Why We Must Support Black Carers
THROUGHOUT THE UK there are a lot of people who care, unpaid, for a family member or friend who due to illness, disability, a mental health problem or an addiction cannot cope without their support, and provide assistance to them in diverse ways.
Conventional wisdom suggests that most ethnic minority people will care for their loved ones, children and relatives. The reality however is that this unpaid duty can leave carers physically, mentally and emotionally drained to the extent that, the longer they carry out this role without support, the more likely they are in danger of their becoming unwell themselves and isolated.
The major problem is that there are a large number of hidden carers amongst the black and minority ethnic (BME) community who do not ask for help. These hidden carers see it as part of their duty, or they do not know that help is available to support them as carers. Or it could be because they think that asking for help would mean that they cannot cope with what they regard as, their basic duties of care to a loved one. There are others who also fear that knowledge of their duties will mean that their cared for may be taken into an institution where they may not be properly looked after.
Carers face a number of other difficulties such as having to juggle their paid work around their caring role and this can impact their career and earning power.
Some carers give up their jobs prematurely and where the carer is a child, it can affect their education. In addition to the impact on work and education, for some carers they also face being deprived of their usual leisure time leaving no space for them to unwind.
According to research published in 2011 by Carers UK and the University of Leeds, carers who look after relatives or friends are saving the nation £119bn a year, or almost as much as the entire cost of the NHS, according to the latest calculation by researchers. The figure represents the value of the contribution of the estimated 6.4 million informal carers when priced at the official unit cost of home care by paid workers, £18 an hour.
So dedicated are most carers that one of their major worries is how the cared for will function when they have to be away for any length of time.
The alternative can be very expensive with social services having to find a suitable carer at short notice or in extreme cases, having to pay for the care to be given in a home or a hospital at a much higher cost.
Most of the support provided is actually beneficial to the carers once they have been identified and assessed.
RESEARCH: Gloucestershire County Council has launched a new project to find out about the needs of Britain’s black carers
Identifying hidden carers is often an important task for local authorities who have a responsibility to commission the support that is provided to carers by specialist and generalist organisations. The typical support that is provided includes breaks from caring to enable carers to have some respite to attend to other tasks, emotional support to work through any problems that they may have and help relieve the stress involved in nursing a loved one back to health, appropriate advice and information on what they need to know about the welfare system and advocacy to channel information about their needs to the authorities.
For most BME people, in the past this support for carers was provided by community and welfare organisations who helped in determining the needs of the community and providing general welfare and advocacy services for the target community as a whole.
However, in these days of professionalism within the local authority there is a need to gather enough information about the communities before commissioning services for them and most service delivery is properly monitored and the outputs and outcomes reported which means that carers can now get a good service from those commissioned to provide it.
But there may be some complications in commissioning this service from just any organisation to provide in a colour blind way because there are some cultural issues at hand that may detract BME carers from going to mainstream providers and not getting the help they need.
Some issues that need to be considered are: to what extent the carers need a culturally sensitive service; barriers of language; issues of religion and food and dietary needs. These factors can play a key role in creating a better relationship between carer organisations and the people they support.
These are among a range of issues which will be explored in a new project led by Gloucestershire County Council.
We are investigating how carers view the services they receive and whether there is indeed a large number of hidden BME carers who will be better served if more is known about their requirements.
If you live in Gloucestershire and you provide care for a family member or friend who due to illness, disability, a mental health problem or an addiction cannot cope without your support and are Black British, African, African Caribbean, Asian, Chinese, Eastern European and from the Traveller or Gypsy Community, we would like to speak with you.
We would like to find out about: your life as a carer, how you manage your caring role, what helps you in your caring role, what works well for you, the things that you struggle with and find difficult, the things that would make you a better carer and any insights to your caring role that you would want to share with us.
If you also want to participate in the research by interviewing other carers that you know then please get in touch.
Contact Maxine James, Equinox Consulting at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone her on 020 8680 5678 and leave a message for Maxine. Alternatively you can fill in the questionnaire at www.surveymonkey.com/s/bmecarers or download more information at www.equinoxconsulting.net
* Ade Sawyerr is a partner at Equinox Consulting – a management consultancy that works on social and economic issues affecting disadvantaged communities in Britain. He can be followed @adesawyerr or email@example.com