Care home managers, nurses and care staff, domiciliary care workers, freelance activity providers, unpaid family carers, including spouses, siblings, parents, children, grandchildren, and volunteers. ¬All of them are the unsung heroes of the care system in this country.
The news is all so negative. We need to hear the voices of these exhausted people, many close to breaking point, and make them visible.
For these people, whose care work is largely invisible to the wider world, yet so relationship-centred, the government has offered little protection, comfort, coping strategies or counselling, and until the devastating figures could be ignored no longer – virtually no recognition. These carers may have to face the death of those they work with, those they care for, as well as their own families, poorly supported except by one another. The government and its agencies have offered little or no re-assurance, encouragement, psychological comfort, bereavement support. Carers are expected to just get on with the job, regardless. Let’s remember, many are vulnerable themselves.
Unpaid family carers are no better supported, often struggling to cope in highly challenging circumstances. A person living with advanced dementia requires round-the-clock care and assistance. Most are elderly and for many, their spouse who might be older still, may be their main carer. Assuming they have help, if any of the care team are unable come because of self-isolation symptoms or being unwell themselves, there may be no one to come at all. However, if the person lives alone, as many do these days, there may be no one to support them at all. Families are locked down, may live miles away, may not be able to cope themselves, may have little or no relationship with the person.
Are older people’s lives or those of social care staff worth less? And if so, why? And why are they regarded as second-class carers? The reality is that many carers and those they care for have been abandoned to this virus simply because of years of inadequate and diminishing social care funding, and because they are old are deemed unable to contribute to society.