The number of people in Scotland caring for others increased rapidly after lockdown was announced as day centres and other services were cancelled.
Carers Scotland estimated that by June an additional 400,000 people were caring for older, disabled or seriously ill family members or friends, bringing the total number of carers in Scotland to 1.1 million.
10 months on, lockdown continues to take a toll on this often “forgotten” sector of society.
The Scottish Government announced £750,000 in additional funding for local carer centres on Monday, aimed at allowing unpaid carers to take a break.
“The pandemic pandemic has left an already vulnerable section of our community confused, anxious, lonely, and isolated, and at times worried and scared,” said John MacMillan, Chief Executive of the Eric Liddell Centre in Edinburgh, which before lockdown operated as a community hub, and during the pandemic has worked to support carers with online sessions offering respite and socialising.
“Initially it was about providing some “me time” for carers in the most basic ways. It could be getting involved in an activity, discussion group… we’ve been offering mindfulness, yoga, Tai Chi, even dancing over Zoom,” he said.
"The pandemic has just multiplied the challenges faced by carers,” he added. “It can be isolating and stressful, and sometimes it can be never ending [...] when you think of people who are living in challenging circumstances, these people are always the last to be counted, last to be recognised, last to be able to ask for help.”
Heather Anderton cares for four children at home with additional needs.
“I’m a single mum, I have five children, four living at home, and three of them have disabilities and one has mental health problems. When we first went into lockdown it was just me and my four kids at home, and it was really hard, and it still is,” she said.
“Honestly, there were a few times that I dropped down crying, because you are isolated, especially when you’re a carer. You have nowhere else to go.
“When you’re looking after children with any kind of additional needs it’s hard enough. I’m a single parent, I don’t have any other family who can help me so I’m doing it all on my own.
“My own mental health has not been that great, you have good days and sometimes you have bad days, and there’s nowhere to go.
“Every carer’s situation is different and every child is different, but for me it’s been really tough so far.”
“Very often carers are not getting the support they need, because all of the support services have broken away,” said Sebastian Fischer, Chief Executive of VOCAL, Voice of Carers Across the Lothians.
“One of the key aspects that we try and mitigate with carers is the sense of growing isolation. The more intensive the caring role is, the more people lose work and social networks, because they spend more and more time in the home.”