Men’s Insights  

Unpaid care work: not just a job for the girls after all

 2  11

Photo courtesy: Cristian Stefanescu

A few weeks ago I got chatting to an old Irish fella in a pub. He was a tough-looking bloke, a career drinker, with a nose like a soggy walnut. He looked to be in his 70s, but he was probably younger.

He told me that he’d come over from Ireland as a young man and had been a labourer ever since, mainly laying pavement slabs for the council. There’s good money in it, he said.

He explained that you’d get paid by the yard – not the hours – and the trick was in setting out your work. You didn’t lift the slabs, you walked them. You’d make sure the lorry dropped off piles along the road, that way you’d have a goal to work towards and you wouldn’t have to keep going back on yourself and break your back carrying them.

I’m not telling you this because of some romanticised bullshit about physical labour, nice old fellas in pubs, or how the Irish are salt of the earth, to be sure.  I’m telling you this because of what he said next and how it tells a bigger story about our wrong-headed assumptions of men. You see, this tough old Irish navvy was in fact an unpaid domestic carer for his wife.

‘Now it’s my turn’

He was in the pub because he was on the way back from his daily visit to see her in hospital. She had dementia and he’d been caring for her at home, but she’d had a crisis and needed to be taken in.

He explained to me how he’d cleaned her each day, how he knew when she needed to go to the toilet, or wanted some food. He told me of his frustration at not being allowed to bring her home. He was angry that he was surrounded by professionals who thought they knew best, but he knew didn’t care as much about her as he did.

But what I remember most of all, is him telling me in his cracked, smoker’s Irish accent, with quiet resolve and a total absence of self-pity:

“Ah, she’s always been lovely to me. She’s not the prettiest girl in the world, but she was lovely to me. Now it’s my turn. That’s just the way it is.”

By Dan Bell

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This week the Men’s Health Forum published research showing that contrary to the popular stereotype of caring being solely a female role, more than four in ten (42%) of unpaid carers in the UK are male, amounting to some 2.5m male carers in the UK.

Martin Tod, chief executive of the Men’s Health Forum, said male carers: “Face real extra health and work challenges that aren’t always properly addressed. Employers need to recognise that men can be carers too – and health and social care services needs to do more to address the physical and mental health needs of male carers – especially the hidden carers who may not be known to the system. Both employers and health services need to do more to provide the tailored support that male carers need.”

The report, which surveyed more than 600 male carers found that:

  • More than one in four male carers in employment would not describe or acknowledge themselves as a carer to others, meaning they may not get the support they need at work
  • Over half of the male carers (53%) surveyed felt that the needs of male carers were different to those of female carers, many citing that men find it harder to ask for help and support and that balancing work and caring is challenging, particularly if they are the main earner.

The report ‘Husband, Partner, Dad, Son, Carer?’ was commissioned by Carers Trust to look into the experiences and needs of male carers, and to help raise awareness of the fact that they might not be getting the support they need.

Are you a man who’s a carer? Do you know a man who is? Please leave us a comment and tell us about it. If you’d like to write an article for us about your experiences, even better.

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