Financial woes of Norfolk’s carers revealed
The region's carers are worth billions of pounds to our economy but are given so little financial support that they are left struggling to make ends meet.
The extent of the country's dependence on carers is revealed in new figures ahead of National Carers Week which starts on Monday.
The economic value of the contribution made by the UK's carers is a remarkable �119bn per year, according to a new report – considerably more than the annual cost of all aspects of the NHS, which was �98.8bn for 2009-10.
In Norfolk alone the value of carers' unpaid contributions is estimated at a staggering �1.6bn a year, while it is put at �1.3bn for Suffolk and �955m for Cambridgeshire.
And even if carers are lucky enough to qualify for the main carers' benefit – carer's allowance – this is just �55.55 for a minimum of 35 hours of caring each week – equivalent to �1.59 per hour.
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Gal Travis, from the Carers Council for Norfolk, said: 'It is so important to give carers the support and recognition they deserve.
'If the carer goes into crisis then the cared-for still need to be looked after and it increases pressure on health and social services.'
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Gordon Conochie, policy and parliamentary officer for carers' charity Crossroads which has branches in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, said the government was actively being lobbied to improve support for carers.
He said: 'One in five carers has to give up work and it has a significant impact on their life immediately.
'A lot of the time it is people aged between 40 and 60, people who are in the prime of their careers and when their earning potential is at its highest and they are trying to save for their retirement.
'Their lives, and their future, change drastically if they give up work and the carer's allowance is the lowest benefit of its kind.
'It is not only just about lost income, because usually costs increase as well; for example making changes to the layout of a home or having to use the car more often. It all adds up.'
Paul Corder, who lives in Hellesdon, Norwich, was forced to give up his work to care for his wife Tina and in the early days they nearly lost their family home.
He said: 'Sometimes it was a decision of do we buy Tina's medication or do we buy food?'
The role of caring can also be especially hard for some of the region's young carers. In Norfolk the youngest carer known to the county council is just four.
The theme of National Carers' Week is 'The True Face of Carers' which aims to show that carers do not fit a pre-conceived stereotype and that many carers may not even recognise themselves as such.
John Newstead, of the Norfolk Carers Agency Partnership which represents all of the organisations working on behalf of carers, said: 'There are an awful lot of people doing a carer's role who don't regard themselves as carers.
'We want to reach those people so we can help them access support.'