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To celebrate Carers Week, we spoke to a few of the unpaid carers to learn more about the important work they do


By Virgin Media

All over the country, people are putting their lives and careers on hold to care for relatives and loved ones – over 2 million people take on caring responsibilities in the UK each year.

 

Virgin Media has teamed up with Carers UK to raise awareness on the number of unpaid carers there are and the important work that they do. That’s why during this Carers Week (7-13 June) we did all we could to Make Caring Visible and Valued – working with carers to recognise their vital contribution, learning more about what this type of work involves and how it impacts their lives, and helping them stay connected. We also want to help people identify themselves as carers and access the support, advice and information they need.

 

Carers span all age groups and the unpaid work they do is incredibly diverse, from looking after a disabled child to being responsible for a sick spouse or a frail parent – or supporting a family member suffering with their mental health. While many don’t see it as a job, caring work is vital and saves the economy £132 billion a year. Find out a bit more by watching the video below, and scroll down to learn about some of the carers who feature in it.

 

 

Meet Tu’shea

Tu’shea, 22, cares for his mother who struggles with both her mental and physical health

 

How long have you been caring for your mum?

Ten years.

 

What do you have to do on an average day?

Every day is different. You wake up not knowing what the day will bring, which makes it difficult to plan for anything. My nephew lives with us and I help get him ready for school. Then I’ll do everyday household tasks, such as the cooking and cleaning, washing and walking the dogs. Anything mum isn’t feeling up to, basically. While she is physically mobile and can go out, she has extreme agoraphobia and she’s quite disconnected from the world. Some days she physically can’t get out of bed or get in the shower, so I sometimes have to help her with that.

 

What do you find toughest?

It’s hard that I can’t do normal things with my mum, like going out to eat, or socialising with other people’s families. Also, some people just don’t understand. When I’m out with friends, once I bring up the fact that I’m a carer, it changes the whole mood. So I try not to talk about it too much with close friends.

 

What about the most rewarding?

Definitely getting to spend time with my mum, even though it’s not always doing things I’d love to do. People feel like they miss out on spending time with their parents, so I really appreciate this time I have with her.

 

How do you look after yourself in your downtime?

I work full-time as well as caring, so I like to stay away from screens when I’m at home. Between 9 and 10pm, I give myself time to think, relax and listen to music, or go for long walks with the dog. It’s so important to take that step back, I realised. Before that, I gave too much to my caring duties, I was deteriorating and realised I’m not able to provide the best care for mum unless I looked after myself as well.

 

It’s Carers Week this week. As a carer, what would you like people to know?

I’d like people to know there’s support out there, I went through ten years of not realising this. As caring isn’t a common subject, there tends to be a lot of invisible carers in our society – some care for years and years by themselves. But there are people out there to help you. Especially when you’re a young carer who might have been pushed into an adult lifestyle from an early age. It can feel like it’s sink or swim, but it doesn’t have to be.

 

Meet Hibak

Hibak, 25, cares for her little sister who suffered from a pre-natal stroke

 

How long have you been caring for your sister?

All her life, since I was in secondary school. (She’s ten now.) It’s just me, my mum and my sister at home. My other siblings have their own lives and their own families.

 

What do you have to do on an average day?

Usually, I wake up at around 6am. Trying to get my sister to wake up is such a hassle – she hates it! We can’t brush her teeth straight away, she needs time to adjust, so we give her breakfast, put her on the potty and then finally brush her teeth. She goes out for a walk, we give her a snack and then she would play inside ­– we have a lot of sensory toys for her to play with. She would have her lunch – a puréed meal, and afterwards we would go out feed the birds and then come back for another snack, get her ready for her shower and have dinner.

 

What do you find toughest?

It was really hard talking to my friends about it. When she was first diagnosed, I would get a lot of questions from my peers. “Why isn’t she walking? Why isn’t she crawling?” I feel like I didn’t relate to anyone at secondary school, they had a lot of freedom while I had a lot of responsibility – I was busy at home, caring for her. It’s made me grow up so quickly. Lockdown was especially tough. We had to shield, as she was extremely vulnerable, so when everyone came out of lockdown, we had to stay in for another four weeks.

 

What about the most rewarding?

Seeing my sister hit her goals. Her class teacher and I would have a meeting about what she should be achieving – recently he said she’s been exploring nature a lot, which is unusual for her, as before she only ever loved music.

 

How do you look after yourself in your downtime?

It’s very hard to have a break, the local authorities don’t support us that well I would say. I recently requested a certain amount of hours to get some help at home – they could only offer half hour slots. It takes its toll when you don’t have much help; I was diagnosed in my early 20s with a slipped disc – which is unheard of in someone my age ­– because of all the lifting and helping my sister around. The only time I can truly relax is when she’s asleep, in that time I either take a hot shower or I scroll on social media and see what I’ve missed! 

 

It’s Carers Week this week. As a carer, what would like people to know?

People don’t necessarily think about the sibling carers, they just see the parents. It makes me upset how siblings aren’t really acknowledged.

 

For a lot of siblings that care for their disabled brother or sister, their goals have to be on pause. I was so disheartened to find out the statistics of secondary school leavers who are carers – their GCSEs are lower than average. Now I’m older I tend to have a bit more balance, you just need to find the right time. It doesn’t matter that you have to put your goals on hold for a while. I’ve managed to graduate and am on a ladder to my dream job as a Special Educational Needs Support Coordinator (SENCO) leader. A lot of at-home carers go into care work – my sister really inspired me to help others in a similar situation.

 

Meet Billie

Billie, in his 60s, has been caring for his wife after she sustained a leg injury

 

How long have you been caring for your wife?

The best part of 30 years. My wife sustained her injuries while she was in the military ­– she was injured on an exercise and required surgery to her leg. She was medically discharged and her condition has progressively deteriorated over the years. Once a week she takes morphine tablets which can really take it out of her.

 

What do you have to do on an average day?

I cook all the meals, carry the shopping, do the driving, cleaning or washing – anything that my wife would like me to do if she needs help. There are times my wife can get up and walk around the garden, but she’s not going to be loading the car. I would be ready to help her up the stairs if she needs it. There have been times when I’ve helped her out of the bath when she’s in too much pain, even with getting her dressed, but she tries to be as independent as possible.

 

What do you find toughest?

Having patience. That’s the hardest bit at the moment, as everything about my wife’s life has slowed down: how fast she eats, washes and brushes her teeth, even getting out of a chair or getting up and down the stairs. Everything requires that extra bit of patience and understanding, which for a guy who used to be a driving instructor in the military, is tough at times! But because both of us are ex-military, we’re fairly strong-willed and that helps us cope with the situation – we’re very fortunate in that respect. It’s typical of the area where we’re from – we get on with things.

 

What about the most rewarding?

When she puts her arms around me and gives me a hug and I see that smile, those lovely eyes. You get a warm feeling when you’ve done something right. You don’t get paid for caring, but for me that’s the reward. I wouldn’t not be there – I promised to care for her in sickness and in health, so that’s what I’m doing.

 

How do you look after yourself in your downtime?

Relaxing is easy, I’m a typical ex-squaddie – I can fall asleep on a washing line! I’m writing two books at the moment, one’s a spy story and the other one is about a sea captain in Elizabethan times. I’ve even been making a film – my wife did the clapper board for each take when she was feeling up to it!  Having a creative outlet definitely keeps me sane.

 

It’s Carers Week this week. As a carer, what would you like people to know?

I would like people to know that there are loved ones out there and friends who are just simply getting on with the business of caring for people, not complaining about it and who are definitely unappreciated by the wider scope of society.

 

Meet Nat

Nat, 24, cares for her younger brother who has autism, ADHD and dyslexia

 

How long have you been caring for your brother?

Four years, he’s 17 and turning 18 this year.

 

What do you have to do on an average day?

It’s like being a single parent – I have to cook for him, make sure his hygiene is on point, sort his clothes for school and make sure he does his homework. I also liaise with his teachers and go to parents’ evenings. I’m working full-time too, so it can be a struggle.

 

What do you find toughest?

I would say a lot of physical caring is easy, it’s more the parenting side the hardest – knowing how to deal with a teenager is hard. My brother suffers some mental difficulties, and he has strong attachment styles to the people who care for him. He also has learning difficulties. He has a negative self-image and moments of self-harm (common in those with ADHD). A lot of times I would not be able to socialise with my friends. His school do try their best to support us, but it’s quite far away so a lot of the support they can provide locally we’re not able to access.

 

What about the most rewarding?

Being able to see him trying to take baby steps towards him being independent, rather than depending on others. He’s now able to take the bus to school by himself, he’s also able to cook for himself a bit more – now we have a cooking rota at home. He’s also starting to volunteer at a charity shop, these types of things are a huge step for kids with learning disabilities. I get to see him grow up which is hugely rewarding.

 

How do you look after yourself in your downtime?

I really enjoy driving through the countryside, or spending time by the sea – I go surfing and swimming if I can. If I’m not able to go outdoors, I would stay home watching movies, making illustrations and artwork. I also like cooking nice meals that I really enjoy.

 

It’s Carers Week this week. As a carer, what would like people to know?

The responsibility of caring is a lot more than just the physical aspects. When people hear “disability” they assume it’s a physical disability. When caring for children with learning disabilities you get odd looks a lot of the time. Because it’s not visual, it’s not that obvious. I hope that we get more representation, that people are more understanding. There needs to be more support in workplaces for people who are caring for someone – when you’re an employee you don’t think you’re in a position to speak up and request flexible working hours.

 

Virgin Media & Carers UK

Find out how we’re teaming up with Carers UK to help build meaningful connections to help make life better for 1 million carers by the end of 2025.

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