Recognised and valued

Whether you’re among those providing vital help or receiving it, caring will touch nearly everyone’s lives. Aileen Scoular finds that Freemasonry has been united in its support of carers for 25 years

Every day some 6,000 people become carers. Today there are around 6.5 million in the UK, and national membership charity Carers UK estimates that by 2037 more than nine million people will be in a caring role. 

This means providing unstinting, unpaid support for a loved one, friend or neighbour who is older, disabled or seriously ill. 

While some carers will have made a decision to provide care, for many the role will have presented itself gradually or unexpectedly, and they may struggle to balance caring with their own needs.

Of particular concern is the fact that the number of older carers is growing rapidly. ‘The Carers UK joint report with Age UK, Caring into Later Life, showed that there are now almost 1.3 million carers aged 65 and over in England and Wales – an increase of 35 per cent in 10 years,’ says Emily Holzhausen, director of policy, advice and information at Carers UK. ‘It was even more alarming to discover that the fastest-growing group of carers are those aged 85 and over.’ Around 87,000 octogenarians now care for a loved one, despite their own fragile health.

Young lives are affected, too. Carers Trust estimates that there are around 300,000 carers aged 16 to 24 in the UK, and some 13,000 of those are providing more than 50 hours of care a week, which makes it very difficult to work or go to college.

Thankfully for today’s carers, there is a network of dedicated caring charities. But the problem is that not everyone who provides care realises they are a carer, so it can be hard for such charities to reach those who most need their support. ‘People often have a picture of who a carer is and they find it hard to identify with that label,’ says Holzhausen. ‘Many carers simply don’t want to ask for help, often because they feel like it is their duty to care for their loved one.’

Help for those who help

Carers UK celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2015 and is working with a network of volunteers and local community-based organisations – including masonic lodges – to help them understand how to reach, connect with and support carers in their community in the best way. However, they need funding to reach more carers with vital advice, information and support, which is why The Freemasons’ Grand Charity’s support of the caring sector is so important.

Over the past 25 years, the Grand Charity has donated more than £1 million to charities that specifically support carers, including a £250,000 donation to Carers UK back in 1990. Baroness Jill Pitkeathley OBE headed up Carers UK at the time and she described it as ‘one of the most significant events which took place on my watch as chief executive… allowing us to expand our branch network, increase our membership and expand our profile with the media. Carers everywhere owe the Grand Charity a debt of gratitude.’

‘Many Freemasons recognise the need for care, and for some it’s a topic that is becoming more relevant to their own lives,’ says Katrina Baker, Head of Non-Masonic Grants at the Grand Charity. ‘It is reported that many carers are already living on the breadline so any welfare cuts take their financial situation to a critical level. The masonic community and our Grants Committee are passionate about supporting the caring sector.’

The Grand Charity has made sizeable donations to caring organisations in recent years. Crossroads Care, a UK-wide network of carers’ centres, received £125,000 over three years, allowing it to develop more branches. Contact a Family also benefited from £125,000 over three years, enabling it to establish a new regional structure in the north of England. Home Farm Trust (Hft), a charity for people with learning disabilities, used a £60,000 donation to fund a Carer Support Service. A conference for The Princess Royal Trust for Carers (now merged with Crossroads Care to form the Carers Trust) was made possible with a £33,000 grant, allowing best practice to be shared across 118 independent care centres. 

‘Unfortunately we receive far more applications for grants than we can support, and the number we receive is rising.’ Katrina Baker

The more you know…

Recently, the Grand Charity once again supported Carers UK with a £100,000 donation to help fund its national advice and information services, giving carers access to free guidance on the practicalities of caring, and information on their entitlements and rights. ‘It is a substantial donation for us, larger than most grants we give,’ explains Baker. ‘Unfortunately we receive far more applications for grants than we can support, and the number we receive is rising.’ 

Baker and her colleagues research the applications thoroughly, and present the Grand Charity Grants Committee with a shortlist from a broad spectrum of charitable sectors. ‘We always aim to be fair when selecting projects to support,’ she says. ‘It is also important to support causes that are of interest and relevance to the masonic community. We want them to be able to connect with the sectors and organisations we’re supporting.’

Not surprisingly, the charities that benefit from the Grand Charity’s donations are very grateful. ‘We hugely appreciate the support that has come from the Grand Charity over the past 25 years, and its current grant to help us develop our network of services,’ says Holzhausen. ‘We’re always keen to work with the masonic community, and we want them to know that our services are always there for them, too.’

Making life better

Margaret Dangoor, 75, regularly visited her mother in a Bath nursing home until her death aged 102, while also looking after her husband Eddie, who has Alzheimer’s, at home in Surrey. She explains how tough caring for loved ones can be

‘Sometimes people are so focused on the person they care for, they forget about their own well-being. Caring is a big role and it can be extremely daunting; many carers also feel very guilty. It’s not all negative, though – there can be a sense of community if you engage with the care environment. I’m a Volunteer Ambassador for Carers UK because I want to spread the word and reach those who might be caring alone. 

‘For me, it’s poignant to see the Grand Charity supporting carers’ charities. My father was a member of Raymond Thrupp Lodge in Middlesex, and Lodge of Honour in Bath when he lived there. When my father was very ill during the last months of his life, the lodge in Bath was very helpful to my mother. She had early Alzheimer’s disease, and a member of the lodge took her to visit my father every day for several weeks. 

‘She had no concept of what a commitment he was making and our family, who were all living at a distance, were extremely grateful.’

The personal impact

Being a carer affects people’s lives in many ways – not all of them predictable – as research from Carers UK reveals

Employment

According to a report by Carers UK, two million people have given up work to care. More than a third of carers have also used up their holiday leave to provide care.

Relationships

Caring can profoundly change the terms of a relationship. Having nursed each other through cancer on separate occasions, BBC Radio 2 DJ Johnnie Walker and his wife Tiggy are now patrons of the Carers UK 50th Anniversary appeal. ‘Caring pushed our relationship to the brink,’ he says. ‘It has left us with a deep understanding of how difficult and challenging caring for someone can be.’

Family

Sometimes, family bonds can break down too. ‘At first, family can be very supportive but as time passes, that support can drop off,’ says Emily Holzhausen of Carers UK. Around 60 per cent of carers worry about the impact their caring role will have on their other relationships.

Physical well-being

Caring has had a negative effect on the health of some 82 per cent of carers, according to Carers UK, and 41 per cent have experienced an injury or their physical health has suffered as a result of caring. Looking ahead, more than three quarters of all carers are concerned about the impact of caring on their own health in the next 12 months.

Isolation

Feeling isolated is common among carers. Many don’t want to ask for help, and others are too exhausted – or cannot afford – to do anything except provide round-the-clock care. Eight in 10 carers say they have experienced loneliness and isolation as a result of their caring role, and over half have lost touch with friends or family.

Financial hardship

Caring is costly and more than a third of all carers do not realise what benefits they are entitled to. Around 48 per cent cannot make ends meet, and 26 per cent have had to borrow money from friends or family to survive.

‘The personal impact’ statistics from Carers UK reports: State of Caring (2015); Alone and Caring (2015); Caring and Isolation in the Workplace (Carers UK and Employers for Carers, 2015)

Published in The Grand Charity

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