I consider myself a very lucky man.
I’ve always been a glass half full type and for so many reasons I’ve always felt I’m extremely fortunate.
The last two years or so haven’t exactly been planned or even worked out in the way either Rachel or I envisaged.
But that is exactly why I consider myself to be lucky.
I went self-employed as a freelance journalist and consultant a few months before Rachel’s health worsened and shortly before our wedding day.
We had a vague idea about what married life had in store for us and I had an even fuzzier idea of what self-employment would mean.
But most of these thoughts, ideas, assumptions and plans quickly flew out of the window as Rachel was unable to work. Despite attempting to return part-time, a turn for the worse meant she was eventually left with no alternative but to quit her job completely.
As her health deteriorated, so did the demands on me as Rachel’s carer. I consider myself fortunate that I was there and able to play this role.
As I’m mainly home-based in my work – together with the type of work I do – it has meant I’ve been able to juggle my career with caring for Rachel without these two roles impacting too much on the other.
The fact I’ve been able to combine these two roles is enough to confirm how lucky I am and continue to be.
I’m not sure what would have happened over the last couple of years if I had attempted to stay in full-time employment. It is not something I like to dwell on too much.
The self-employed life has been a success. But I get a little scared from time to time about what the last two years might have been like if I hadn’t chosen to apply for voluntary redundancy when I did.
The vast majority of carers in this country have not had such good fortune.
So many of them have been forced to give up their jobs and abandon their careers completely in order to fulfil their caring duties.
Yet despite saving the country £1.9 billion each year, carers are on the lowest benefit of its kind.
The financial markets might be in turmoil at present, but there is no denying that over the past two decades Britain has become richer.
Unfortunately, the country has not become any fairer.
The UK is the world’s fifth richest country, however, the gap between rich and poor continues to grow.
Carers UK and other groups have launched a campaign – Get Fair - calling on the government to take action to address carer poverty and carer benefits, as well as wider issues relating to poverty in this country.
Evidence from Carers UK shows that caring, especially if you are caring 24/7, can have a devastating effect on your finances.
Research reveals that many carers live in poverty and face hard choices over fuel and food. A survey of over 3,000 carers showed:
- 72% are worse off since they started caring
- 65% are not in paid work
- 54% give up work to care
- 53% say that financial worries are affecting their health
- 33% are in debt
- 30% are cutting back on food or heating
- 10% cannot afford to pay their rent or mortgage
Carers face a severe financial penalty as soon as they start caring, unpaid, for a disabled or chronically ill relative or friend. The survey includes case studies where carers have been forced to sell their homes, cut back on food, heating and clothes, give up their jobs and sacrifice their pensions.
Needless to say, this leaves many deeply anxious about their financial future.
To compound matters, the current benefits system does not allow carers an acceptable standard of living and neither recognises nor values them for the contribution they make to the national economy.
With the political focus from all the main parties seemingly on getting as many benefit claimants into work as possible, many carers are fearful of how it will impact on them. As the parties play petty politics, carers are facing up to an increasingly uncertain financial future with the important economic and social role they play completely ignored save from a few meaningless platitudes from smiling politicians.
I am lucky.
Although Rachel has been forced to give up work and we’ve had to drop down to one income, I’ve been able to fulfil my caring role and still earn a decent enough living.
It hasn’t always been easy, I’ve no doubt we will have to continue to be careful with our money and some plans, ideas and hopes will remain on hold.
I’ve learned a good deal of valuable lessons over the last two years.
One of the biggest is that poverty is often closer to home than you think.
This post is part of Blog Action Day