Paul Edie: We must raise awareness of the efforts of unpaid carers

Today marks the start of Carers' Week 2011. The week aims to raise awareness of the six million carers in the UK who provide unpaid support for a family member, partner, relative or friend who needs help.

There is no such thing as a typical carer – a carer can be of any age, from any walk of life, and have a range of caring responsibilities. They could be a couple raising a child with a disability, an older person who is supporting a relative with dementia, a young person whose parent has mobility difficulties, or someone who helps their friend with day-to-day tasks.

Statistics show that at least one in eight people in Scotland provide unpaid care. In Edinburgh, there are an estimated 48,000 carers. All will have different needs, but what they have in common is that their contribution is voluntary, unpaid and, too often, unrecognised. Carers' efforts are saving the public purse in Scotland around 7.6 billion – a staggering amount which is equivalent to the cost of providing the entire NHS service north of the Border.

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While for some taking on a caring role can be very rewarding, for others the experience can mean poverty, isolation, frustration and poor health. The stresses imposed can destroy the relationship between carer and the cared for. Many carers will put their own concerns to one side and fail to seek help. This is particularly true of those who fail to recognise the fact they are actually carers, for example because their partner has suddenly become ill or disabled. Indeed carer breakdown is one of the biggest reasons for avoidable admissions to care homes, so providing good quality respite care is vital to help prevent such situations.

In Edinburgh, the council and other organisations provide services and support for carers. Help is available to deal with financial issues, gain benefits advice, access counselling and other support services, or receive a much-needed break from caring. If anyone feels that they need help to continue in their caring role, I would urge them to seek out some support.

• Councillor Paul Edie is the health and social care convener for the City of Edinburgh Council