The wellbeing of carers is a collective concern

Looking after a loved one is a tough job, but it is also a valuable contribution on a personal and societal level. For this reason, Orion and Carers Finland want to offer a respite holiday to a hundred carers as a welcome break from their daily routines.

Some 49,000 carers in Finland receive support for informal care under a contract with their local authorities. This number has increased by more than 10,000 in a decade. Seventy per cent of these carers are women.

“Informal care will concern us all at some point in our lives. In addition to carers working under a contract with the local authorities, there are 350,000 primary caregivers caring for a family member or loved one. The number of those needing assistance keeps growing by the year,” says Sari Tervonen, Executive Director of Carers Finland.

Janne Maksimainen, head of Orion’s commercial operations in Finland, agrees.

“Informal care involves carers of all ages, from children to senior citizens. Our goal is to see the value of informal caregivers’ work being more widely understood, so that more people could remain living at home. Improving the quality of life those needing care is in everyone’s interest.”

National Carers’ Week takes place 22–29 November 2020. Before the campaign week, Orion and Carers Finland will launch a raffle, giving one hundred carers either a respite holiday in a hotel or spa, or extra help at home.

Looking after our loved ones is part of culture

Carers and care receivers are all different, and in extreme cases, the patient may need lifting and cannot get dressed or eat by themselves. The patient may also suffer from addiction or mental health problems, which means that their functional capacity may vary from day to day.

It is difficult to see one’s spouse turn into one’s patient, and memory disorders come with cognitive problems, mainly in the areas of comprehension and perception. There are young adults who look after their disabled child, and minors who have to take responsibility for caring for their parent or siblings. There are as many stories as there are carers.

“Carers do their work out of love. They do not have to do it, and this is why it is different from ordinary work. Taking responsibility for loved ones is part of our cultural DNA, but it takes a lot of services and support for informal care scenarios to be successful, as it is a stressful job that requires full commitment, “Sari Tervonen says.

Most carers are elderly themselves

Most people receiving informal care are older people, but most of their carers are also older than 65. Typically, the carer is one’s husband or wife.

According to the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, slightly less than 30 per cent of people of working age look after a loved one, who may be ill, disabled or aged, on top of their day job. Informal care touches the lives of up to 800,000 Finns of working age.

“If public services are not in place or the care receiver cannot look after themselves with the support of public services while their informal caregiver is at work, the solution may be for the working-age carer to leave their job and become a full-time carer.”

According to Tervonen, the current support for informal care is seldom adequate to compensate for the loss of earnings and pensions. If a young parent stays at home to look after their disabled child, they may never have a career in the first place.

“If we wish to have informal caregivers in the future, the informal care setting should be a rewarding option and adequately supported by public services. Otherwise the carers are at risk of isolation, marginalisation and financial deprivation.”

Informal care is cost-effective for local authorities

The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare has made calculations and comparisons between the cost of care in informal care and in intensive service housing. Informal care proved to be four times less costly than housing services.

“The cost of informal care was less than EUR 10,000 per year whereas the annual costs of intensive service housing came to more than EUR 40,000. Informal care is also considerably less expensive than intense home care with the home care team visiting at least twice a day.”

Tervonen points out that informal care is a humane and less costly form of care and enables people to remain living at home for longer.

The legislation sets out the framework for contractual informal care, but practices and accessibility vary from one municipality to the next. As a rule, a contractual carer is expected to provide care 24/7.

“There have been some signs that local authorities may be cutting back on informal care support, as it is a discretionary, not a statutory, service. There should be more normative guidance to ensure equal practices nationwide.”

According to Sari Tervonen, the ageing population means an increasing need for caregivers and for an improved system of informal care. This requires better financial support and better support services. Local authorities look at their values when deciding how they will spend their diminishing resources.

Respite holidays for a hundred carers

Orion has also previously worked closely with Carers Finland, most recently in 2015–2017. This year, Orion is organising a raffle and giving away one hundred respite holidays to carers at a place of their own choice.

“Informal care is such an important element of our society. This one way for us to carry our corporate responsibility. This year has been especially tough because of the pandemic and the restrictions on movement. Carers need our support to cope with their everyday lives,” Janne Maksimainen says.

The raffle will be launched just before the National Carers’ Week at the end of November. The raffle will be open until January 6th, and the winners will be announced just in time for the 30th anniversary celebrations of Carers Finland.

Support for informal care

  • A person providing binding and demanding care at the home of the person receiving care may be eligible for support for informal care.
  • The support for informal care is a discretionary social service offered by local authorities within the boundaries of the resources.
  • The support includes social and health services for the care receiver, such as housekeeping and personal help, aids and day- and short-term care at a facility.
  • A carer who works under a contract with the local authorities has the right to a respite of two days per month.

Text: Tarja Västilä

19 November, 2020