Claire King is best known for her iconic role as Kim Tate in Emmerdale and governor Karen Betts in Bad Girls. She is currently playing Erica Holroyd in Coronation Street. But away from the screen she has also played an important role, caring for her elderly parents.
This Carers Week (12th-18th June) Claire talks about her experience caring for her elderly parents for 20 years and shares some tips that could help make carers lives a little bit easier, including getting a smart meter.
- Can you tell us about your personal experience of being a carer?
Twenty years ago my father was diagnosed with MS and my mother with rheumatoid arthritis and I started caring for them running errands, going shopping, cooking and sorting out finances. These days my father is bedridden and needs 24/7 professional care, so my brother and I tend to help out more with the financial side, whether it be helping with the bills or just looking at ways to help him save money.
- What is the hardest part of being a carer?
The hardest part is the long hours, because it’s not a 9-5 job. My father for example needs turning over in the middle of the night, and that sort of task means disrupted sleep for the carer.
It’s also hard juggling all the finances that go with it, and trying to save money in as many ways as possible. What with expenditure on cars, wheelchairs, hoists, larger energy bills, the extra costs of caring can be enormous.
I know from experience that taking on a caring role certainly increases worry about bills, particularly heating. This worry can be compounded if you are on a prepay meter, as many carers are. Not only do you have the additional worry of running out of credit and the electricity suddenly going off, but you may also have to leave the person you’re caring for alone while you go to the shops to top up.
However, there are some things that can make life a bit easier, such as smart meters, which are a particular blessing for those who prepay for their gas and electricity and who might be managing a tight budget.
- Is caring a rewarding role?
It is a rewarding thing, to see those people who you love dearly having a quality of life that they wouldn’t necessarily have if you weren’t there.
- What are your tips for carers?
There are a lot of useful new innovations that weren’t available when I started caring for my parents. A smart meter would definitely have helped – I have one now and it’s great. You can get one from your energy supplier for free and they have lots of extra benefits, particularly for carers who are prepay customers, or who care for people on prepay meters. For example with a smart meter it’s easy to top up your credit via an app, online, or on the phone, meaning that you can top up quickly and easily for yourself, or top up for the people you care for, without having to go out to the shops. You can also see exactly how much credit you have left on a handheld screen, making it easier to keep track of what you are spending, very useful if you’re managing a tight budget.
One other thing I find hugely helpful are accessibility apps – accessibility is a particular problem for wheelchair users like my father, but apps such as It’s Accessible, list places that are accessible to people with mobility issues. These would have been particularly useful to me when caring for my father – my parents like to go to the horse racing and out for lunch occasionally, so we used to have to find numbers and ring around to ask about suitable access. Now it’s all at your fingertips.
The huge amount of online money advice services available these days, such as energy advice websites and budgeting apps and blogs, would have been a huge help to me in terms of money management and taking advantage of the discounts that are available.