In this blog, written in association with Pears Foundation,Trisha Thompson, Head of Programmes & Learning at Carers Trust helps acknowledge, celebrate and shout about Carers Rights Day 2019. Taking place this year on 21 November, the day will focus on helping carers find their way.

When I tell people that I provide grants to individuals, the most common assumption is that these are for treats or life’s ‘extras’. When I explain that the majority of the grants awarded via our Carers Funds are actually for washing machines, cookers and the costs of replacement care, the most common reaction is ‘Wow, that’s not what I expected you to say!’

A carer is anyone who cares, unpaid, for a friend or family member who due to illness, disability, a mental health problem or an addiction cannot cope without their support. By virtue of their role, carers often feel that they have to put their needs to one side whilst they ensure that those they are caring for are comfortable, are taking their medication, are able to attend appointments and generally living the best possible life that we all want for our loved ones.

Distributed via our Network Partners, the Carers Funds programme can provide carers aged 16+ with a grant of up to £300 to address the immediate barriers to their having a reasonable quality of life. And when I say reasonable, I mean a level that many of us are happy to enjoy as standard - and would on some levels consider basic needs. 

Carers Funds provides those who have to handwash soiled bed linen over the bath with funds to buy a replacement washing machine. It helps carers like Frank who ‘didn’t want to complain’, to purchase a cooker after a year of having no other option but to feed his family takeaways or expensive microwave meals. It also supports carers to have some time away from caring, in a variety of ways that makes sense for their life. It could be to give carers like Jake a daily break, time to visit other friends and family or even attend their own health appointments with the grant paying for replacement paid care. 

“My Carers Funds grant meant that I could be in the same city as my 6-year-old daughter whilst she was receiving five days of treatment at a specialist hospital, 100 miles away from our home” ~ Parent carer 

This quote epitomises the barriers that finances and cuts in social care funding are increasingly putting in front of people wanting to care for a loved one. This grant took away this carer’s worry of being separated from her young child during her much-awaited hospital treatment, a decision that no parent should have to consider at all, let alone for financial reasons.

Over the past year Carers Trust received near to 1500 requests for financial support from individual unpaid carers. This figure continues a trend, going back five years now, of a 10% annual increase in the number of applications we’re receiving. This increase is a positive indicator of progress towards Carers Trust’s strategic aim to identify and ensure more carers receive quality assured carer support. But it also points to the challenge we face as a medium sized charity as to how we raise enough funds to meet this growing demand. 

This is one of the reasons why our funding partnership with Pears Foundation has been so important to us. Having supported Carers Trust for over 15 years, Pears Foundation has been a key stakeholder in our ability to be both proactive AND reactive to carers’ needs. For Carers Funds, we have been able to build the case for supporting carers emerging needs. An example was highlighting carers’ need to learn to drive, which some other funders were initially hesitant of supporting.  

Some carers live in rural locations where access to public transport is limited. Others care for people with conditions that mean using public transport is challenging, both physically and emotionally. Carers often find themselves having to use money they need for other purposes to pay for transport. Or they rely on family and friends to drive them to appointments, shopping or other essential places. The ability to be able to drive therefore is empowering for carers.  It allows them not only to complete essential tasks quickly and efficiently but also to access potential employment opportunities that could be combined with their caring role.

As well as having supported hundreds of carers to access driving lessons in the past year, we have also been able to influence other funders to consider this kind of support for carers. 

 “One carer was in tears when I informed her that the application had been successful. She explained it was tears of both joy and disbelief as she had no idea that there are other people and organisations that want to support carers, not just financially but also emotionally and practically too” ~ Carer Support Worker, Hartlepool Carers

I feel immensely privileged to lead the Carers Trust team that manages our grant programmes; privileged that my work purpose is to help people get over ‘that’ life hurdle, be it an item, isolation or impossible choices; privileged that I get to ‘spend money’ for a much needed social good; and privileged in the knowledge that even where budget restrictions mean a grant is not possible, the act of completing a Carers Funds application means that carer is now part of the ‘Carers Trust community’, and emotional and practical support will be readily available.

This blog was written by Trisha for Pears Foundation for Carers Rights Day 2019.