Lesley’s Story

WHY THE ‘ECONOMICALLY INACTIVE” WON’T TAKE A JOB AS A CARER.

My name is Lesley. I am between 16-64. And I confess I have been “economically inactive”.  I am one of the 8 million people that Priti Patel has highlighted as being among “plenty of people in the UK who businesses should be looking to upskill and train.”

The trouble is I don’t have time to get a job as, say, a carer in the social care sector because I’m already a carer to my Mum and Dad. My Dad was diagnosed with dementia 17 years ago and my Mum had to stop being his full-time carer in 2013 because she diagnosed with cancer followed by chronic arthritis and a stroke. I do virtually everything for them bar actually living in the same house: shopping, form-filling, hospital trips, doctors appointments, outings, holidays.

I also run a charity called Friendly Faces of Kent for people facing loneliness and isolation. A huge number of our group are equally “economically inactive” because they have mental health conditions which come from being isolated – often stemming from the loneliness of being a carer. It’s common to find that people are abandoned by friends and other family over they years when they are a fullltime carer. They don’t go out, they don’t do anything, they have nothing to talk about apart from their caring role.

Then there are the people they care for  – also “economically inactive” – who have all kinds of physical conditions from Parkinsons, MS, diabetes, fibromyalgia, the list is endless really. Often the carers have significant health issues themselves that are rarely addressed because caring for someone is a full-time, full-on 24/7 job. Unpaid. I know people who are postponing their own operations so that that they can soldier on in their carer role. That’s surprisingly common.

I think “economically inactive” is terrible term to use towards carers, especially when they are saving the government an estimated £132 billion according to Carers UK. They reckon that is the amount carers in kind contribute to the treasury because carers have abandoned jobs, income and often their own needs to look after someone in the family or a friend. Otherwise that responsibility would fall to social care (in crisis) or the NHS (under huge pressure) to do the job instead. The whole system would topple.

Do not get me wrong. I love my Mum and Dad. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I want to spend as much time with them as possible in the years that remain to us together. I love Friendly Faces. I love the Stepping Out walks we take with carers and the people they support as a wonderful break. But caring generally is hard work and tough going. It does impact on my life.

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I’m five years down the line since the break up of my marriage and I can now recognise the toll it took on us. Rather than go out to work and earn a proper wage I decided to go part time and look after Mum and Dad instead. My husband was working doubly hard and I wasn’t really contributing very much. Believe it or not, I worked out that in 22 years I’d been out twice with my husband without my Mum and Dad. Every holiday we went on, we took them aswell.

When it was all over I realised that actually we should have made time for us as a couple too. We never really did that. It definitely contributed to the break up. This happens regularly with carers. You give it your all. You do that because you love the person you care for or you feel a profound responsibility and there’s no-one else to do it. You don’t always realise what’s happening around you. How you can lose touch with the real world.

And we should give credit, perhaps, to those who work when they can. Barry, my new partner, was a full-time carer to his wife earning £60 a week in carers’ allowance for 8 years. When she died, he did, in fact, return to work.

I can honestly say that I’ve never been more “active” in my life. It never bloody stops. So forgive me for not accepting a job as a professional carer. I’m doing the job as an “amateur” already.

Find FRIENDLY FACES OF KENT on FACEBOOK

TWITTER @FFOKent

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