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COVID and Carers: The implications of a global pandemic on unpaid carers

August 11th, 2020

Categories: Blog

March has quickly rolled into August, and still the topic that’s on everyone’s minds: coronavirus. It’s been an eye-opening journey for our essential and non-essential industries, our livelihoods, our day-to-day routines, our education, our mental health. We’ve picked up new hobbies, learned new skills and found inventive ways to pass the time.

We’ve also considered cogs in the machine in a way that we never would have previously, like what happens to our country’s 2.8 million (and counting) unpaid carers, who now face increased caregiving responsibilities and decreased access to support.

A Carers UK report from Scotland recently found that more than 227,000 individuals who have started caring since the outbreak are also juggling paid work alongside their caring responsibilities. This highlights a desperate need amidst COVID-19 for a) increased support for informal carers, and b) greater financial assistance for informal carers to access respite and paid care alternatives.

On top of intensified care loads due to being at home more often, carers and Young Carers are facing reduced opportunities for respite that’s often provided through work, school, social activities or extracurriculars. “My caring role has increased because I don’t have school to go to or going to hang out with friends,” says 15-year-old Young Carer, Cassie.

Carers Trust recently conducted a survey of Young Carers aged 12 to 25 in the UK, to determine how they have been impacted by COVID-19. Their findings represent some of the only insights into how Young Carers around the world have been impacted by the pandemic and show significant increases in the amount of time spent providing care. The survey also suggests increased stress levels and a steep decline in the mental health of Young Carers.

Most significantly:

  • 67% of Young Carers aged 12-17 surveyed are more worried about the future since COVID-19
  • 66% of Young Carers aged 12-17 feel more stressed
  • 59% of Young Carers aged 18-25 say their mental health is worse
  • 52% of Young Carers aged 18-25 feel overwhelmed by the pressures they are facing now

Amongst the new and unique challenges that the pandemic has created for Young Carers is the introduction of remote learning. Prior to the pandemic, Young Carers were, on average, up to 1.2 years behind NAPLAN testing scores (Warren & Edwards, 2016) and typically less emotionally engaged in their schooling due to factors such as external stresses, lack of support and mental ill-health.

With remote learning amidst the pandemic, increased distractions in the household and reduced face-to-face support, Young Carers will fall further behind in their studies. Yet this is a statistic that can only be ascertained long after the pandemic has subsided.

Carers NSW, in collaboration with the Network of Carers Associations across Australia, also recently conducted research into the impact of the pandemic on carers. The findings similarly expressed that carers are being significantly challenged by an increase in hours spent providing care and a decrease in external support.

What the survey found was that existing inequalities for Young Carers and their families, such as technology access, economic status and education have been exacerbated in the face of COVID-19. While the sudden shift to digital and virtual solutions has been a blessing for lots of families, those with limited access to computers or internet are suddenly having to navigate the unknown space of online medical appointments, therapy and support, leaving them further behind than ever.

Whilst these findings paint a rather dismal picture of the impact of COVID on carers, we’ve also seen large scale connection and community at a time of social-distancing and physical lockdowns.

Some of the Young Carers we checked in with expressed their gratitude towards spending more quality time with the loved ones they care for. Some feel as those they’ve connected more with their family, others as though the quality time has only served to remind them of why they do what they do.

Our shift to online support programs has rallied our volunteers, Young Carers, families and partner organisations, keen to partake in efforts to promote positivity and collectiveness at this time. We’ve realised the reach of our programs when we don’t require them to be delivered face-to-face, and we’ve created solutions that would’ve otherwise seen hesitation and resistance on all fronts if it weren’t for the unique circumstances we find ourselves in.

In any sense, we’re so proud of the work of unpaid carers and want to ensure that this does not go unnoticed or unsupported, especially during this time.

If you are in need of support, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.

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