There’s a role to play for everyone in helping carers to identify themselves, whether it’s family and friends, health and social care, community organisations or employers. It’s also critical that there are sound systems in place to help carers to identify themselves, keeping the right records as well as linking carers to further support so they don’t miss out. There are many ways that identifying carers can help employers, public services, families and communities reach greater potential.
What is the issue?
Many carers simply do not recognise themselves as carers until they have been caring for quite some time. Our State of Caring Survey 2022 found that half of all carers (51%) took over a year to recognise their caring role, with over a third (36%) taking over three years to recognise themselves as a carer.
If we’re caring for someone, it can be very rewarding but it can also take its toll on health and wellbeing, on ability to work, on personal time and relationships with family and friends, on finances. Because caring is often seen as part and parcel of life, help is often not sought out early enough until things get tougher. Some people say that identifying themselves as a carer can be empowering. Others want a choice about how they are regarded or called, but everyone wants a choice about support.
Carers UK works all year round to help people identify themselves as carers and we have a particular focus around Carers Week and Carers Rights Day. We work with a range of partners and individuals to help deliver this goal to bring carer identification closer to when caring begins.
Even for those carers who do recognise their role, their caring status is often not recorded by their GP or local authority. There are sound reasons why identifying matters to health and social care, communities, employers and to broader society.
Identifying unpaid carers and holding accurate records locally ensures that carers can be targeted for support by healthcare and local services, which in turn works to improve population health and reduce health inequalities. This is vital for priority and early access to key vaccination programmes, such as COVID-19 boosters, due to carers’ proximity to a vulnerable person.
Furthermore, unpaid carers often report having worse physical and mental health as a result of their caring role so this targeted support is essential to provide a safety net for unpaid carers and enable them to take care of their own needs and wellbeing.
The role of GPs is critical in supporting carers through various elements of their life, from the transition to being a carer through to ongoing help and guidance on their health. Three-quarters (75%) of carers said their GP knew they were a carer. However, it is concerning, especially given that the carers in Carers UK’s State of Caring survey are more likely to be caring for significant hours, that a quarter of carers reported not being known to their GP.
Carers in work say that one of the most important things to them is an understanding employer, yet many are not identified in work. Carers UK estimated that a staggering 600 people give up work every day in order to care for someone, some of which could be prevented.
What needs to change?
Everyone has a role to play in identifying someone who is providing unpaid care. Key techniques like Carer Passports can be used to help identify carers in the workplace, in the community or by the NHS in hospitals and in GP practices.
The identification of carers is essential to ensure that local health and care systems can support carers with their physical, mental and wellbeing needs. As well as needing a clear duty on the NHS in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to put in place policies to routinely identify carers and promote their health and wellbeing, there are day to day practices that could be improved. This includes routinely capturing when someone is a carer on their patient record and the record of the person they care for. All staff throughout the NHS should be Carer Aware, understanding who carers are and how to support them.
Social care has a similar role to play from first contact with any services or local authority support, ensuring that any shared care records identify carers clearly. Technology can be utilised to make this identification quicker and easier either for carers or for services.
Carers need access to support early to enable them to look after their own health and wellbeing with easily available advice and information as well as learning and training for carers to help them plan, prepare and provide care.
Where employers are understanding and supportive, with good systems in place to help and encourage carers to identify themselves, there are positive outcomes for carers – improving their health and wellbeing, retaining colleagues for longer and improving productivity.
Caring has been identified as a social determinant of health by Public Health England and needs to be considered by national and local governments, by employers, by the third sector and all service providers. Data on the number of carers in a locality would support this aim and it can help to improve diversity and promote inclusion.
What Carers UK is doing
Carers UK helps carers to identify themselves 365 days of the year, but we also work with others to provide evidence from carers on why they need to be identified and the difference this makes to them personally as well as more broadly.
We work with technology and utilise innovation to look at ways that this might be improved for everyone.
Carers Week and Carers Rights Day are key points where we lead critical awareness activity, being joined by thousands of organisations and bodies across the year to provide different measures to support carers from information stalls, to new policies, to advice sessions.
We have developed practical tools and seek positive practice, which identifies carers such as Carer Passports, encouraging employers, hospitals, GP surgeries and other care and care providers, including community organisations to adopt them, too.
Data and evidence are at the heart of what we do, working with carers, academics, service providers, commissioners, policy makers and government to ensure that there is better understanding.
Finally, we look to influence policy and legislation which supports carer identification. This can be as broad as campaigning for rights in the workplace, which would lead to carer identification to policies to support vaccination.
Young carers’ experiences of poverty in Northern Ireland
Research from the Carer Poverty Commission NI shows the damaging impact of poverty on child and young adult carers.