This week is Carers Week, which highlights the invaluable work carried out by carers, and what we can do to make sure they feel supported.
Few of us will go through life without having to provide or arrange care for another person, whether they are a relative or a close friend.
The numbers speak for themselves – there are an estimated 6.5 million carers in the UK, with almost 11,000 in my constituency of Houghton and Sunderland South alone.
Carers often make huge personal sacrifices to help those in need – and while looking after someone who is ill or disabled can be fulfilling, it can also take a physical, emotional and financial toll.
The hard work involved with caring means many suffer from health problems such as depression and anxiety, while the need to be available for someone day and night means some carers find it difficult to have time to themselves, and can become increasingly isolated.
Others have to give up work to provide care, and frequently do this unpaid – meaning they risk falling into poverty or financial hardship as a result of their circumstances.
They also help relieve some of the strain on our health and social care system, which would simply buckle under the pressure without their dedication and hard work.
It’s clear we owe carers a huge debt of gratitude, and we should use Carers Week to celebrate the contribution they make to our society, and look at how we can help them with their own health and wellbeing.
The government should also be doing its utmost to address carers’ needs, but swingeing Tory cuts to social care have only made life more difficult for them and people receiving care alike.
Local councils have lost a staggering £6.3 billion in social care funding since 2010, and face a huge shortfall in the coming years. As a result, our social care system is on the brink of collapse, putting an ever-greater burden upon carers.
This is not to mention the growing pressure on our NHS, as increasing numbers of elderly and vulnerable people are forced to go to A&E to access the care they need.
As life expectancy continues to rise, the need to ensure social care is fair and sustainable will only become more pressing.
This means a system that provides dignity for both those receiving care, and those who provide it – so that they can continue to lead healthy and active lives.