From mothers giving up their careers to provide childcare for little ones, to female employees being forced to work even longer before they can retire, there are so many different ways the cost of living crisis is disproportionately impacting women.
But there’s another huge plight facing women across the country – one that, without awareness and more funding, will continue to get bigger and even more devastating.
Recent ONS data shows that one in 10 women in the UK now have unpaid caring responsibilities. It’s also an issue that is undeniably affecting more women than men.
According to the 2021 census, of the five million people providing unpaid care in England and Wales, three million are women.
Likewise, previous research published by Carers UK shows that every single day, 300 women give up work to care for a loved one who is older, disabled or seriously ill.
And the cost of being an unpaid carer is high – not only as a financial toll, with some forced to reduce their working hours, but as an emotional one, too.
‘There’s that phrase “no good deed goes unpunished” and I feel like that is the life of an unpaid carer,’ Lydia Gill*, from Faversham, Kent, tells Metro.co.uk.
The 44-year-old lives with her husband and two children, aged eight and six, but cares for her grandfather, who has Alzheimer’s, because her father and aunt don’t live in the UK.
Lydia’s grandfather is still in his own home, in Surrey, and is pretty mobile – so has a care team to manage day-to-day tasks, like checking he eats and giving him medicine, while the 44-year-old manages absolutely everything else.
The mum-of-two, who works full-time as a researcher, says: ‘It is just a constant to-do list. And, honestly, an exception comes up every single day – whether it’s calling the pharmacy, or arranging patient transport for an appointment, or HSBC saying he’s given his bank details out to someone who has set up a fraudulent direct debit, or calling a neighbour because the battery on something has gone.
‘That’s the bit that’s really thrown me, just by how time-consuming it is – all of the management.’
But Lydia stresses the emotional energy has a huge impact, too.
She continues: ‘Dementia is a particularly cruel illness as my grandfather actively resents, as he calls it, the “interference that we do” – but it’s all for him as his state of preference is to stay in his home.
‘In trying to honour his wishes, I’ve made myself the villain of the piece. It’s very hard, emotionally, to work this hard for somebody, who – because of the nature of his illness – isn’t even grateful.’
Lydia says she’s worried for the future too – in terms of finding the time to care for her grandfather and with eye-watering care home costs.
She explains: ‘I can’t go part-time. I’m – for various reasons – quite stretched. I have two children, so if there was any possibility to go part-time already I would have done it – but I can’t. That’s just our financial set-up.
‘My only option is to find more hours in the day, not to find less paid work to make room for this. I have to do it around the edges: I do it in the evenings and at weekends – there is no other version of events, rather than taking days of holiday (which I do often have to take). I have to take leave to cover these eventualities. A few times he’s found himself in hospital and I’ve had to take leave for that.’
The average prince of a residential home is £600 per week, according to the NHS, while for a nursing home its £800. But of course, you have to find somewhere with a space.
After recently researching care home costs, Lydia says she was shocked to see that those available with the lowest quality ratings still came in at around £1,000 per week.
She adds: ‘He does have more assets which will get his care paid for, but on the basis of £1,000 per week, you don’t have to be a maths genius to work out that you won’t be staying very long in any care home – and that is terrifying for me.
‘I don’t actually fully understand what will happen when that money runs out, I really don’t.’
I don’t have any time for myself at all
This is something very much echoed by Rose Edwards*, a 64-year-old full-time teacher from North London. She’s cared for her father, Robert, 98, for the past 10 years.
Robert, who has Alzheimer’s, still lives in his own home – but Rose goes round every day, alongside a care agency, to offer additional support.
She says: ‘I work full-time as a teacher – that in itself is a 10-hour day – then I’m over for three hours in the evening. My dad only gets five and half hours of social services a week, as we were turned down for a Continuing Healthcare Plan – even though he’s now terminally ill (with bladder cancer).
‘I don’t have any time for myself at all, I’m on 14 hours a day and do weekends as well. I do all the paperwork, troubleshooting of the house, shopping, bills, as well as a lot of his care.
‘Though he gets a Carer’s Allowance, it doesn’t even cover half of it, really.
‘I’m using my savings to support the care he’s not getting, even though he’s on pension credit.
‘There’s nowhere near enough support for carers. It’s basically assumed that anyone who is willing to care for their parents will provide the care, because not enough is given.’
Nicola James*, from London, also agrees there’s not enough support for carers.
The 55-year-old, who is head of media for a law firm, describes the life of an unpaid carer as ‘constantly fire-fighting.’
‘You just don’t get a respite from it, the time-poor element and stress builds,’ she says.
Her elderly father started physically deteriorating 18 months ago, following the death of his wife, and was taken to hospital a couple of times after a few falls at home.
You’re stretched everywhere. You’re trying to hold your job down and you don’t want to tell your employer
Nicola and her sister then had to juggle caring for their father until they could find a care home for him – this meant travelling every week from London to Bournemouth to be with him.
Nicola says: ‘It’s just heartbreaking and you’re torn. You’re stretched everywhere. You’re trying to hold your job down and you don’t want to tell your employer. Luckily, I’m close to my sister so we help each other – but you’ve just got this emotional and practical chaos where you don’t know what to do.
‘You’re just ripped in half – trying to hold your job down and trying to work out how the hell you’re going to afford it all.’
Nicola still has her father’s home in Bournemouth, which is now running up bills. But stresses she’s struggling to come to terms with the idea of selling it.
She adds: ‘We’ve got this property that’s sitting empty and you have these bills that you’re bankrolling between you.
‘The thing that keeps a lot of people in care homes going is the belief they are going home, but you can’t sell their house – as you can’t sell the house without telling them.
‘You don’t know how long your parents are going to need paid care for – that’s scary as you’re running up bills, and you don’t really know how long it’s going to go on for.
‘There are calls on you to work out finances when you’re going through really difficult emotions, that’s why I say to people just prepare early. It made me cry it’s so hard.’
Lydia, Rose and Nicola are not alone.
Their stories, along with thousands of others, highlight the cost of living crisis disproportionately affecting women in the UK – as the majority of unpaid caring responsibilities fall to them.
And it’s an issue that is simply not sustainable.
‘We’re now at the tipping point of a caregiving crisis in the UK, with more people than ever before providing unpaid care for a loved one, while juggling work and family commitments, as well as the increased cost of living,’ explains Chris Donnelly, the co-founder at Seniorcare By Lottie, an eldercare employee benefit solution.
‘The Government urgently needs to recognise the unpaid care crisis that’s unravelling: all unpaid carers – whether they’re in employment or not – need financial, wellbeing and practical support. It isn’t enough to recognise the crisis; we need clear guidelines on the support available.
‘We need to urgently raise awareness of the pressures facing the UK workforce who are taking on caregiving responsibilities each day.’
But what would this look like?
Carers UK is calling on the Government to inject more, sustainable funding into our social care system – so that carers, and the people they look after, are better supported.
Helen Walker, the chief executive at Carers UK, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘Carer’s Allowance (just £69.70 a week for someone providing 35 hours or more of care), also needs to be raised so that women who are caring do not find themselves falling into poverty and putting their lives on hold.
‘The Carer’s Leave Bill is currently progressing through the House of Lords which, if successful, would see employees across Great Britain get a landmark new right to take up to one week of unpaid Carer’s Leave.
‘This will be a critical step forward in helping working women manage the pressures of juggling these two roles.’
*Some surnames have been changed.
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