provide direct support to carers.
Falkirk West MSP Michael Matheson, the former Public Health Minister, said: “The contribution carers make to their families, communities and to society as a whole is invaluable and we owe them all a huge debt of thanks and it is only right that we do everything we possibly can to give them the support they need and deserve.”
MSP Jamie Hepburn, who launched the Bill said: “I hope that the measures in this Bill will go some way towards allowing carers to balance their caring responsibilities with other things they want to achieve in their lives, helping them to be happier and healthier.”
Simon Hodgson, Director of Carers Scotland, said: “As well as establishing some important new rights we are confident that the debates and consultations that will happen as the Bill progresses through the Scottish Parliament will both increase knowledge and raise the profile of the vital role Scotland’s carers play.”
Don Williamson, Chief Executive of Shared Care Scotland, said: There are many details to be debated going forward, but it’s evident from the consultation responses that we all share a common interest in making progress.”
FALKIRK COUNCIL WILL FOLLOW THE BILL ‘WITH INTEREST’
Falkirk Council says it will follow the Carers Bill “with interest”.
A spokesperson added: “Some of the provisions in the Bill are currently in place at a local level on a non-statutory basis.
“For example, there is currently a Forth Valley Integrated Carers Strategy 2012- 2015, which Falkirk Council and partners are working to.
“It was prepared in line with the national carer’s strategy - Caring Together: The Carers Strategy for Scotland 2010 – 2015. The Council is also providing a range of information, advice and support to carers.
“The provisions of the Bill, however, go beyond existing provision and it will be important that, at times of financial pressure, any new provisions are fully funded by the government.
“There is ongoing discussion between Scottish Government, COSLA and local authorities with this regard.”