Caregivers’ pandemic struggles must not be ignored
Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, millions of people across the globe have found themselves in the position of having to act as a caregiver to a family member who is incapable of fully caring for themselves, such as children, an elderly relative or a family member with a chronic illness, addiction, mental health difficulties or disability. Such family caregivers have been incredible yet invisible front-line workers, alleviating the pressure on increasingly overstretched health and social care services. As governments work diligently to manage the pandemic, this neglected, unpaid and unsupported segment continues to provide essential care for the vulnerable.
Caregivers’ responsibilities include looking after a person’s well-being, from helping with chores to providing round-the-clock care. In many cases, people who are receiving care are considered to be in a high-risk group and at risk of developing complications if they contract the virus. As a result, caregivers have to shield with them and take on extra responsibilities in order to protect themselves and their dependents. It is one of the noblest acts of humanity, yet caregivers are increasingly finding themselves burdened by pressures that are being intensified by the pandemic. That is why we must safeguard their well-being, so as not to risk the people dependent on their care.
Last year, the UK had an estimated 13.6 million unpaid caregivers, of which 4.5 million had only started taking on such responsibilities due to the pandemic. To put this into perspective, this means an estimated one in four of the country’s adults provides unpaid care.
Researchers at the advocacy charity Carers UK conducted an online survey of caregivers in an effort to understand the daily struggles of caring during the pandemic. The survey revealed the many negative effects of care duties on a person’s financial, physical and mental well-being. For example, about two-thirds of caregivers have been unable to take any kind of break from their duties due to the increased needs of the person they are looking after and because local social services have been running at reduced capacity or are temporarily suspended. As a result, accumulated stress and fatigue levels are affecting their mental and physical health levels.
Moreover, many caregivers have been struggling to manage work and care duties and have had to give up full-time employment in order to meet their family member’s daily needs. The combination of decreased earnings and the costs of caring for their loved ones has been burdensome and often leads to debts being amassed. This scenario becomes ever so complicated for caregivers who are “sandwiched” between caring for their children and an elderly family member.
Caregivers’ efforts have been invaluable during this pandemic. Without them, health and social care services would have been overwhelmed. Thus, it is imperative that policymakers provide a suite of support services to alleviate the pressure on them and give them the respite they need. An integrated support system must include affordable at-home care services, financial support, counselling services, flexible work policies, and content-rich apps or websites that offer expert advice and are accessible at all times.
It is essential that caregivers have reasonable responsibilities that do not burden them and that they have sufficient breaks to maintain their personal lives and health. Thus, it is important to provide local social care services and care homes, in partnership with capable volunteers and while ensuring all safety precautions are taken into account. Due to the nature of their duties, caregivers are more susceptible to physical and mental health issues and should, therefore, be prioritized for medical treatment and mental health services.
Moreover, it is vital that governments ensure they offer sufficient caregiver allowances, as many have to cope with significant costs on top of job or income losses caused by the pandemic. Financial support could cover costs such as housing, healthcare, care services or rehabilitative services. It is also important that caregivers are able to balance their work and care duties by introducing special leaves, supporting flexible working hours, and allowing them to work from home.
Caregivers are often responsible for managing their dependents’ complicated care needs, as well as communicating with relevant healthcare teams at hospitals, clinics and pharmacies, then applying all the recommended treatment plans. As such, they have an enormous primary responsibility to be trained to deal with any emergency their dependent might face. Many governments have published online information resources to help caregivers navigate their duties during the pandemic.
Policymakers need to acknowledge the valuable contributions of caregivers, who are often overlooked.
For example, the UK government website includes extensive information on managing daily responsibilities under the current national lockdown measures, how to manage emergencies, how caregivers can protect themselves and their dependents from infection, and advice on how they can maintain their well-being while looking after others. Another great example is the Australian government’s dedicated parenting website (raisingchildren.net.au), which includes evidence-based, best-practice advice on how parents can care for their children and teenagers during the pandemic. Topics include hygiene, suggested learning or play activities, and managing mental health issues.
Policymakers need to acknowledge the valuable contributions of caregivers, who are often overlooked in the wider scheme of traditional health and social care systems. By caring for those with a big, dutiful heart, we can ensure our communities remain cohesive, healthy and cherished.
- Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and children’s literature. She can be contacted at www.amorelicious.com.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view