An unpaid carer is someone who provides essential care and support to a family member, friend or neighbour. It is estimated that there are 6.5 million unpaid carers in this country. That is a huge figure – equivalent to 1 in 8 adults – and the vital role of unpaid carers should not be overlooked.
For some, caring is a natural instinct and can be very fulfilling. It can also be time-consuming, stressful and lonely. Many people sacrifice or cut down their paid employment or other commitments in order to find the time to fulfil their caring responsibilities. This can have an impact on their finances as well as their physical and mental wellbeing. 1 in 12 carers also have a disability or long term condition themselves – that’s more than half a million disabled carers in the UK.
It is crucial that carers don’t neglect their own health and emotional wellbeing so that they are able to continue giving the care to the person that relies on them. Carers need to find the time to take breaks from caring to “switch off” and relax, and have time for themselves. They can benefit from a support network, whether that’s family and friends or an organisation that provides support for carers.
Without the right support, being a carer can sometimes feel overwhelming. It can be hard to know where to turn for free, independent advice about financial, practical and emotional support, but there are sources of support available.
Local Authority Assessments
The first place to go for help is the local authority or council to arrange a carer’s assessment for the carer.
Local authorities have to carry out a needs assessment if it is requested, regardless of someone’s financial circumstances. This will assess the impact their caring duties have on their lives and whether they qualify for support. Councils must provide carers with details of local support services for carers regardless of whether they are deemed eligible for financial support. The assessment will determine if the person is eligible for free support, such as minor home adaptations and aids, or a professional care worker, which could offer valuable free time to the unpaid carer.
Unfortunately, finding the right person to speak to about arranging a carer’s assessment can be difficult in the first place. Councils don’t always display the relevant information clearly enough on their websites and it can be hard to locate. Carers often resort to phoning the central switchboard at their local authority, wasting time “on hold” or trying to get through to someone who can help.
Some councils have very user-friendly websites where assessment information is easily accessible. Other council websites are badly designed, so people have to spend a long time searching for the information they need. In this regard, arranging an assessment could be described as a “postcode lottery”.
Carers can already be time-poor and juggling busy lives, so they shouldn’t have to waste time and feel frustrated by trying to find the information they need in order to get help. One solution to this issue would be for all councils to have a prominent link or “carers” button on the main home page of their website, so that carers can quickly and easily access the information they need to arrange assessments.
Benefits for Carers
Many unpaid carers are entitled to benefits, such as Carer’s Allowance and Carer’s Credit. The benefits system can be confusing and the amount carers can claim, if any, depends on factors such as their income and how many hours a week they spend caring for someone. More details can be found in the NHS Social Care and Support Guide.
Support Groups for Carers
Councils can provide carers with details of carer support organisations in their local area. Support organisations can help carers speak with other carers in a similar situation and share their experiences.
The NHS website has some useful advice for carers who need a break from caring.
Every day in the UK around 6,000 people become unpaid carers. Taking on a caring role can be a daunting challenge. However, carers need to remember they are not alone and support is available from local authorities and support groups.
By Claire Hamilton