For Carers Week Beth Britton writes about identifying yourself as an unpaid carer, sometimes also called a family carer or informal carer, the immense value carers bring to society, and signposts to sources of support.

Being an unpaid carer is, in my opinion, one of the hardest jobs you can ever do.

I say job because being a family carer means, for most people, going above and beyond the normal help you’d give any family member, be they a child or an older or younger adult. It’s a job that often makes extensive physical, mental and emotional demands upon the carer. It’s important that it’s recognised for what is it – really, really tough.

That’s not to say that being an informal carer can’t be incredibly rewarding too. I cared for my dad during his 19 years with vascular dementia, with many ups and downs along the way. I have numerous amazing memories that bring me great comfort now that dad is no longer alive, but the balance of good memories and huge struggles isn’t an equal one, and I know from talking to people who are family carers now that so many of the challenges we faced over 10 years ago are still being faced today.

Being visible – Realising you are a family carer

Since my dad died, one of the biggest elements of carer support I’ve championed is the need for people to recognise their role. This is also reflected in Carers Week 2022, the theme for which the organisers describe as:

“Make caring visible, valued and supported. We believe that unpaid carers and the challenges of caring should be recognised in all areas of life, caring should be valued and respected by everyone in our society, and carers should have access to the information and support they need, where and when they need it.”

In my experience, so many people dismiss the role they’ve taken in an elderly, unwell or disabled relative’s life as just doing what any son, daughter, husband, wife, sibling etc would do. Not recognising yourself as a family carer, however, has implications. It means that what support is available to you in your caring role won’t necessarily be accessible; and crucially, that your needs as a person in your own right are less likely to be met too.

Carer breakdown is a huge issue, and has become more so since the COVID-19 pandemic. Many more people have become unpaid carers due to difficulties or fears about accessing professional care services like care homes. At the same time support like respite breaks, sitting services and other means of providing carers with some time to themselves have become harder than ever to access, with some services ceasing to exist.

If you are unsure if you are a family carer, take this quiz from Marie Curie. It can help anyone work out if they are a carer using a scoring system.

Being valued – Understanding what you’re contributing to society as a family carer

Every informal carer makes a huge contribution to our society. Whilst as an individual you may feel very alone (read more about this and get support via Carers Trust), you aren’t as these statistics from Carers UK prove:

  • 1 in 8 adults (around 6.5 million people) are carers.
  • 1.4 million people provide over 50 hours of care per week.
  • Carers save the economy £132 billion per year, an average of £19,336 per carer.”

If there is one message that I’d wish every family carer to read it would be: What you are doing is incredibly important, valued and respected by me, someone who has walked in your shoes.

Being supported – Caring as well as you can

As an unpaid carer, you owe it to yourself and the person you care for to be the very best version of yourself. This means trying to access services that will help you to stay physically and mentally well so that you can care for longer (if this is what you want to do).

Many carers report having to fight for services and support, and I would always urge not to do this alone. Seek out what is available to you, including: