"‘If only I knew then, what I know now.’ This is something I often hear from carers, and indeed, it reflects my own experience of caring," confesses Heléna Herklots, Chief Executive of Carers UK, as this year's Carers Rights Day gets underway across the country.
Many of us come to the realisation that we are carers some years into our caring experiences. That’s why we hold Carers Rights Day every year to spread awareness and understanding of caring, help more people identify as carers and promote the legal rights that come with this most important of roles.
This year we are publishing research which shows that 9 in 10 carers said that they missed out on financial or practical support (or both) because they did not identify as a carer. This must change and each and every one of us can make a difference.
Even when caring responsibilities come suddenly – after a loved one has a stroke for example – it can still take time to understand that as well as being a daughter, parent, son, partner, friend – you have also become a carer. But why is it important to come to this understanding? It’s because it can be the first vital step to getting support, and combating the isolation that many carers experience.
When you realise that you are a carer, then the previously hidden world (to you) of carer support and services can open up.
It might be that you have had to give up work or drastically reduce your hours to care and you discover you’re entitled to Carer’s Allowance…
...or maybe, for the first time in your life, you get in touch with the local authority for a Carer’s assessment, and the support you didn’t know was there is now available…
…or perhaps this newfound recognition gives you the confidence to talk to your employer about flexible working arrangements, or connect with others on Carers UK’s online forum, and you no longer feel so alone.
So, although I hope you will spread the work in your own organisation and join in on Carers Rights Day, you can also make a difference by taking action as an individual. If everyone reading this helped just one person to realise they are a carer, and signposted them to the resources available, it would change people’s lives.
Please join us in spreading the word this Carers Rights Day so that more carers get the information and support earlier in their caring journey, and fewer of us end up looking back wishing we’d known more when we started out.