Impact of coronavirus on social care: Unpaid carers

Published 26/11/2020   |   Last Updated 27/05/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

This is the final article in our series looking at some of the key issues in social care at this point in the pandemic, following our articles on restrictions on visits to care homes and concerns about coronavirus testing.

On Carers Rights Day 2020 (November 26), this article places the spotlight on carers.

There is growing concern about the welfare of unpaid carers in Wales as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

According to Carers Wales, the recent primary concern for many carers has been the ongoing effect of stress caused by the long periods of caring without any support and the exhaustion this has caused. Its research found that:

  • 80% of carers say they are providing more care now than before the pandemic began; and
  • 76% are reporting to be exhausted and worn out by their caring role during the pandemic.

Carers have seen a reduction or complete closure of support services available to them, at a time when they’ve taken on more caring responsibilities, often due to disruptions in care services, and/or efforts to protect their loved ones.

No relief in any way for 24-hour care. I have cared for my husband without any help at all since 17 March 2020. The strain is immense - Female, aged 85-89, Swansea.

Age Cymru, Experiences of people aged 50 or over in Wales during the first Covid-19 lockdown, and the road to recovery.

Local authority leaders spoke to the Senedd’s Health Social Care and Sport Committee about the fragility of carers and the need to support them, as many are now struggling to cope. The Committee heard that at the start of the pandemic, lots of carers initially said they didn’t want domiciliary care workers visiting, to minimise the risk to loved ones of transmission. However after a few months, families reportedly came back to say they were really struggling and needed care packages put back in place.

Research by Carers Trust Wales highlights the damaging impact the pandemic has had upon young carers and young adult carers. Findings include:

  • 58% of young cares and 56% if young adult carers now care for more hours every week;
  • 1 in 5 young carers and 1 in 3 young adult carers are currently unable to take any break from their caring role;
  • More than 2 in 3 young carers and young adult carers are more stressed;
  • 37% of young carers and almost half (47%) of young adult carers say their mental health is worse than it was before the pandemic began;
  • 1 in 4 young carers and nearly 1 in 3 (32%) young adult carers would like support with their mental health but don’t currently access any.

The Welsh Government has recently launched a consultation on a new national plan for carers, alongsidea £1m Carers Support Fund to make grants available for a range of essentials, as research suggests that almost 40% of carers are worried about their financial situation.

Carers Wales says it’s time for unpaid carers in Wales to be recognised as the third pillar of our health and social care system. The charity is calling on public authorities to reinstate and start new services to support unpaid carers as soon as possible. It also believes unpaid carers should be given priority access along with other key workers to coronavirus testing and in the vaccination rollout.

Many stakeholders are stressing that social care deserves parity of esteem with the NHS. The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) told the Senedd’s Health, Social Care and Sport (HSCS) Committee that it’s essential that all social care workers are offered the same recognition, support and protection as NHS workers.

The Welsh Government’s COVID-19 reconstruction strategy reports that respondents to the consultation highlighted the importance of increasing the status of social care, and recognising the contribution made by paid carers through better wages and working standards.

Other social care issues of note

Some of the issues featured in this blog series are likely to be discussed in the Senedd’s HSCS Committee shortly. The Committee is holding more social care focused evidence sessions with stakeholders on 2 and 9 December, as part of its inquiry into the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

Article by Amy Clifton, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament