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More support needed for carers in Gloucestershire

By Gloucestershire Echo  |  Posted: December 04, 2012

Support:  Carer Valerie McKay and her mum Joyce Shimwell

Support: Carer Valerie McKay and her mum Joyce Shimwell

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THE carers' allowance given to those who dedicate their lives to looking after loved ones is "outrageous", one woman from Great Rissington has argued.

Valerie McKay is what is known as a 'sandwich carer' – her children are dependent on her and she also looks after her mother Joyce, who has Alzheimer's disease.

And she says the stress of being pulled in all directions is unsustainable.

The 51-year-old said: "It's a financial burden without a doubt.

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"I'm very grateful that I get child tax credit, carers allowance and free school meals for my kids, and with my part-time job we manage, because we are not a materialistic family."

Valerie said a lot of carers are unable to work at all, and that the current weekly allowance of £58.45 for 35 hours of caring was "outrageous".

The minimum wage of £6.19 an hour for people aged 21 and over equals £216.65 for a 35-hour week. She said: "It would be nice if carers were paid at least 35 hours per week at minimum wage rates. For a lot of people caring is a full- time job, and family carers save the government a lot of money."

Valerie and her family were living in Canada when her mum was diagnosed in 2009.

They moved back to the Cotswolds five months later so Valerie could help her mum, and the stresses of the change in lifestyle contributed to the breakdown of her marriage.

Research by Carers UK shows that 42 per cent of carers are 'sandwich' carers. This equates to 2.4 million people.

Three quarters of the 1,099 people surveyed by the charity in the UK had seen a loss of earnings, while 95 per cent said the pressures of caring had affected their ability to work.

As a result of her role, Valerie gave up a job as a licensed retailer in Canada, and now works part-time running support groups for people with dementia and their carers in the north of the Cotswolds.

She said: "Caring has been good for my relationship with mum and it is good for my children as well and they appreciate having their grandmother here.

"It's a good, positive, learning experience for them to see what help grandma needs and to understand how they can help. The one negative effect has been on my personal life. I separated from my husband four years ago and I am going through a divorce. It is difficult for me to have a relationship – even more so than if I were just looking after children."

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