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Blog: The cost of caring by Donald MacAskill, Scottish Care

06 June 2022

DonaldDonald MacAskill, Chief Executive of Scottish Care features in this blog about caring for Carers Week 2022

As we celebrate Carers week I hope there will be a great deal of appreciation extended to those who are informal carers for all the amazing work that they do and there might even be a grudging political recognition that they are invaluable and irreplaceable in the economy of care support which underpins the functioning of our society. But at what cost do they care?

Family and informal carers do not have the option of not turning up for work, of taking extended leave, their occupation of the role of carer is constant and continuous. Theirs is a professionalism which declares compassion and presence to anyone who watches. Individual and family reliance upon them is incalculable- but at what cost?

In a recent conversation with someone who spends herself 24/7 in caring for her husband I was reminded of the psychological, emotional and physical cost of care suppprt. This was a woman who was worn out to her bones, exhaustion meant that she in her own words had become ‘an automaton’, unconsciously and deliberately putting one foot and hand in front of the other in the tasks of care and support for her increasingly frail and confused husband. The cost to her was enormous. This woman who months before had an air of hope and passion about her had had her energy winnowed away until she had become but a shadow of her former self. She spoke to me about how she knew she had changed and how tiredness rarely left her side. She spoke about how she missed the dementia day centre which was no longer open but which had been an oasis of respite in the midst of her routine. She spoke about the emptiness of being constantly drained, her desperation for conversation and escape, for distraction from the mundane. But over all this what I saw and what I heard was a love and commitment that did not need to be verbalised but which shone from tired eye and weary sigh. She could do no other than care, the price of love for her was the emptying of herself in the compassion of caring for her husband.

In the end of the day we have all of us to be held accountable for the extent to which we are and will be present for all carers. Do we take them for granted assured by the awareness that they will always be there- dependable even if drained? Because if we do the shame of limiting of our action should embarrass us all. We should be embarrassed that the hidden thousands enable us to go about our daily business.

As we think of the amazing sacrificial gifting of care which informal or unpaid carers demonstrate to society we should be motivated to do more; to speak for those too busy to talk because they are present for another; too tired to campaign and demand change because they are without any ounce of energy.

This Carers Week let us think of the true cost of care, calculated not in pounds and pence, but in the burnout lives of thousands. Let us use this time to demand real resources, a changed political priority which goes beyond saccharine soundbites, and a society which transforms its value for and of informal care.

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