My name is Mike O’Brien and I’m an unpaid carer for both of my elderly and disabled parents who also have various other health conditions between them both.
We live in a town called Barry (think Gavin and Stacey) in South Wales. Before becoming a carer I had a good career in IT which I had to give up to care full-time for my parents and if I wanted to go back to that career now it would be very difficult as all of my professional qualifications are now so out of date that I would be basically starting from scratch again.
A typical day for me starts early as there’s likely things I want to get done before my parents wake so I can then focus mainly on my caring responsibilities. My caring role can vary from day to day depending on how my parents are feeling that day, but most days will include things like personal care, preparing meals, preparing medication and ensuring it gets taken at the right time of day, looking after the home, admin and paper work and ensuring my parents needs are met. I have been their full time carer for almost 10 years now and in that time I haven’t had a proper break from caring duties. The pandemic and lockdowns made things so much more difficult as we were classed as a vulnerable household and even going out for something simple like a cup of coffee was no longer possible. Even now that the restrictions have been lifted we’re still pretty much shielding as a household because if my parents were to catch Covid they would very likely be extremely unwell with it, as would I due to my own health issues and vulnerability.
Being a full-time carer has had adverse affects on both my mental and physical health due to always putting the needs of my parents before my own needs and that has resulted in my health worsening over the years. The pandemic and lockdowns also affected my mental health as it did for many other carers in ways which I think is something our governments are unwilling to admit. I joined Twitter to connect with others part way through the pandemic and the other unpaid carers I met there have been a godsend and got me through some pretty rough days just by being there. During my time on Twitter I have also become an advocate for unpaid carers and thanks to people like Katy Styles from the We Care Campaign I have been able to talk with politicians and also the gender equality group in Wales on the issues faced by unpaid carers.
What advice would I give to other unpaid carers? Be prepared to fight for any and all support, don’t be afraid to reach out to other carers or carer organisations, and try to remember to take time for yourself where you can and look after your own health.
Governments right across the UK are constantly saying how they respect, value and understand the roles we play within our communities and society as a whole, but they need to do far more to support us and making sure we are getting the help we need. There are various acts that have been passed by all four nations of the UK, but these are failing carers for the most part and there appears to be no accountability when the systems that are meant to support us are constantly failing. Unpaid carers should also be given priority for any and all future Covid vaccine boosters just like we are for the flu vaccines as should we become too unwell to continue with our caring roles there is no-one to pick up the slack at the moment.
Social care and social services are both in crisis and unpaid carers are constantly being asked to do more and more by their health boards and local authorities. There’s a phrase that you can’t continue to pour from an empty glass and for many unpaid carers that glass is already empty. I am myself currently waiting for a needs assessment to be carried out and during my entire time as a carer I have had no outside support from anyone.
Recently my mother had fall and after waiting all night for an ambulance to arrive as I was unable to get her up on her own I had to ask a neighbour for assistance. This could have easily been avoided had my local authority loaned us a lifting cushion when I asked, but apparently we didn’t fit in with the narrow criteria to get that kind of support. In the end we had to fundraise and thanks to the generosity of others we were able to purchase a pre-owned lifting cushion. You have no idea how much reassurance it gives us knowing the cushion is there and how much easier it makes getting mum back to her feet when she does fall.