Caring for those with a big heart
During the World Government Summit 2019, Lieutenant General Shaikh Saif Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, delivered a compelling speech entitled ‘Journey of Wisdom’. He recounts asking his mother about the reasons behind the UAE’s strong community connections. In the past, he explained, families living together would pool resources, creating a network of shared support for various necessities should any find themselves in precarious circumstances. Looking after your own community, he emphasises, is how civilisations endure. This short, yet moving story elegantly captures the unique Emirati spirit of solidarity, dignity, and kindness.
Social care systems are the backbone of any competitive country and government policies have a direct influence on citizen well-being, income equality, home ownership rates, educational outcomes, and economic growth. Traditionally, social services and grants were almost always directed towards beneficiaries themselves, without considering the many unsung heroes who also play a pivotal role in caring for vulnerable individuals. In this article, I shall refer to them as the ‘carers’.
Each year, more and more people take on a carer responsibility for a family member who is incapable of fully caring for themselves; such as children, an elderly, or a family member with a chronic illness. This involves looking after the person’s well-being in its entirety; which is rewarding on one hand, yet is often a lot of responsibility and pressure for one person to cope with. We should not forget that these carers sometimes put their lives on hold to care for others. That is why we must take into account their needs and well-being, so as not to risk undermining their health and — by association — the people dependent on their care.
In 2018, researchers at Carers UK, a leading charity for carers, have spoken at length with 6,828 respondents on the daily struggles of caring for someone without the support of social care services. Through these conversations, researchers were able to identify a set of unwanted negative effects on a carer’s financial, physical, and mental well-being. For example, some carers had to give up full-time employment in order to care for the family member’s daily needs. The combination of decreased earnings and the dependent’s high healthcare costs was too burdensome to bear alone. This scenario is exasperated with carers who are ‘sandwiched’ between caring for children and an elderly as well. Additionally, carers sometimes need to be available for long hours, without a chance to rest or take time off. Accumulated stress could detrimentally affect the carer’s physical health and by time, their mental well-being as well. Lastly, the carers play an important role in communicating with the dependent’s health care team at hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies, then applying all the recommended treatment plans. Thus, they have an enormous, sole responsibility to be informed and trained to deal with any scenario they might face with the dependent.
Policymakers need to look into the valuable contributions of carers, who are often overlooked as part of the traditional health and social care system. They need to ensure the delivery of important services to carers, ranging from affordable care services that give them the respite and peace of mind they need to look after their loved ones, in addition to flexible work policies and content-rich apps or websites supporting them in their carer duties.