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Community / Support available for unpaid carers

VAS's carers support team are: (left to right): Kirsten Harcus, Amanda Brown, Jim Guyan (carers’ representative on the Integrated Joint Board) and Laura Russell.

THERE is an army of unsung heroes in Shetland, who receive no public applause and little payment for their work but have been keeping their loved ones safe at home during lockdown 24 hours a day, seven days a week in their role as voluntary carers, write Alex Purbrick.

They deserve as much recognition as any other frontline worker because the reality is they are key essential workers who are providing vital social care in the home environment replacing in some instances the paid social care workers who are not able to help in home situations at the moment due to social distancing measures.

There are estimated to be over 2,000 people in Shetland who care unpaid for a family member or friend who has an illness, disability, a mental health problem or learning support needs.

Kirsten Harcus is a carer support worker for Voluntary Action Shetland (VAS), a registered charity that helps carers in Shetland manage their caring role and help them look after their health and wellbeing as well as help accessing PPE.

She said that, “just now one of biggest concerns for carers is losing their respite due to services being suspended.

“It is putting extra strain on carers and some are worried about burnout if there continues to be no access to services.

“We were successful in securing The Big Lottery’s Awards for All funding for a new Covid-19 Carers Emergency Fund for helping those who are most impacted by the current crisis.”

This funding has enabled VAS to offer a range of small grants of up to £50 to provide emergency support to carers who may need help with household food and utility bills.

For carers who do not have access to a mobile phone or tablet for themselves or their cared for person, Carers Support Service now have 12 Android tablets which they can loan out to carers for an initial four week period to help them stay in touch with loved ones as well as accessing online entertainment.

Another service which has been placed on hold since the lockdown is Respitality whereby local hospitality and leisure industries donated short breaks to carers in order for them to recharge their batteries and relax out with their caring role for a short time.

Short break grants are currently available as a substitute for this and offer financial support to those providing significant care to someone over 21 years or to young carers between the ages of five and 18 years who look after someone in their family. These funds can be used for short breaks during lockdown such as online courses, virtual museums, musical instruments, games, puzzle books.

“Helping carers access short breaks is one of the key ways we can help as evidence shows regular breaks for carers is paramount to them being able to sustain their caring role,” Harcus said.

Carers Support Service is offering a vital support lifeline to carers across the isles as expressed by a female carer from Sandwick who did not wish to be named for personal reasons.

She said she feels well looked after by local support services ad added: “I care for my two elderly parents and before lockdown paid social care workers visited once a day with meals for my parents and a social visit which they both enjoyed.

“My dad also used to get respite care whereby two carers would come and take him for a run out in the car which he loved. Since lockdown all of that has stopped.

“I’m missing the carers coming in every day which did give me a peerie respite.  I try to take daily walks but by the evening I’m exhausted. Some people are saying they’re bored during lockdown or busy baking or reading but I’ve not had time to myself really!”

In recognition of the additional pressure on carers, the Scottish Government is planning to invest an additional £19.2 million, which is expected to result in Scotland’s 83,000 voluntary carers receiving an one off payment of £230.10 in June as part of carer’s allowance supplement payments.

For more information on the work of VAS Carers Support Service phone 01595 743 980 or email at carers@shetland.org They can also be contacted online via their website www.shetlandcarers.org or the charity’s Facebook page.