This week is Carers Week, a time to acknowledge and celebrate the contribution of the UK’s 6.5 million unpaid carers.
Carers Week is an important part of my diary, something I always prioritise in Hartlepool as a means of helping to recognise the invaluable work that so many silent heroes in the town do.
Just under 10,000 people in Hartlepool are classed as carers – that means that about one in eight of all people in our town are caring for somebody.
I’ve said before this high number reflects both the challenges that the townspeople face in terms of illness and disability and the fantastic sense of community and family that remains a big part of the Hartlepool character.
Throughout Britain, every single day an extra 6,000 people take on caring responsibilities, providing unpaid care by looking after an ill, older or disabled family member or friend.
As the country ages, caring will be inevitably be something that will affect most, if not all, people at some point in their lives.
Some people become carers overnight, as a result of some single event: your parent has a stroke or your partner has an accident.
In many cases, however, caring responsibilities creep up on families as their parents or grandparents age: it might be increasingly difficult for your mother or father to walk up and down their stairs or take a bath, but it’s likely to happen over time, almost without realising it.
The value of support from carers is estimated at £119 billion a year – that’s more than the country pays for the entire NHS.
I’m particularly aware that caring can be a draining experience for people.
It doesn’t mean that you don’t love the person – far from it – but the impact of caring on people’s lives can be negative.
It is estimated that full-time carers are more than twice as likely to be in poor health than non-carers and about half of all carers are struggling to make end meet, because almost inevitably people have had to give up work to care for their loved one.
Hartlepool Carers is one of the best organisations in the town, offering help, positive support for carers, as well as often just a break, a cup of tea and – in my experience – great slices of cake.
There is an event tomorrow at the Grand Hotel to celebrate the work – often unseen – that carers do.
We are all touched by the positive work that carers do, because they make our society a bit more compassionate as well as – let’s be blunt – saving money for all taxpayers.
Carers bring out the best in Hartlepool people and Carers Week is a great opportunity to celebrate that.