Emily Holzhausen OBE
Director of Policy and Public Affairs, Carers UK
For the majority of carers, winter brings challenges, not recuperation. A mix of familial and financial strain can push those without the right support to the point of ‘carer burnout’.
This December, many will relish the idea of a hard-earned week away from work or connecting with family; vital time to recover energy before being thrown into the New Year.
1 in 4 carers have not had a break for five years or more.
Yet for a majority of carers winter brings challenges, not recuperation. A mix of familial and financial strain sees a surge in calls to our adviceline each January, as those without the right support can reach ‘carer burnout’. Our own research shows that as many as 1 in 4 carers have not had a break for five years or more, even over the holiday period, suffering with their own worsened physical and mental health as a result.
The good news is that a range of solutions can help. Even simple forms of support such as mobile apps can help carers plan for winter effectively, whilst various forms of financial assistance can make living costs manageable. Here are five ways to seek the support you need in the run-up to Christmas:
1. Take a break
Sometimes caring can change our definition of the term ‘break’. Enjoying a spare hour to complete our Christmas food shopping can feel like a true luxury, often requiring the help of friends, family, or care providers.
Many carers feel can feel guilty about taking a break but it can be essential to recharge your batteries as a carer. You could ask family or friends to give you a break, buy care services directly, look at technology, or get a carer’s assessment to look at what help you need. Find out what different options would suit you and what you might be entitled to here.
2. Stay warm
Energy costs often rise during winter, especially for carers whose loved ones’ health is dependent on staying warm.
If you are 65 or older, receive a pension or certain benefits, use an eligible energy supplier, or share a residency with someone who does, you may be entitled to help paying your energy and heating bills. This support could include tax free Winter Fuel Payments, schemes such as the Warm Home Discount, or weekly financial support in the form of Cold Winter Payments. Certain suppliers may also offer discounted tariffs to vulnerable customers, or part-subsidise measures to ‘draught-proof’ your house. Visit the Carers UK website for more information on eligibility.
3. Make the most of technology
Technology can offer real peace of mind to families. From vital signs monitoring to fall detectors, technology can also make caring simpler whilst helping older, ill, or disabled loved ones remain independent for longer. Those with mobility issues can use applications to control their own household appliances, electricity, and heating without the help of a loved one, whilst phone and tablet apps like Jointly can help families coordinate and divvy up care tasks remotely. Look online for technological solutions and advice.
4. Keep healthy
Whilst it’s hard to maintain perfect health while juggling work, family and care responsibilities, it’s vital to fend off illnesses which could make caring harder. Carers and a majority of those being cared for are entitled to a free flu jab, so ring ahead to find out what is available locally.
A number of GP practices and hospitals are also beginning to adopt ‘carer passport’ schemes to better support those looking after a loved one, so enquire about what help is available once you register yourself as a carer.
5. Make connections, get support
Carers consistently tell us that connecting with other carers would make the single biggest difference in breaking feelings of isolation and loneliness. Using an online forum such as ours (carersuk.org/forum) can help carers feel supported 24/7, whilst local groups and carers centres can a help you learn skills, enjoy hobbies, and socialise with others with the same responsibilities over winter.
Community organisations may also be able to offer grants or signpost you to day-to-day support after the holiday season ends. You can find your nearest local support groups and charities on the Carers UK online directory.