National Carers Week, running this year from June 6th to 12th, is an annual campaign to raise awareness of caring. It aims to highlight the challenges which carers face and recognise the contribution they make to families and communities throughout the UK.
The focus of this year's Carers Week is on building 'Carer Friendly Communities' – ones which support carers to look after their family or friends and at the same time recognise that they are individuals with needs of their own.
It is estimated that across the UK there are 6.5 million unpaid carers looking after an ill, frail or disabled family member or friend. Although termed 'carers', most would say they are simply being a husband, wife, mum, dad, son, daughter, friend or a good neighbour. Caring for our loved ones is just something we do.
Caring can be brief and temporary, perhaps helping someone get back on their feet after an illness or an operation. It can be a regular obligation, maybe popping round to help a neighbour with odd jobs for a few hours a week or just checking they are OK. Or it can be a lifelong commitment, for example as a parent of a disabled child, or the partner of someone who suffers a life changing accident.
Caring can be very satisfying, helping to strengthen relationships and teaching new skills. But for carers without the right support it can also be deeply damaging, especially when the care is intensive and unceasing. Many carers see their own physical and mental health deteriorate as they struggle to cope with caring for a loved one, often feeling isolated and helpless.
While there is help available for carers, many are reluctant to accept it or simply unaware of it. A big part of Carers Week is to make carers aware of the support and services available to them, and more willing to accept it as something they are entitled to and deserve.
A range of national charities support Carers Week, each providing help and support to carers relevant to their individual needs. Some of the charities involved include Age UK, Carers Trust, Macmillan Cancer Support, Independent Age, the MS Society, the MND Association and Carers UK.
Carers Week aims to build Carer Friendly Communities across the UK, places where carers feel valued and supported in the unpaid work they do. Recognising this is a long-term goal, Carers Week is asking people to recommend organisations, services and employers in their area which are already carer-friendly. It is also inviting other organisations to commit to becoming carer-friendly in the way they operate.
Lots more information about Carers Week can be found on its website here, including a downloadable Carers Checklist. It sets out practical steps every part of the community can take to be carer-friendly and helps carers think about their local community and what additional support might improve their daily lives.