Carers are back on the agenda with this timely, insightful but challenging report from MacMillan Cancer Support. They inform us that the number of people in the UK who are caring for someone with cancer has soared from around 1.1 million in 2011to almost 1.5 million in 2016.
Carers of people with cancer are now spending an average of 17.5 hours a week looking after someone with cancer, 2.5 hours more than in 2011. Compared with five years ago, cancer carers are also more likely to be:
- caring for someone who is terminally ill
- caring for one of their own parents
- providing more complex and hands-on care
- experiencing an impact on their own physical health.
Macmillan say ‘we want to see better collaboration between government bodies, health and social care professionals, the voluntary sector and carers, to help carers get the support they need. ‘
A particularly significant point is concerned with ‘sandwich carers’ – those carers who are looking after an older person as well as their own children, and probably trying to hold down a job as well. Around one in four people (27%) who are caring for a parent with cancer are ‘sandwich generation’ carers – they also still have children living at home. This represents more than 110,000 people in the UK. Almost all ‘sandwich generation’ carers (89%) are also working, which can present huge challenges when trying to juggle caring with work as well as childcare. I remember my own very stressful time of sandwich caring – driving to and from South Wales to help with my Dad with prostate cancer whilst working at Carers Leeds and looking after my 10 and 14 year old children.
Carers of people with cancer report that their working life is affected, their social life is affected and and their finances are affected. Yet many people who are caring for a parent with cancer don’t identify as carers and many people caring are not recognised as carers by the health and social care system.
At Carers Leeds we know how important it is for carers to get good quality information, advice and support. I hope this report will provoke strategic thinking into how support to carers can best be resourced in this time of health and social care austerity.