In a guest blog for Carers Week, EduCare’s Keir McDonald explores what more we can do to support the unsung army of unpaid carers.

Social care is one of the biggest challenges facing our society. The recent election only reaffirmed that fact, and underlined the difficulties facing the leaders who are searching for long-term answers.

What we do know is that our social care system would collapse if it weren’t for the 6.8 million people, including 700,000 young carers, who work as unpaid carers. Their support – which saves the taxpayer more than £130 billion a year – is essential.

The Care Act is designed to strengthen carers’ rights and provide them with more support. A Qa Research article, published a year after key parts of the act were made law, showed that it was working in parts – but that there was room for improvement.

Now, in Carers Week 2017, the focus is on developing stronger communities to help unpaid carers, while recognising that they have their own needs too.

So what can be done to build carer-friendly communities?

Raising awareness
To create stronger communities that actively promote and encourage unpaid carers, we need people to understand the issues they face every day.

Raising awareness is an essential component of this. Of course it is important to keep carers informed about the help they can receive and how to receive it. But we should also be looking to explain to local organisations and employers the positive impact they can have on a carer’s life.

A recent study showed that carers who perceived a lack of support from their community were between two and three times less likely to possess a healthy relationship with their capacity as carers.

Complications with mental health, work and social life, and reaching out for support were listed as the prominent barriers people had to overcome while providing care.

It would be positive to see an increase in employers ready and willing to help carers by supporting their often unpredictable work-life balance. At the moment, many carers feel unable to seek work because of their responsibilities.

If we want to empower unpaid carers, we need to give them the autonomy they deserve.

Empowering unpaid carers
Every unpaid carer has a unique set of circumstances and needs. Some might only need an extra couple of hours a week to sit down and relax, while others may feel the need to be educated in how best to care for a loved one.

As Research Director Julie Wrigley from Qa Research has observed, a one-size-fits-all approach will not work, and that’s something that we recognise too.

One way to help empower unpaid carers is to develop their self-confidence, which in turn reduces stress levels. Our training services aim to help develop that confidence by giving carers more expertise in, for example, safeguarding.

We are grateful to Carer’s Week for providing a platform to discuss important topics and to promote the unsung army of unpaid carers.
By creating carer-friendly communities and empowering carers, hopefully we can ease the strain on the social care sector as a whole.

Keir McDonald MBE started EduCare’s eLearning service 30 years ago, with the primary focus on online safeguarding training.

Through his hard work and dedication, Keir was presented with an MBE for Services to Children in 2012. He works closely alongside charities, education and health care associations to provide the very best duty of care training services available.