Family Carers Ireland has launched Ireland’s first national State of Caring survey. Completed by 1,250 family carers before the outbreak of COVID-19, the findings paint a stark picture of carers’ lives pre-Covid, with many struggling financially, facing indebtedness, declining health and little access to essential supports.
The startling results found that:
- 55% of carers have given up paid employment to care for a loved one.
- 29% of carers live in households with a total income of less than €20,000 per year.
- 70% of carers find it hard to make ends meet.
- 57% of carers have experienced or are likely to experience debt as a result of caring.
- 21% of carers who are struggling financially have cut back on essentials such as groceries and heating.
- 75% of carers who juggle caring with full-time employment provide over 50 hours of care per week.
- 75% of carers experienced difficulties accessing services for at least one of the people they care for.
- 45% of carers surveyed have a long-term illness, health problem or disability
Catherine Cox, Head of Communication and Carer Engagement with Family Carers Ireland commented:
‘The research indicates that caring can have significant adverse impact on a person’s health and wellbeing. Family carers are more likely to have poorer health and a long-standing disability, illness or health condition. For many families, taking on caring responsibilities results in long-term financial hardship, with the loss of income exacerbated by higher household costs. Without the estimated €10 billion in unpaid care they provide each year, the Irish health service would collapse. Despite the enormity of their contribution, many family carers are going without support. This was exacerbated by this crisis, when family carers continued to care without vital services throughout the emergency.”
During lockdown, the blanket withdrawal of supports such as homecare, respite, personal assistance hours and residential care forced many carers to care alone, around the clock and without the support of extended family or friends. In response, Family Carers Ireland made the decision to extend the State of Caring research to include a special module on carers’ experience of ‘Caring Through Covid’. Some 1,307 family carers responded to this between April and May of 2020.
“This report presents both pieces of research, shining a light on carers’ lives before and during Covid-19”, said Dr. Nicky Dunne, Research Officer, Family Carers Ireland.
“When services shut down, family carers stepped up and continued to care around the clock to ensure that loved ones stayed at home and out of hospital while facing unprecedented levels of risk themselves. Family carers have played a significant role in suppressing the coronavirus and their essential contribution to the national healthcare response needs to be acknowledged.”
The current crisis has made an already difficult situation much worse for family carers. The module, ‘Caring through Covid – Life in Lockdown’ (Independently published in May 2020) explores family carers’ experience of caring during the Covid-19 pandemic.
86 per cent worry about the cared for person contracting Covid-19 and 84 per cent have concerns about becoming infected themselves and being unable to provide care. 47 per cent reported being unable to access appropriate PPE. Routine medical appointments such as speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy and the closure of support services led to great concern about the long-term effects of Covid on the cared-for person.
As part of the ‘State of Caring’ Survey Report, Family Carers Ireland has set out a number of recommendations including recognising family carers as a unique group in Government policy, improving access to Carer's Allowance and protecting their pension entitlement. The organisation is calling on the Government to deliver a ‘Carers Guarantee’ to provide a basket of services to carers across Ireland, support the mental health and wellbeing of family carers and increase access to respite. It also asks that family carers are recognised as a priority group for COVID-19 testing, given their role in suppressing the virus and supporting the healthcare system.
Family Carers Ireland is the national charity supporting those caring for sick, infirm, disabled and older loved ones at home. It offers a range of supports and services for family carers at its 21 resources nationwide or via the freephone careline 1800 24 07 24 and online at familycarers.ie