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Dr Dee Gray is the founder and leader of the Coaching Network. Inspired by ‘time banking’, it is an international network that functions purely on reciprocity.

There is a carer ‘workforce’ that has an international presence estimated to be in the billions.

We can begin to comprehend the global significance of this enormous ‘workforce’ if we consider that the annual number of informal care hours provided by it to people with dementia and living at home was estimated at being 82 billion hours in 2015; this is equivalent to more than 40 million full-time workers. This figure is estimated to increase to 65 million full-time workers by 2030.

Closer to home, the carer ‘workforce’ is known to be over 6 million strong in the UK (estimated to rise by 3.4 million by 20.30). These ‘workforce’ numbers are approximated to be 5,430,016 in England, 213,980 in Northern Ireland, 759,000 in Scotland and 370,230 in Wales.

There are many factors that contribute to the growth of this ‘workforce’, which include: frailty within the ageing demographic; increase in diseases such mental illness and diabetes; and associated diseases influenced by deprivation such as the impact of drug taking and alcoholism. As the tendency to rely on carers to provide care at home increases, so too global demographics suggest that burnout for carers is more likely when they are caring for people with dementia and mental disorders.

The carer ‘workforce’ population is defined as ‘unpaid, informal carers’, which, although an accurate description, does little to bolster a positive identity for carers. If we comprehend that the caring ‘occupation’ has become one of caring for people with complex and demanding diseases, then we can see how ‘occupational stress’ not only diminishes the wellbeing of carers, but also poses potential challenges to the broader health and social care workforce as and when carers find they are unable to cope. The impact on public services when carers feel overwhelmed and experience associated ill health are such that the cared for are no longer in their own homes, and the carers themselves may also need additional support.

Young carers

Within the total population of the global carer workforce are young carers. Estimates of the number of child, adolescent and young adult carers differ between countries. For example, in the UK around 2.1% of children under the age of 18 are carers. In Austria and Australia the figure is 3.6% and in the US it is 3.2%. Within the estimated 370,230 carers in Wales, there are approximately 30,000 carers under the age of 25 with indications that the numbers are higher and predicted to rise.

We know that young carers face their own challenges in terms of being a carer and coping with their young lives. Experiencing stress at this young age is often a predeterminant of future ill health, providing support at this time could be crucial to their future wellbeing. While there is evidence that young carers also feel a sense of personal reward for caring work, this is offset by negative impacts on psychosocial development and educational attainment. Many are bullied in school and college, are struggling to keep up with school/college-work, and have difficulty making and keeping friends.

In Wales, the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act requires public bodies and working partnerships to do things that will have a sustainable positive impact on the economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales. The Act emphasises the need for collaborative working, and sets out overarching goals that bring about improved health and wellbeing for all. Carers of all ages form part of the ‘frontline’ workforce in the heart of our local communities, and as such we need to be innovative in finding ways to support all Carers in what often becomes a lifelong role.

We are working with Fellows of the RSA to establish in the first instance a ‘Young Carers Academy’ in Wales. This will be the first of its kind and will launch in 2020. Through the auspices of co-production with Young Carers we will discover and share solutions that will help Young Carers to manage stressful experiences. We will work with Local Authorities and Councils to identify ways in which to recognise and reward their caring learning experiences, so that later in life they have an increased likelihood of overall wellbeing and employment.

I will be sharing all of this at our co-hosted event in north Wales on November 20th, it would be wonderful if you could join us. Alternatively if you would like to know more and get involved, please get in touch.

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