Taking Care of The Carers What Can Universities Do

Dual roles are being performed by carers in nearly every field. Be it work or education, the need for carers is always present. And academia is no different. Let’s try and understand the dynamics of a carer to determine what higher education institutes can do to help staff attempting to juggle dual roles.

Who are carers?

Carers are providers of unpaid care to the old, ill or disabled persons in the family, circle of friends or partners. The work could be a few hours a week or 24/7, depending on the nature of the work. And carers may provide this service within their own home or somewhere else.

Number of Hours of Care Provided

This unpaid work can amount up to 50 hours of work every week, on average, though this number can be as low as 1-19 hours as well. In the UK, according to the Personal Social Services Survey of Adult Carers in the country 2014-15, more than one third of carers put in around 100 hours every week, 13.5% of carers perform services for 19 hours or less a week and 15% of carers care for between 20 and 49 hours, while nearly 14% care for 50 to 100 hours a week.

Even though these numbers are useful statistics, the true struggles of the carers cannot be determined without factoring in the impact of working full-time along with caring. This dual role is assumed by nearly every other carer out there. A dual role could be in many senses – it could be combining caring with looking after young kids, driving long distances to provide the required care, looking after old parents, looking after sick family members or friends, taking care of LGBTQ members and so on. Such hectic dual work can have a serious impact on your life.

What kind of care do carers provide?

The vast majority of care is usually provided by a family member or a friend and can be highly demanding and complex in nature. But more often than not, carers are simply required to help carry out routine tasks for those under care. For instance, they proved practical help and in matters such as preparing meals, shopping or taking care of laundry. It could also involve keeping an eye on the person you are caring for, keeping them company, taking them out, taking care of their financial records, helping them deal with care services and understand benefits available to them and helping them with various other aspects of personal care.

Who do carers care for?

 Carers can be responsible for looking after a variety of different people, such as:

  • Parents
  • Parents-in-law
  • Spouse or partner
  • Disabled children (less than 18 years)
  • Adult children (18+ years)
  • Grandparents
  • Relatives
  • Friends
  • Neighbors

Common problems being looked after by carers include:

  • Physical disabilities
  • Sensory impairment
  • Mental health problems
  • Dementia

Problems faced by Carers

Due to the overall lifestyle of carers, they usually face a lot of problems. Have a look at the following:

Financial Problems: Caring for a loved one, especially one with a chronic disease can take a huge financial toll on the carer. Assistive equipment, heating and laundry bills, added transport costs etc can amount up to huge figures.

Health: Carers work round the clock to earn and then provide care. This tends to take a toll on their physical and mental health. Caring may lead to additional stress, insomnia, lack of rest and associated problems.

Social exclusion and personal relationships: In order to care for a loved one, carers end up losing out a lot in terms of social activities and personal relationships. They often become isolated due to their large number of responsibilities.


What can universities do to support the carers in their staff?

Educational institutions play an important role in bringing out the change required in this regard. They understand the needs of their staff and are in a position to provide the right kind of assistance to them. The first matter of concern is dissecting the issue at both the sector and national levels. Institutions should not be the only ones bearing this responsibility.

That being said, universities need to make a genuine effort to gather extensive data on carers and their concerns – as of now, the data available is vague and patchy. Following this, raising awareness among staff, specifically those in the line management and policy making, would help further the cause. This awareness might actually make it easier for carers to share whatever concerns they have, especially in a setting where carers feel a lack of support.

To create a carer-friendly culture, universities would be required to acknowledge and address the needs of carers through specific support systems, such as carer leave and child care. However, that is not enough. Most of the disparity arises from the fact that the same principles and policies are applied to employees who are carers and employees who are not carers. An inclusive environment needs to be created by making care a mainstream element in policy making. Changes at a very small scale can go a long way in supporting carers. In addition to that, universities should also make an attempt to honor carers – the support and recognition can have a very motivating effect.

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