Covid: Welsh Government urged to provide more support for unpaid carers in pandemic

By Olivia Grist

Care-workers have played a vital role throughout the coronavirus pandemic, putting themselves at risk to help keep our loved ones safe, and have received an outpour of support from both the public and Welsh Government. But those in the unpaid carer sector feel not enough has been done to support them.

Ceri Higgins, from Pontypridd, who’s been caring for both parents unpaid over the last 12 years, says the support for people in her position has been ‘dyer.’

“My mother has multiple health conditions and my father had mixed Dementia.

“It’s been a post code lottery with what support you receive and lots of different services have told me it’s not their responsibility.

“There’s been lots of new polices that the Welsh Government have given us hope with, but actually they’ve failed to follow through.”

Pictured: Ceri Higgins (left) and her father (right)

At the start of the pandemic, Ceri was providing 24-hour on call care for her parents, with her father only receiving two hours a day of extra help from outside services.

She said: “I was doing pretty much more than what paid carers do because when their shift ends, they can clock off and forget about the people they care for until they’re next in work, but when I went home, I would be called back to care for my parents at all hours.

“My shift never ends.”

When COVID-19 hit its peak during the first wave, Ceri’s father was put into a respite facility as his dementia had deteriorated to a point where due to her own health conditions and lack of extra support, Ceri’s mother could no longer cope.

“Although my dad was in respite, it didn’t make things easier as I still had my mam to care for.

“People assume that when you send someone to respite that means you get time off and that just isn’t the case.”

Ceri, who was balancing caring for both parents with work, studying and looking after her own family, also had to teach herself how to handle her parent’s health conditions.

“Unpaid carers do the same, if not more as paid care workers, yet we aren’t given any training on how to look after our loved ones.”

Ceri cared for both of her parents.

Three weeks after Ceri’s dad went into respite, the facility went into lockdown, so he came home. Soon after, he started to show symptoms of Covid-19 and his two hours of outside support was stopped.

She said: “Because the company was unsure about what was going on with PPE and other things, they stopped the extra support for my dad. 

“My mam couldn’t help me because her health conditions meant she had to be isolated from my dad, so I was left by myself.

“I asked for help, but it never came.”

Ceri had to buy her own PPE equipment so she could safely look after both parents, as she says unpaid carers weren’t entitled to any. 

Ceri’s dad sadly died of the virus, but she still cares for her mother and is now urging the Welsh Government to provide more support for unpaid carers in the pandemic.

“The difference between paid and unpaid carers is that they have the equipment, support and ability to step away if they’re at risk of catching the virus.

“96% of all care in Wales is provided by unpaid carers and it’s staggering to me that the systems still aren’t there to support us.

“Many people, including the Welsh Government, think we choose to take on this role because they’re our loved ones, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want support or recognition.

“I am disgusted with how the government have showed their appreciation and provided financial support for paid care workers, but not us.”

She added: “They say they’ve provided funding for companies to support us but it’s just not coming through.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Unpaid carers make a huge difference to people’s lives. 

“As part of our Covid-19 response, we have provided £1.25m as part of the Carers Support Fund, which is open to all carers who may be facing financial difficulties. It provides grants of up to £300 to help with a range of essentials, including food and household items.

“We have also provided extra funding for Carers Wales to extend its mental health support for carers.”

Feature image by Kelsey Roberts

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