Name: Terry Kirton
Income: £5,450 a year: carer’s allowance £264.60 a month, income support – £87.60 every fortnight
Occupation: full-time carer, Monmouth
About five years ago I quit my job as a general nurse in a private hospital in London to become a full-time carer for my dad. I’d called him up for a chat and he didn’t sound himself. Usually, he’d be upbeat and tell a joke but he seemed down and I thought I’d better pop back to see him at home in Wales. The person I saw wasn’t the dad I once knew; he was a frightened, frail 92-year-old who wasn’t coping.
I don’t have any siblings or close family around so it made sense to go back and look after him. I could have put him in a residential home but we’d had discussions about that and he said he didn’t want to be in one. We’d also spoken about carers and he was loth to have a stranger in the house. In the end, it was an easy decision in many ways. You have to care for your parent, don’t you?
I absolutely made the right decision. It’s a privilege and a pleasure to look after Dad. It’s nice to be back and have that time with him. You don’t know how many more days or birthdays you have left. I didn’t want to see my dad once a month in a nursing home and buy him a pair of pyjamas to make myself feel better. On that side, I’m delighted.
But financially it’s been absolutely disastrous. I was earning £3,000 a month in London, now it’s £300. I’m very lucky dad is mortgage free and is very good at paying for bills like the water, gas and electricity. He just said: “If you could do one food shop a month that would be great and if you ever have a spare £5 or £10, can you let me have it now and again to put towards bills?”
I feel embarrassed. I’m 50 and I can only afford one food shop a month at £30. My father pays the rest of the time. I spend £45 a month for my phone bill. I need my mobile because if I pop out and dad slips, I need to belt back.
I pay £21 for an alarm buzzer he wears round his arm; £55 council tax, which is a reduced rate as I’m a carer; £40 a month goes into a pension; £16.40 to the Royal College of Nursing; and £15 a month into a fund for my godson, which has about £5,000. I’m giving it to him when he turns 18. It’s a little something to help him on his way.
I haven’t had a holiday in three and a half years. I simply can’t afford it. I know there’s funding for carers and I can apply for £500 towards a holiday, but it’s such a faff organising care. I’d need to pay for it and then money for travel and food. It’s too expensive and too much effort.
I always have him at the back of my mind. If I was abroad and anything happened, I’d have no emergency money to get back. And if I was away in the UK, I’d also be worried about being too far away.
I volunteer regularly as a divisional nurse for St John Ambulance and that gets me out of the house. I help run treatment centres and I’m a first aider, so I also do some teaching. I regularly fundraise. Our local hall is decrepit – I know how it feels! – so have helped raise money for a new boiler, carpet and kitchen. I can’t commit to working on particular days because if Dad is unwell, I’d be calling in sick and they’d get rid of me.
I’d like the government to recognise the huge impact carers have. They need to pay a reasonable amount to live on. I just think if my dad didn’t pay those bills, it would be impossible for me to survive financially. We wouldn’t be able to have the heating on or eat. It’s ridiculous. I feel embarrassed. I can’t even take my dad out for a coffee, money really is that tight.
I’d like to take him out for lunch but there’s no chance unless he paid for it, and I think that’s wrong.
You can have all the will in the world but it’s so frustrating, demoralising and upsetting; you just can’t live, you really can’t. I’m 50 and I’m counting my pennies.
Terry told his story with the support of Carers UK, the national charity for people caring unpaid for someone who is older, disabled or seriously ill. If you’re caring and have questions about your rights to financial support go to Carers UK’s website carersuk.org/help-and-advice