As an independent voice for the people of Essex, Healthwatch Essex collects the views and lived experiences of people across the county. This information is used to inform recommendations to help improve, design and support the delivery of local health and social care services. Their far-reaching Carers Voice project, delivered in collaboration with Essex County Council, has accessed and listened to hundreds of carers.
Yvette Wetton, Carer Engagement Co-ordinator for Healthwatch Essex, reveals how she and her colleagues spent the past 18 months speaking to carers in all sorts of places…
We met carers at meetings and events, in groups and on a one-to-one basis. We listened to people caring for friends or family members and who had a wide variety of reasons for needing help and support.
Last June, we published our Carers said report which summarised what carers told us about their experiences of finding information, advice and support. This was in response to the Department of Health’s call for evidence to inform the development of a new strategy for carers.
Carers can be a hard to reach group, so we have done well to speak to as many as we have, but with there being an estimated 146,000 carers in Essex we were never going to catch up with all of them.
We found that some groups of carers are harder to reach than others. One such group are working carers – and there are a lot of them! In fact, national statistics show that one in eight working people also have a caring role.
To take our project a step further, we wanted to focus on individuals who also hold down a job in addition to their caring role. So we got in touch with Sainsbury’s, a large local employer, to ask whether we could speak to some of the people working in their Essex stores who are carers – and we were delighted when they said yes!
We arranged to make a film with a group of colleagues from the Sainsbury’s Stanway store in Colchester. We were interested in hearing about their lived experiences and how work impacted on their caring roles. We wanted to understand how they were supported in achieving a work/care life balance or if other obligations got in the way.
More than perhaps in any other group of carers, the issue of carer identification was absent – none of the people we spoke to identified themselves as anything other than a daughter, grand-daughter or wife.
What we know is that carer identification is good for everyone. It's good for the carer to have recognition and it’s good for the person with care needs.
We believe carer recognition and support are part of the solution to the pressures our wider health and social care systems are under.
And it’s good for employers too. In the current economic climate it is an important time for employers to retain workers rather than recruiting and retraining new staff. So it makes sense for them to look after their skilled and experienced employees.
This is a very emotional film, but it’s not a film about feeling sorry for carers. It’s a film about the fact that carers are everywhere; a film about the hidden everyday lives of people that we all come across on a daily basis.