The unsung heroes – support for the growing number of unpaid carers

Written by Zenya Smith25/11/23

Carers Trust provides essential services that help unpaid carers who are supporting a family, a friend, a family member, husband, wife or partner on an ongoing, regular basis. They spoke to Elder about the challenges carers face, the barriers to accessing support and how early intervention is a key way to ensure that carers get the help they need to keep healthy and connected themselves.

What role does Carers Trust play for the UK’s vast army of unpaid carers?

Carers Trust is the largest provider of comprehensive carer services in the UK, and we do that through a network of over 100 local carers’ organisations.

Through that, we reach over 1 million carers of all ages from young carers to very elderly carers with a range of services. We’ve supported people from the age of six, to 102, so the breadth is vast.

On a local basis, we provide information, advice and support for carers, and also respite care opportunities, to make sure that carers can have a break from their caring roles.

On a national level, we campaign and have a relationship with the Government with regards to how it supports carers through policy, and that’s very much informed by our grassroots work; what carers are saying to us about what they need and what their priorities are.

We also provide grants and funding directly to individual carers but also to groups as well, and through our network, we provide basic items like white goods or beds and other things that carers might not be able to afford and might see as supporting their carer’s role.

Lastly, we provide grants for and support group activities for carers – from young carers’ groups, older carers’ groups, peer support groups – all of which meet on a local basis.

Is one of the biggest challenges for carers that they just see caring as ‘something that they do’?

It is, and early recognition of being a carer and intervention can make such a difference. It really can help to avoid the carer developing any kind of physical or mental health issues from their caring role.

We do quite a lot of identification work to make sure that people get the local carers’ services information at that very early stage – because a lot of people won’t recognise the role of carer in themselves, especially early on.

And in fact, that’s the key time that available support can make the most difference – which in turn can be a great saving on the health system generally further down the line.

What sort of questions should a person ask themselves to find out if he or she is a carer?

There are two questions, really. A carer is anyone who cares, unpaid, for a friend or family member due to illness, disability, a mental health problem or addiction – and who cannot cope without their support. And I think it’s that last part which is really important. That’s the question to ask. Can the person not cope without your support?

The second question is to consider what you’re doing and how much time that takes up. Because obviously the more hours you’re caring for someone, the more intense the role is, the more likely it is to affect your health, which then has a knock-on effect for the health system.

It can also have an impact on the cared for person’s health as well, as someone else may ultimately have to look after them.

What are the biggest issues for carers?

The knock-on effect for an individual’s health is a real issue for older carers – 50% of older carers don’t even attend their own GP appointments because they are looking after someone else.

They are putting other people’s health needs before their own, and that can have a considerable build-up on their own physical health as they get older.

There is also a big issue around isolation and loneliness in older people particularly when life contracts and becomes closer to the home.

Broader contact – things like peer-to-peer groups – is so needed, as well as learning aspects that help people in their caring role but also break that isolation and keep people’s lives meaningful and connected to other people.

Unpaid care - the numbers

  • 8% of the UK population are providing unpaid care
  • 1/3 are caring for more than 35 hours a week
  • 9% of women are providing unpaid care, compared to 6% of men.
  • 25% of unpaid carers are not in paid employment.
  • 25% of unpaid carers say they’re not in good health

This is a significant dynamic in society now – tell me about your wider work to raise this awareness?

We meet with the Government on a regular basis to try and influence its strategies as well as with NHS England and the Department of Health and other departments.

We’re working with Carers UK and other organisations to try to get to a situation where employers treat caring in the same way as, say, maternity or childcare responsibilities; it’s understandable that occasionally you might need to leave early or come in late, or require some level of flexibility in working in order to undertake your caring responsibility.

So because the numbers are increasing, more enlightened employers are seeing that and responding to it as well. They know that in order to keep better people it’s vital – and because the peak of this trend is 45-65 years old, a lot of the more senior people within companies are people that can be affected as well, which is influencing thought.


What’s the biggest change you’d like to see in the social positioning of carers?

I think it’s integration on a local basis; so that the profile of carers is raised, people identify at an early stage and that resources are available.

I’d also like to see more consistency around the country between local authorities, so the level of service is not dependent on where you live.

And although there’s good legislation in place such as the Care Act which states that every carer should have an assessment, the numbers that actually are having assessments and therefore getting benefits around that assessment has been quite low.

I’d like to see more consistency in that so that individually, carers have the support that they need and also have access to services on a local basis.

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About Carers Trust

Carers Trust transform the lives of unpaid carers through innovative programmes, influencing Government policy, and providing research and resources. They’ve delivered over £3 million in grants to unpaid carers to support household adaptations, carer breaks, and education and career aspirations. 

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