Carers suffer more illness and disability, survey shows

Carers Scotland study finds that carers are twice as likely to be hit by illness and disability as the rest of the population

Carers are twice as likely to be suffering long-term illness and disability as the rest of the population, a study reveals today.

The survey, for Carers Scotland, found that 96% of unpaid carers had experienced a negative impact on their health because of their responsibilities, with more than a quarter rating their own health as poor or very poor. More than half had a long-term illness or disability, and two-thirds had experienced a range of physical problems.

The report, Sick, Tired, and Caring (pdf), which is published today, comes amid continuing publicity over the role of carers prompted by the case of Riven Vincent, who asked social services to take her severely disabled daughter Celyn into care because she could no longer cope with the demands of looking after her child.

Carers Scotland said the study had shown the human cost that caring can place upon individuals and is calling for a range of services to be made available to carers, including early intervention by GPs and other professionals, regular health checks, practical training and concessionary rates for sports and leisure services.

Almost half of those questioned for the study suffered from a significant illness, including diabetes, depression, or cancer. More than a third were suffering from arthritis, osteoarthritis or osteoporosis, and a third had high blood pressure. A total of 70% suffered from stress, and 34% suffered from exhaustion. Almost half reported that their conditions had started after they began caring. Of those whose condition predated their caring role, a quarter said it had worsened since they took on the extra responsibilities.

Patrick Begley, director of Carers Scotland, said health and social services relied heavily on the support provided by unpaid carers. In Scotland, there are some 660,000 carers, and Carers Scotland said the economic value of the work they do is around £7.6bn a year in Scotland, and £87bn across the UK as a whole.

“Despite this irreplaceable contribution, this study shows the real human cost that caring can place upon carers – stress, poor health and long-term illness and disability,” said Begley.

“Information and support provided at an early stage is critical. This is often overlooked as carers do not have the time or backup to look after their own needs. This cannot be good for the carer and risks a breakdown of care, with the subsequent need for intervention by health and social care.”

Fiona Thomson, 41, from Irvine in Ayrshire, is the sole carer for her 17-year-old son, Dean, who has ADHD and autism.

“I’ve had major stress. I also suffer from depression and anxiety because of my caring role,” she said. “My health has deteriorated over the years and, unfortunately, they now think I may have lupus as well, which could be to do with the stress of caring for Dean.”

Thomson used to get nine hours of respite care a month, but that was recently cut to six hours after Care Partners, the local charity that has supported her, had their funding cut by North Ayrshire council. Thomson is now spearheading a protest group against further cuts in public money to the charity, which could affect more than 100 families.

Anne*, 41, from central Scotland, cares on her own for her two daughters, aged 20 and 16, who have severe learning difficulties and require 24-hour care. Stress and exhaustion brought her almost to breaking point last year.

“It was at the point where if I didn’t get more help, then something serious was going to happen. It was a really serious cry for help.” Anne’s respite care was increased from the three nights a month she was receiving. Now carers come every week from Friday to Sunday.

“I would say I’m feeling a bit better,” she said. “It has given me a chance to think and focus on different aspects of the girls’ lives now.”

• * Not her real name