WHEN people think of a carer, complains Jenni Wood, they usually think of a middle-aged woman looking after an elderly relative.
But the chief executive of the Durham County Carers Support charity points out that many unpaid carers are men and a significant number are in their 20s or young.
People like Colin Simpson, who lives in Crook and is his grandmother’s full-time carer.
Colin, who is now 27, moved in with his grandparents two years ago to look after them because both of them had very poor health and no-one else was willing to step in.
Choosing to stay in the UK after his mother emigrated to New Zealand, Colin studied at college and then at university.
During his college vacations he always went to stay with his grandparents and over the years he found he was doing more of the cooking and cleaning when he visited.
Eventually he realised they need him to support them full time as there wasn’t anyone else.
“I just knew I had to look after them,” recalls Colin.
Sadly, his grandfather died five months ago but he continues to look after his grandmother, who is bedridden most of the time.
STRUGGLING financially and having virtually no social life it was only when a neighbour told him about a discount scheme run by Durham County Carers Support that things began to improve.
After contacting the charity he was visited by a Carer Support Co-ordinator who helped him and his grandparents review all of their benefits and alerted him that he was eligible for a carers discount card, which allows holders to get discounts at a wide range of shops, from electricians to hairdressers in County Durham and Darlington.
Crucially the financial review led to a substantial increase in their income.
Colin even got funding from the NHS Carer Breaks fund to go to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year and is hoping to go again this year. This was the only break he has ever had from the daily routine of providing care.
“It has made a big difference to me. I don’t feel so alone anymore,” colin says.
This week, to coincide with National Carer’s Week, Durham County Carers Support is organising its biggest ever push to contact more carers.
Throughout the week , as part ‘Carers Week Quest’ the charity will hold more than 40 awareness-raising information events in venues ranging from GP surgeries to coffee mornings in village halls.
Jenni points out that the work that unpaid carers carry out every year has been calculated as saving the UK an estimated £119bn per year, or £17,500 a year in the case of each individual carer.
In County Durham four out of five carers admitted that they have been in debt as a result of caring for a relative or friend.
And a staggering 83 per cent said their caring role has had a negative impact on their own health.
Many carers, like Colin, are struggling on without being aware of a range of benefits they might be eligible for.
Jenni says in many cases they have been able to help carers claim benefits such as Disability Living Allowance and Carers’ Allowance which have boosted their family income by hundreds of pounds a week.
There are also NHS funded carers breaks which can make the world of difference to someone who never takes a holiday.
“Last year we were involved in administering 1,700 care breaks. This can range from paying for someone to have holistic therapy or helping someone pay for gym membership, while we provide paid care from an agency to give them a break,” says Jenni.
“All you need to do is give us a ring, leave some brief details and we will phone you back and see if we can help,” says Jenni.
To get more information about help for carers ring 0300 0051213 or email admin@ dcarers.org. Alternatively you can visit the website at dccarers.org.