Giving up one’s time and money to look after a friend or family member is one of the kindest things someone can do. Unfortunately, taking on carer responsibilities for a loved one is also an extremely difficult task that brings with it emotional and financial burdens.
Research by WeMa Life in January this year found that 15% of UK adults – 7.85 million people – provide on-going care for someone close to them free of charge. And with Carers Week 2018 taking place between 11 and 17 June, now is the ideal time to assess how the lives of these ‘informal carers’ can be improved.
Understanding the strain carers face
Whether it’s an elderly relative requiring round-the-clock assistance or a best friend who needs help doing their weekly food shop, there are many circumstances in which someone may find themselves acting as an informal carer. But common to all of them is the time that must be sacrificed in the process.
Cleaning, cooking and companionship all take time. But so too does the process of sourcing, booking, managing and paying for specialist care providers. What’s more, it can also involve the informal carer spending a significant amount of their own money. In fact, WeMa Life’s aforementioned survey revealed that almost two fifths (39%) of informal carers have been prevented from leading the lifestyle they want or previously had because of the financial strains of the role.
Beyond the time constraints and financial burden, there is also the emotional strain. More than half (53%) of informal carers say the role has had a significant impact on their emotional state; almost a third (30%) even said that they had fallen out with family and friends because of the stresses involved with their responsibilities.
Unsurprisingly, shouldering the burden of looking after someone you care about can take its toll in many ways. The question, therefore, is what can be done?
Improving the life of informal carers
The organisers of Carers Week 2018 have stated: “We are looking at all the ways we can support carers to stay healthy and connected. Building communities which support carers to look after their loved ones well, while recognising that they are individuals with health and wellbeing needs of their own.”
In keeping with this goal, it was positive to see ministers from six government departments recently publish a care action plan, including a new proposed package of measures that will grant flexible working hours for those caring for sick or ageing relatives.
But more must still be done. Specifically, it must be easier for informal carers to manage the process of securing the much-needed help from specialist service providers.
Tellingly, nearly half (46%) of informal carers say they find it difficult to locate, book and pay for the services they need. WeMa Life itself was, in fact, borne out of the founders’ own troubles when caring for an elderly relative – it became clear that easier, faster, simpler solutions are needed.
Shining a light on new technologies
So, as we prepare for Carers Week 2018 and look for ways to create stronger connections within the care community, it is important that we shine a light on the advances in technology that stand to benefit this sector. Online marketplaces such as WeMa Life now exist for people to search for care providers, book appointments, make payments, and monitor the delivery of services – this represents a much-needed advancement, giving informal carers choice and control while also taking unnecessary stress out of their role.
It goes without saying that informal carers – not to mention the people they are caring for – deserve all the support they can get. And to overcome the problems that are currently making this already challenging role even more difficult, we must look to better ways to bring together the entire care, health and wellbeing space; to do this, it is essential to embrace new technologies.
Rohit Patni, CEO and co-founder, WeMa Life