Tender loving care
Ahead of carers wellbeing day, we talk to unpaid carer Katie about caring for her mother, the impact of the cost-of-living crisis and the support she received from Islington Carers Hub
Many people don’t think of themselves as an unpaid carer. They see themselves simply as a partner, family member or friend looking after someone they love. And those who do often don’t realise that support is out there, from places like Islington Carers Hub.
Katie became the main carer for her mother about five years ago, when her mum became weak and frail following an illness. Katie works part-time on a zero-hours contract as a mobile repair technician for upholstery and furniture, on behalf of big retailers. Working, together with caring for her mum and other family commitments, takes up most of her time. “I do cooking, shopping, the washing, changing beds and admin for my mum. I am always back and forth,” she explains. “I take her out to the park and walk with her, which we enjoy – there are fantastic views and a cafe. I have periods where I am run down, but every now and again my children help give mum a boost.”
While challenging at times, Katie sees the positive side of being a carer. “People of the older generation are so precious and can bring great joy,” she says. “They hold all the history.” However, she finds little time for herself on top of all her other responsibilities. Which is where Islington Carers Hub comes in.
Islington Carers Hub provides financial, practical and emotional support for unpaid carers looking after someone who is 18-plus, who can’t cope without their support. “When I first registered as an unpaid carer with Islington Carers Hub three years ago, I went through a carers assessment. This included questions about how caring affects me and my life,” she explains. “Following that, I was awarded a carers direct payment of £10 per week which I can use to spend on me. It’s not much, but enough to get a coffee out and a break in the day.”
Often unpaid carers are in a catch-22 situation. “If they increase their working hours, they are worried about the cost of bringing in paid carers and potentially losing their carers allowance,” explains Islington Carers Hub team lead Torpekai Boukens. “Another common scenario is where people are unsure if they should claim carers allowance because of the possible impact on other benefits – their own, or the benefits of the person that they’re caring for. We can provide guidance on these types of issues, and then help the carer to access further support from specialists where needed. We can also help with applications to get a break from caring and for carers on low incomes, help them to manage their energy costs.”
The Hub helped Katie claim back money from her energy company, for example, to which she’d been unknowingly making overpayments. “With the prices of everything going up, I have been worried about my energy bills. Islington Carers Hub helped me realise that I was paying more for energy than the amount that I was using,” says Katie. “I was also concerned about my mum, who has ended up falling behind with paying for her energy bills. We now have a plan to sort this out.”
And it’s not just financial support the Hub helps with. “I find the monthly e-newsletter helpful. It’s like reading a magazine exclusively for you! I have a lovely call from the Hub to see how I’m getting on every now and then, too,” says Katie. “Recently I had my annual carer’s review There were lots of things that were coming up and I’d let some things slip, such as renewing my mum’s disabled badge. It was also useful to find out about things I was missing out on, like pension credit. I found it invaluable.”
Because Katie is on a zero-hours contract, she is eligible for carers allowance, which staff at the hub helped her apply for. “I also didn’t know that my mum should be able to get attendance allowance. They helped bring everything up to date.”
If you care for a relative, friend or neighbour the council’s team of benefits advisors can help you find out if you are missing out on extra money, such as carers allowance. Call 020 7527 8222, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Government website for more information.
You are also invited to come along to Age UK Islington’s free carers wellbeing day on 24 November: meet other unpaid carers, enjoy a free lunch and take some time out to be pampered!