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Churches urged to 'release the burden of care' from elderly

by Heather Preston

A Christian charity is encouraging churches to help "release the burden of care" as figures reveal an increasing number of elderly people are acting as unpaid carers to loved ones.

Analysis from Age UK found nearly a third of people over the age of 80 are giving 23 million hours of unpaid care to family members every week.

The number of carers within the same age bracket increased by 23 per cent since 2010, Age UK said.

Faith in Later Life works to inspire and equip Christians and churches to reach, serve and empower older people in communities.

Speaking to Premier, CEO Carl Knightly said it was "staggering" that so many older people were left fulfilling these roles, citing a lack of government funding and infrastructure as the main reasons.

The UK government has been accused of "exploiting" the goodwill of the elderly, as their collective hours of service have saved the health and care system £23bn annually.

Knightly suggests that although more needs to be done to tackle budget failings, there is also an "information issue" that needs to be addressed.

"There might be many older carers who don't know what they could claim by way of support, but also many who feel it is their duty to care for their older spouse", he added.

Knightly says the church has an opportunity to bring renewed dignity and respect to the elderly, who are often "marginalised" by the community.

"What we want to see is churches elevating elderly people as equal members of society."

The Age UK report showed that around 71 per cent of carers aged 80 and over have long-standing health problems, while 46 per cent have difficulty moving about at home or walking.

Knightly suggests Christians should take time to consider how they can help to "release the burden" of care from those supporting others, whether it be helping with grocery shopping or simply providing a listening ear.

"It can be a real burden, so if we can release the burden from those in our church and communities that's a good thing," he added.

On Thursday the Queen set out the governments' new legislative programme, which included plans to raise funding for social care.

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