Many of Scotland's million-plus carers are living in poverty and struggling with their own health problems – Dr Gwenetta Curry

Covid had a major impact on the social care sector and now the current economic crisis is exacerbating existing issues.

In Scotland, almost 400,000 additional people have become carers for older, disabled, or seriously ill relatives or friends since the pandemic hit. Before it, there were already 729,000 unpaid carers, so the total is now over a million.

According to the Office for National Statistics, between 2016 and 2021, the percentage of adults receiving long-term support who were from Black ethnic groups went up from 3.8 to 4.5 per cent and Asian ethnic groups went up from 4.4 to 5.1 per cent. Women make up 61 per cent of carers compared to 39 per cent of male carers for relatives who are older, disabled, or living with a physical or mental illness.

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Survey results indicate that women with caring duties are having to forgo promotion or leave work altogether. In the same survey, men reported feeling less supported at work with their childcare duties than women. These unpaid carers are having to balance their paid work and their everyday living costs. The increasing price of food, gas and electricity is causing great levels of stress for those receiving and providing care services.

In April, the cost of living increased yet again across the UK and struggling families are having to make hard decisions about how to spend their already limited funds. For those providing care labor, these negotiations can be a matter of life and death. Everything from transportation to and from doctor’s appointments and weather warm enough to keep the heating off makes a difference.

Food prices have skyrocketed to unreasonable levels with the cost of a balanced meal for a family now twice as high as last year. At the end of 2022, staple foods such as bread and cereals saw the largest price increases, contributing to an increase of 16.6 per cent over the year. Caring comes with additional costs that can have a significant impact on the carer’s finances, causing many to suffer from financial hardships. Forty-four per cent of working-age adults who are caring for 35 hours or more a week are in poverty. These hardships have a lasting impact on the individual carers as well as the communities they serve.

Social care workers experience high levels of stress, and the cost-of-living crisis exacerbates those conditions. Surveys from the British Association of Social Workers and Community Care found workloads had increased, working conditions deteriorated, and stress levels escalated. While experiencing stress is a common occurrence, exposure to high levels of it for an extended period can have detrimental effects on overall health outcomes.

Research has shown that chronic stress is known to produce metabolic changes that can affect cholesterol levels, obesity, and an increased risk of coronary heart disease. According to Carers UK, caring can have a significant impact on health and well-being, with 60 per cent of carers reporting a long-term health condition or disability. Although we have moved to an era of living with Covid, we must continue providing adequate support for those in the social care sector who should remain a priority during the current economic crisis.

Dr Gwenetta Curry is an Edinburgh University lecturer on race, ethnicity and health



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