Who runs Britain? An Army of unregarded, unpaid carers.

Who runs Britain? An Army of unregarded, unpaid carers. Now it’s time we cared for them says Andrew Marr and his wife who nursed him after stroke

By Andrew Marr And Jackie Ashley


Fighting his way back to fitness: Andrew Marr has seen his relationship with his wife Jackie Ashley change as a result of his stroke

Fighting his way back to fitness: Andrew Marr has seen his relationship with his wife Jackie Ashley change as a result of his stroke

There is a crack in everything..that’s how the light gets in. So sang Leonard Cohen on his famous song Anthem.

For us, the crack came at the beginning of the year with Andrew’s stroke. The ‘light’ was a cascade of emails, tweets and heartbreaking letters about the desperate plight of hundreds of thousands of carers in this country. And they flooded in. They still do.

Recovering from a stroke is a long-term project. Mornings become a complicated and tiring set of hurdles – stairs dive down more steeply, chair and table legs multiply, plates fly off tables on to the floor. Getting socks on one-handed is very slow without help. Opening the marmalade jar requires almost as much preparation as D-Day.

Andrew has always been independent and stubborn; Jackie’s help was vital but it has required a renegotiation in the relationship. We have both changed.

The stroke survivor needs assistance with almost everything – time-consuming physio exercises, three meals a day, driving to hospital appointments, changing shoes and doing laces. It’s toughest, of course, for the patient, but it’s tough and tiring for the carer too.

Having helped look after her elderly father before his death last year, Jackie had some idea of the pressures of caring. But neither of us had appreciated what a huge social and political problem has been quietly building up as our population ages.

One in eight adults – or more than 6.5 million people – are  carers, often struggling to keep their heads above water. Everywhere, in every suburban street, village and city centre, individuals find their lives turned upside down by the demands of caring for those they love, while keeping at least some attention focused on the world outside. It is an unregarded, forgotten army whom the state could never replace.

We ourselves are phenomenally privileged and lucky: Jackie still has her physical strength and we have enough money to pay for extra physiotherapy, which many people can’t do. We’ve been able to buy aids and gadgets. As Andrew learned to shower, dress himself and walk again, he knew that the BBC was keeping his job open for him. Jackie was also fortunate to be able to find work after taking six months out.


Most people aren’t in that situation and that makes it all the more important to talk about the majority. If shallow TV celebrity means anything – moot point – then it means having a chance to raise issues that have been seen as simply too unglamorous to shoulder their way into the national conversation.

So many people who have written to us were just amazed and delighted that the plight of carers is being raised at all. They feel forgotten.

For the majority, caring means relative poverty – the Carers’ Allowance is less than £60 a week, way below the minimum wage given how many hours most people devote to this – and raises frightening questions about ever getting back to work.

Yet every week, another 8,000 people have an experience like ours – a stroke, a heart attack, a relative released from a crowded hospital – and join the world of caring at home. As a report today from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) points out, thousands of women in their 50s are being hit by a ‘triple whammy’ of work, childcare and caring for elderly parents.

Author and broadcaster Andrew Marr at the Edinburgh International Book Festival last week, his first public event since suffering a stroke

More than three million carers are trying to juggle jobs with caring. And because ‘caring’ is such a gentle word, it’s worth reminding ourselves that it means physical graft – washing sheets, changing mattresses, struggling to help ill people from one place to another, providing meals and trying to do it all with a smile. Sometimes that’s not so easy after an exhausting and stressful day at work. About 20 per cent of carers, not surprisingly, have to give up work.

And what would happen if they didn’t? Carers UK, the main charity in this sector, estimates that the cost to the taxpayer if the State had to step in and do the job would be £119 billion. A penny increase on the basic rate of income tax raises only about £4.6 billion – so that is a figure which spells national bankruptcy and political chaos. It’s simply impossible.

And, of course, it would never happen. People don’t care for their relatives and their friends because they are trying to keep the national books balanced but because of human decency and love.
Carers want to care. Caring has always been an essential part of being human. The trouble is that this has pushed caring right to the back of the political agenda, into the shadows and mostly out of sight. And there are things that could be done to make life more tolerable for carers.

Independent and stubborn: Those characteristics have helped him on his road to recovery but help from his wife Jackie was vital

Accomplished: Journalist Marr says he is lucky because the BBC have said they are keeping his job open for him for when he is fit enough to return but many are not so lucky

At the top of our list would be legal protection for a defined period of time, so they could be sure ofgetting back to work.

One of Jackie’s correspondents, Louise, put it like this: ‘I really get annoyed about the criticism of baby boomers ‘having it all.’ The world of work is not set up to deal with caring for relatives. When my mother was in hospital I can remember a lady who was worried she would lose her job but yet was torn to be at her mother’s bedside.’

Sue was dealing with her ailing and widowed father: ‘He was very independent and determined to stay in his house. He had one hour a week of help with the housework. I just didn’t see how I could give up my job to look after him. I might have been able to ask for unpaid  leave for a period, but I wouldn’t have known what I would be returning to – and I had a mortgage etc to pay.’

In some cases, caring is for life. In others, it’s for a few frantic months. These days, it’s taken for granted that pregnant women get maternity leave. So why shouldn’t men and women keeping another person decently alive get similar guarantees?

The IPPR has a sensible suggestion: why not adopt the German policy of Familienpflegezeit (family caring time)?

In Germany, employees can reduce their working hours to a minimum of 15 hours a week  for up to two years if they have caring responsibilities. That way, job security and flexibility are built in for the employee and the employer.


One thing is certain, this problem is not going away. Our ageing society and our ability to save people from diseases that would once have killed them means the need for caring outside hospital is growing all the time – it’s estimated that before long the total number of carers in this country will be nine million, not six million.

Andrew’s stroke has been many things – frightening, a struggle, a time for personal reflection. But above all it has been a salutary eye-opener, illuminating a world of dogged, brave and loving  people who are keeping this country civilised, and who would like just a little more help.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2401611/Who-runs-Britain-An-Army-unregarded-unpaid-carers-Now-time-cared-says-Andrew-Marr-wife-nursed-stroke.html#ixzz2cyZ2qxkk