Caring

“We are lucky..” The 91 year old carer

A letter from my indomitable friend Sarah, who is a fulltime carer – at 91 – to her 92 year old partner of half a lifetime, is full of cheer and optimism:

The situation here is much the same but with improvement – I can now read to X from ‘The Irish Times,’ ‘New York Review of Books’ and from novels, Parks, Tobin, Ford, Stroud, Sebastian Barry…

I attribute this improvement in X to: being in her own home; routine; kindness of friends, and carers. X is now 92 (I am 91!) – We’ve been together for 46 years. I am chief (of course) carer. I rise at 6.30 am, get myself going (breakfast/shower). At 9am the morning carer comes, sets X’s  breakfast, shower etc. Then I drive us to buy newspaper and to a local beach, hill…. The morning carer is paid for by the Health System (1 3/4 hours). The rest of the day (lunch/dinner) I officiate. We pay a carer to get X to bed. Our carers are very kind and good and competent. We are lucky..

O to to have such posititivity and indomitability. I am overcome with respect and admiration

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Carer in the Community – the reality

I’m angry – as ever – about the unreality of National Carers Week.  It’s the ‘Lets go down with the Titanic – no not me, I’ve a place in a lifeboat, but you – you! Keep on playing a rousing foxtrot on deck to raise our spirits’ attitude of those who are paid reasonable salaries to work 9-5 to ‘support’ unpaid carers. Pictures of stands of smiiling folk showing what good fun it is to support us. Not a lot of pictures of smiling people who have worked gruelling 168 hour weeks for years on end, or the people they care for. Somehow we are less photogenic.
So here is my poem for Carers’ Week ( with an unphotogenic video – performed by someone who has had no respite or holiday from care for over 3 years https://youtu.be/m_W12z_XSkQ)

The Numbers Game

I say I’m one in a million; my father used to say I was won in a raffle – but  in actual fact I’m 1 in 8 : one of the the seven million adults who have given up  health, wealth, career and life-expectancy to be unpaid carer for an elderly or disabled friend or relative.

With love. Always with love. But not always voluntarily. Often because the was no other option. Statistically, 58% of carers are women, but my experience is that when it comes to working-aged people, it is generally women who draw the short straw.  Well, bless us, what else have we to do? It’s not like we do real work or have a real life or anything.

We’re a growing army of the forgotten and dispossessed. Every single day another 6,000 join our gang. Me, I’ve been gang member for seventeen years. And for the last few years I’ve joined the inner circle and become – not one in a million but one OF the million who cares for more than one person.

Between the two I haven’t had a holiday from caring for well over three years.

SO, what’s all this  to do with the price of fish? All very sad but what can be done etc. ?

Well, number one, in the run-up to the election, all sorts of figures were being bandied about but blow me not this one: We carers are estimated to save the state £132 billion per year (and that doesnt include lost work input and lost tax).

Lets dig deeper:

  • Over 3 million people in the UK juggle care with work.  How the significant demands of caring mean that 1 in 5 carers are forced to give up work altogether.
  • Carer’s Allowance is the main carer’s benefit: £62.70 for a minimum of 35 hours care a week, equivalent to £1.77 per hour – far short of the national minimum wage and £10 a week less than JSA. (And of course you may be working up to 168 hours a week for it). CA is means tested. Earn over £116 a week and it’s gone.
  • Over 1.3 million people provide over 50 hours of care per week- and 6 out of 10 of us are women.  Carers providing high levels of care are twice as likely to be permanently sick or disabled.
  • There is –  unsurprising – a high correlation between being an unpaid carer and poverty. So maybe it is also unsurprising that  its women who have a 50:50 chance of having been an unpaid carer by the time they are in their 50s. (Men have to get to 75 to reach the same statistic)
    (all figs from CarersUK)

The Conservative manifesto made the infamous pledge that you – yes – YOU, the person reading this, the one with a job, wealth, health, a career, a pension and a future – YOU  can give up your work for a year to care unpaid for someone. Not sure what you’ll live on? Wind and running water, like theis pledge was written with?

So this week is CARERS’ WEEK. Who will give up their job unpaid for just one week to spell an unpaid carer?

Don’t all speak at once

Guest post: “I’ve lost £100,000 in earnings in two years of caring” – and ‘Outraged’ has also lost her life..

Outraged writes:  “My life before caring was bliss.  I worked in Ireland, in the public sector and was outraged at the austerity measures being imposed on public sector workers.

I didn’t know I was born.

I moved back to the UK two years ago when my mum was diagnosed with a brain tumour.  She had worked fulltime but was also a carer for my sister who has cerebral palsy.   I now look after both of them as they are very physically disabled and thus very physically dependent.

The support family carers can get from the state is abysmal. It is also means-tested.  I am expected to fund respite care top-ups on a carer’s allowance.  Bear in mind the allowance is £61 per week regardless of how many people you care for, and tops-up range from £50-£200+ per week.

I cannot work – no employer wants someone who can’t be flexible, who has to leave work regularly or can’t stay back because of myriad hospital appointments, blocked catheters, toilet calls, or most frequently of all – to pick up the personal care tasks that care agencies won’t do…or more usually don’t do safely.  I have to supervise carers, or  else they would mobilise my mum unsafely -sinks are washing aids, not standing aids!  -they don’t change their gloves (they don’t pay for this PPE unlike me) – I’ve stopped carers from taking stuff from my fridge because they had my sister’s faeces on their gloves; -they leave our front door ajar ALL THE TIME.

The state pays £400/week to these agencies for providing 33.25 hours of care.  I get £61/week Carers Allowance for 118 hours.

The red tape is endless… disability allowance, carers allowance, personal independence payments contracts, housing benefit, means tested assessments for housing support services, care in the community services, pensions credit, support with health costs, carers leave application to my employer. These are reviewed annually.

On a daily basis I am to my carees:-  *  Nurse,  *  physio, *  PA, *  secretary, *  social services advocate, *  chef, *  cleaner, *  chauffeur, *  personal shopper, *  limb-mover,*   pharmacist, *  debt manager, *  banker.  I feel like I do so much more, I am that tired.

I’ve lost circa £100,000 in earnings in two years of caring.  For this the state offers me £60/week.  No pension, no sick pay, no holidays and if my carees go into hospital or respite care then I lose that £60 too.

My work and friends are in Ireland, my partner is in Ireland, my home is in Ireland but I’m here.  I’m only 34, I want to have kids, I want my life back.  But that will only happen when they die, and then it’ll be too late.

3 in 5 of us will be carers at some point in our lives, and that figure will likely grow as life expectancy exceeds life quality.

I say to all you non-carers who happen to be reading:  enjoy your life whilst you have it, the state will not permit you a life as a carer.In fact, if it could means-test my nostalgia it probably would.

Carer With Attitude says:

If you are altruistic and want look after those you love, and save the NHS and Social Care departments  from having to pay the going hourly rate for paid care (in this case £12 for every daylight hour), should the state really expect you to  give up your life, your career, your future, your family,  as well?

Seems so.

Yet MPs (every single one of whom have failed to help the family carers they all represent)  tell us they are being altruistic to live on that teeny weeny little £67k  they get  as basic salary (plus generous expenses to cover the costs of running an office.. staff..somewhere to live..ok several places to live.. travelling ..silk cushions.. duck houses… moats.. moles…You know how it goes) And they seem to be allowed extraordinary licence in their expenses claims. AND many get seeming immunity from prosecution, censure or  dismissal when they go beyond licence to downright fraud.  

Iain Duncan Smith thinks that  £61 a week Carers Allowance is generous recompense for Outraged’s  altruism and hard work. He also thinks £39 is a reasonable amount for himself to try and claim for a single breakfast* to line his lardy, smug and self-entitled tum.  Think about that for a moment.

I wonder how many years Outraged has spent getting qualified?  WIkipedia points up Duncan Smith’s qualifications as pitifully thin when the truth was told.   Wouldn’t the world run better if  the Ian Duncan Smith  ‘learned on the job’ for a while, as fulltime carer discovering for himself the realities of working round the clock without acknowledgement or comfort whilst trying to survive on £60 a week?  Thus allowing Outraged to fulfil her considerable potential through the career and life she would like to lead?    Answers please!

The next Carers Virtual Strike will be on 21 November 2014.

*his claim was submitted – but, thank goodness, not accepted.

Carers Strike Today – VIRTUALLY

Today’s  the  Carers Virtual Strike day of action. And never was a day of action more aptly named, because – of course – today the unpaid family  carers of the UK will be working our socks off as normal.

Join us in our fight for justice – and our simple, reasonable and affordable demands. Each sign-up to the strike sends an email to Iain Duncan Smith, asking him to implement the Carer’s Manifesto.

If the people signed up to this strike  by this morning dropped dead of exhaustion it would cost the UK  nearly £125MILLION to replace us. For a year. £125 MILLION is a lot of money, but its  just the tip of the iceberg when we look at the real cost of unpaid care.If every carer signed up, the replacement costs of us all would be truly staggering.

As carers, Virtual Strike Day will, of course,  be business as usual.  So how will you be spending the day? Tell us, please and, if possible, send one or more of the following that we can put online:

  •     Tweet about your day – hashtagged  #CarersVirtualStrike
  •     Tweet  a selfie, hashtagged  #Strikerselfie  #CarersVirtualStrike
  •     Send us a photo to carerwithattitude@gmail.com   or to info@caretostrike.co.uk
  •     Email us and tell us what would be happening to your loved one if you weren’t there today …

You can be as public or anonymous as you like – but please remember in every case  to  safeguard the privacy and  identity of the person you care for.

We Carers continue to get a raw deal but this Virtual Strike is the one way we can demand justice without harming those we love and care for. Waiting for people to notice us has not worked. If we make a fuss, kick up a twitter storm, and shame everyone into recognising how much they need us, yet take us for granted, we may finally achieve some of the things we need to make our futures better than our past .

Have a good day!

Click here for the Guardian Social Care Network coverage  on  WHY we carers are on virtual strike

Business as usual

Recognition: the most important thing to give Carers

To ‘celebrate’ Carers’ Week, my local authority wants to know the MOST IMPORTANT thing that might make my life better as a carer. One?  Believe me, there are too many  MOST IMPORTANT things! Here are a handful:

ONE MOST IMPORTANT thing:  An end to the assumption by people who are paid for their work that because you are an unpaid carer, your time has no value. Our last 2 Social Worker appointments were cancelled at 10 and 25 mins notice respectively by a social worker who valued her own time much more than ours! She has a union and has working hours governed by EWTD. No union will represent carers because they work unpaid. And I work 168h every week and have done so with very few exceptions for this entire millennium. No contest!

ONE MOST IMPORTANT thing: An end to being treated as if the 168 hour week you have worked for love is nugatory – that because you were given no pay, sick pay, holiday entitlement, occupational pension entitlement you must be a fool.  I have an Oxford degree,  and was captain of my University challenge team while I was there. I’m bright enough, thank you. That thing you say about peanuts and monkeys?  its a cliché . And only fools believe in clichés. Just saying.

ONE MOST IMPORTANT thing: At last, an understanding of the on-costs and end results of continuing lack of support. Over six weeks I’m taking 973 prescription tablets – and that’s if I don’t need the odd paracetamol or aspirin. I’ll also have to have 4 different sets of blood tests to check whether the more scary of these pills aren’t poisoning me. I have high blood pressure.  I have inflammatory bowel disease, with add-ons. I have epilepsy.  I have developed all of these within the last six years – and I’ve now got further tests planned to see if I haven’t developed a fourth nasty. I cost the NHS an arm and a leg.  I feel as if Dracula had sucked every bit of goodness out of me – and yet I have to keep going.   Why?  I eat healthily. I exercise. I don’t smoke.  I have a happy and cheerful disposition, plenty of friends, a family I am fond of. I am even friendly with my ex.  BUT I am a full-time family carer for my wonderful, clever, funny and kind daughter, and have been since the start of the millennium.Over that time alone I have worked more years of European Working Time Directive weeks than I have been alive. I am exploited by the state as free round-the-clock labour. Something has to give. And there is only one thing that can give – me.

When I collapse (and look at the above) it will cost £130,000 plus to replace me for every year my daughter is alive.

ONE MOST IMPORTANT thing: for 14 years I have had to earn around unsupported care responsibilities and so I earn almost nothing. And as the big Carers charities are happy to pay ‘the market rate’ of over £50k for a fundraiser, yet see nothing inappropriate in spending their time supporting carers to claim the miserly £61pw  carers allowance (that can be claimed only by those earning less than £100 a week and  the oversight of the claiming of which, let’s face it, could easily be done by social worker, dwp, county council, doctors surgery, all sorts of well-qualified bodies )- rather than lobbying for big improvements  in our work-life balance – I can see no way to improve my current state.

This gives me less economic resilience to crisis. OK it gives me NO economic resiliance to crisis. When I have to take a taxi home from MsF in Intensive Care at 3am because I do not drive and there is no other way to get the 8 miles home apart from walk, the £40 it costs represents a crisis to the family.

So – plenty of MOST IMPORTANTs there.

I think if there really is ONE MOST IMPORTANT thing, that ONE MOST IMPORTANT thing would be some final true recognition every day of the year of the constraints and pressures that we carers are under and a real desire to ameliorate our lot.. And not the spurious, Carers Week  here today, forgotten next week encouraging mooing that  Carers Week consists of every year.  Final true recognition. From those who pretend to care – and who do not really give a damn.

Like that’s going to happen.

I’ve said this before. I say it again. Over the last six months I have been tweeting asking for support from  prominent social activists – and not a peep.

High profile  ANGRY people – silence, my dear, silence.

Well-known feminists. We female carers might as well be invisible. (Being a carer is not sexy enough for them to make their column inches, I  guess).

Newspapers, radio, tv – ditto, ditto, ditto.

Care organisations, government departments, health professionals, charities, political parties, unions. Nada, nada, nada, nada, nada.

Lets face it, fellow carers. Apart from a peak of spurious interest in Carers Week we might as well be invisible – and after Carers Week, we will be. For another year. I don’t count that as raising awarenessi n any real sense.

So where do we go from here? HOW can we carers shout and be heard when everyone around us, the whole of society, is playing the three monkeys and not seeing, hearing or speaking out as hard as ever they can? (Or if they choose to speak on our behalf, are very selective in what they say?)

Are we carers only to survive on the awareness of carers?  Unless someone cares enough to support me sensibly I will be one of the number that the state will have to find permanent cover for – a tragedy for me and for my daughter – and a horrible expense to the UK.

At which point – particularly if the circumstances were tragic enough – all the social activists and angry people and well-known feminists and media and care organisations and government departments and health professional organisations, charities, political parties, unions and the whole boiling of proselytisers and talking shops and ‘do as I say, not as I do’ so and sos  blah blah blah will suddenly stop navel-gazing and start talking of  our plight because they will see in our plight something for themselves. 

Pah!

So, please -seeing as its Carers Week – please SHOUT OUT if you care for carers. Try and embarrass this form-over-substance world of virtual activism  that doesn’t care a damn about the little people like you and me into caring for Carers. Not as much as we carers care, obviously. But even a little bit would do..   Get them to say to the world I Care for Carers – (and then ask them what they mean by it! And then see if they won’t put their money where their mouth is..

 

Only a few carers have signed up to the Carers’ Virtual Strike caretostrike.co.uk – a tiny proportion of our dispossessed and demoralised and unrepresented and uncared for whole – but to replace just these few would cost the state over £63 MILLION  a year! And all we are asking for is what this state should thing of providing just to prevent paying out that kind of money long-term: See  Carers Manifesto https://carerwithattitudeuk.wordpress.com/five-simple-ways-to-change-carers-futures/

 

 

X,Y,Z – personal responsibility becomes corporate failure

Yesterday I wrote a High Noon letter

Dear MsZapata [aka  my daughter’s absent social worker (MsXantippe)’s absent boss (MsYolande)’s very likely disaffected, clearly overworked maybe underbriefed and possibly unofficial stand-in],

Following my unanswered emails of Monday 2 June (to MsYolande) and my forwarded one to you on Tuesday 3 June, I note  MsXantippe’s email response of 3 June.

This is literally our first communication from Adult Care Services since MsXantippe sent a message cancelling our second appointment for a Continuing Healthcare assessment with us at ten minutes notice. This was four weeks after she cancelled the previous appointment for a Continuing Healthcare assessment  at 27 minutes notice.  I have blogged extensively about this and its impact on the vulnerable family carer, reliant on the respect and support of the social worker.

On 19th May you (MsZapata)  rang me three times to apologise for this, blamed ‘miscommunication‘  and told me that MsXantippe would contact us and apologise the following day, and rearrange the appointment. This did not happen – and I see from MsXantippe’s email that there is no suggestion in her mind that she should do so.  Instead she mentions – as if for the first time – a Continuing Healthcare Assessment. This is the assessment  planned since March which MsXantippe has personally stymied on two previous occasions by not turning up with minutes to spare on April 26th and 19th of May.

Just to put this in perspective: my daughter’s social worker moved on in autumn 2013. ACS made no attempt to replace her until this spring when we were told we have been allocated MsXantippe  but have never met her.

My daughter is currently excluded from college (since December 2013) for ‘being too ill.’ She needs the advocacy of a Youth Support Worker to negotiate an institution that is prepared to educate her and allow her to fulfil her aims and ambitions – but according to youth services a youth support worker only be allocated via her Social Worker.

My daughter is unable to take part in the swimming, cycling and running that she delights in due to extensive seizure damage to shoulder and knee joints. An operation is not possible until her seizures improve beyond what is currently likely. A year ago we found someone who could support her to improve movement, and Continuing Healthcare agreed they could fund it . This has not yet happened simply because Adult Services need to raise the invoice from Continuing Health. They have not done so. A year adds a horrible degree  of impact to joint damage.

Both exclusion and damage have had a knock-on effect on my daughter’s socialising, quality of life and independence.

I feel like we are in Topsy Turvey Land. How long will this inactivity and lack of support continue? How are you going to compensate my daughter for the impact that this lack of action is having on all aspects of her life – health, education, social care? She has already lost months of support in education and her health has gone downhill as a direct result of not being able to access the support offered a year ago via theContinuing Healthcare team.

Can I please reiterate what I wrote to you yesterday

a) My daughter has been out of education and unsupported by a social worker or a youth support worker for over seven months now. This is a disgraceful and inexplicable  situation . Young people’s services tells me that the only person who can appoint her a youth support worker is MsXantippe  – who cannot even be bothered to meet her own appointments with us

b) Continuing healthcare support has been held up for a full year by ACS’s lack of concern in implementing agreed plans.

c) In the interim the stress of the situation has had a severely detrimental effect on my own health and I am now under two consultants’ care for two separate serious chronic and dangerous conditions – either of which may lead to death. This is not promising, is it – particularly for my daughter’s longterm prospects? 

d) Obviously the stress is increasing my daughter’s seizure activity and stress levels.

e) I am relying on you to break this circle of apathy, incompetence and unconcern with an immediate response and plan of action.

If this is not possible – and I appreciate you may well be in the position of a firefighter – could you please advise me immediately of MsYolande’s manager as I wish to escalate this situation. 

If I do not hear by the end of today I am afraid I will have no option but to go directly to the top

f) And as we are something like 3 months on from when this assessment was first proposed, I am requesting it be replaced by an EHC needs assessment under the provisions the Children and Families Act 2014 of  http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2014/6/contents/enacted which covers young people up to the age of 25 and would allow my daughter to have all her needs looked at simultaneously. 

She cannot continue to lose her life chances because of ‘falling through the net.’

Yours sincerely, Carer With Attitude

Readers, I received no response whatsoever to this email.

Consequently MsF’s situation has been escalated to the highest possible level.