Norfolk has always had a special place in my heart and this year, I have had the pleasure and privilege of serving as the High Sheriff of Norfolk.
The focus of my year has been on celebrating volunteering across the county. I have met some wonderful people and in particular become aware of the critical role of the unpaid carers; those caring for loved ones, who perhaps don’t see themselves as volunteers and may not have felt that their caring was ever an active choice, but more something they needed to do. Many of these carers go about their roles with little support for themselves and so I have been inspired to raise awareness of the invaluable role they play and raise funds to support and nurture those unpaid carers who themselves give so much to others. So I thought to myself, what could I possibly do?
Making a Difference
In the Middle Ages, people would undertake pilgrimages as an act of celebration or a display of their dedication to a cause they truly believed in. Taking inspiration from this, at the end of my year as High Sheriff I will begin a modern pilgrimage of my own to honour Norfolk and its vibrant community spirit. Starting from my birthplace in Stradsett on 28th March, I will be walking the 1500 miles to Santiago de Compostela, which is located on the west coast of Spain. I should arrive by mid July.
‘A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step’; a 1500 mile walk with a sense of trepidation! But I am confident with your support that each step I take will raise awareness of and support for this worthy cause.
The unpaid carers are those who provide unpaid support to an ill, older or disabled family member, friend or partner.
There are estimated to be over 94,000 people in Norfolk providing unpaid care, which is thought to save local authority and NHS services an estimated £500 million per year. Around 23,200 provide more than 50 hours of care per week.
There are no age bars to unpaid caring.
Nationally, the number of carers aged 85 and over has grown by 128% from 2001 to 2011, and is expected to continue to rise.
But caring is not only a concern for older generations. Increasingly many people are being cared for by their children, themselves at an age when they might have expected care. – a quarter of Norfolk children aged 5-15 are young carers, with some estimates suggesting there could be at least one young carer in every class at school.
The true picture is hard to determine as many young carers are unknown to support services, and as a result are unlikely to be receiving any formal support, with long term implications for their health, education and employment. Raising awareness of the support available is critical.
A 2017 national survey makes clear the health impacts on carers, who are often themselves affected by isolation, depression and other health concerns. The survey reported that a quarter had not had a day off from caring for more than 5 years, and 3 in 5 reported having a long term health condition. Carers Allowance is the lowest benefit of its kind, leaving households at risk of poverty.
As funding for health and social care continues to decline, there is likely to be increasing pressure on unpaid family carers to fill the gap.
Monies raised will be managed by the Norfolk Community Foundation and used to support those local organisations who ‘care for the carers’.