Is it possible to highlight the true face of caring?

I only ask the question as the excellent Carers Week kicks off again today, achieving so much and making full use of traditional media (TV, radio, newspapers) and the opportunities presented by the likes of Twitter and Facebook to highlight the work of millions of carers in the UK.

Carers Week says more in these few short days than successive governments have managed for years.

Every word spoken by carers and their supporters during this week will have a significance. Most of the words spoken by the various government ministers who have this army of carers as part of their remit have been largely meaningless.

The theme this year is The True Face of Carers. It is a good hook and organisers have kicked off this week with new research that reveals the reality of life for many carers:

More than 80% of unpaid carers are worried about cuts to services, according to new research for Carers Week 2011 (13-19 June). Almost half don’t know how they will cope as the axe falls on some of the vital support they rely on.

The cuts to services compound the financial sacrifice people make when they start looking after someone who is ill, frail or disabled. Three quarters of those surveyed say they are worse off financially since taking on their caring responsibilities.

When people are forced onto benefits they find that Carer’s Allowance is the lowest benefit of its kind. leaving The Carers Week research shows that two-thirds of carers are surprised at how little help they get from the government.

These are good headline-grabbing statistics, but they don’t necessarily tell the full story. What is the true face of caring?

I’d hazard a guess that we will never discover the true face of caring, not least because although so many of our individual stories resonate with others we are all different. No one story is exactly the same as another.

I'm a carer, but is this my true face?

Throw in the unknown number of so-called “hidden carers” and the picture becomes even more complex. I’m a carer and reading and listening to the stories of other carers I see and hear loud echoes of my own experiences. For example, there is much in Richard’s story that I recognise and yet still there are aspects which do not tally with how I think and act.

That isn’t a criticism. But it does represent both a strength and a weakness for something like Carers Week.

The strength lies in the fact we are all individuals and circumstances dictate that we are invariably a fairly resilient, determined, single-minded and obviously caring bunch of people. With us lot behind it, Carers Week will get noticed.

The weakness lies in the tricky task of reflecting all these individuals, reaching them all, including them all in research or policy submissions. We are all different and we all have different attitudes and requirements.

There is strength in numbers. But is that strength diminished at all by the diversity?

I don’t know the answer to this or too many other questions I have rattling around my head at the start of Carers Week 2011. And I don’t have time to work them out either as I’m too busy juggling career and carer roles – that is probably the true face of caring.

I represent the true face of caring, so does Richard, so do the millions of others across the UK who provide a caring role.

The painting above by Rachel, who I’ve cared for 24/7 since she was first diagnosed with ME/CFS, is the true face of me. At least I think it is and certainly enough people who know me recognise it as an accurate portrait of me.

Yet Rachel is adamant that it isn’t a picture of me. She simply painted a random portrait and any resemblance to me was never intended.

That’s the problem with us carers. We are a tricky bunch to pin down.

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