8 common misconceptions about being a carer

Myth 1: A carer is a paid worker who goes to someone else’s house to help them

A carer and a care support worker are sometimes confused with each other. A carer is someone who provides unpaid care to a family member or friend. A care support worker is someone who comes into your home to help. The 2011 census suggests there are around 5.4 million people in England who provide unpaid care for a friend or family member.

According to Macmillan Cancer Support, family and friends are spending an average of 17.5 hours a week looking after a loved one with cancer. That’s 2.5 hours more than in 2011. Shockingly, one in five of those surveyed spend more than 35 hours a week, the same as a full time job, caring for someone with cancer. Fran Woodard, Executive Director of Policy and Impact at Macmillan Cancer Support, says:

“Many cancer carers have to do healthcare tasks they’re not trained to do, such as administering medicine, on top of practical tasks such as making trips to hospital, and providing emotional support. This is often on top of working and looking after their children.”

It doesn’t matter what is happening in other parts of carers lives, they can still be undertaking the role of carer for someone. With the responsibility often falling onto a family member out of necessity, many are still trying to maintain their life as well as undertaking caring responsibilities.

Because of the difference with paid workers, the government does offer some financial support for carers. Carer’s allowance is a benefit that some can claim providing £62.10 per week. More information about Carers’ allowance can be found here.

Myth 2: You’re only a carer if the person you care for lives with you

Anyone can be a carer, you don’t have to live with the person, many carers live a long way from the person they care for, often travelling long distances and offering lots of support over the phone.

Myth 3: You’re only a carer if the person you care for is related to you

Many carers are friends and neighbours of people with care needs, helping them on a daily basis and offering support. All carers have the same rights to identification and support irrespective of their relationship to the person they care for.

Myth 4: You’re only a carer if the things you do are activities i.e. shopping, pushing a wheelchair, helping people into bed

Although many carers undertake physical activities for the person they care for, for many (especially those caring or someone with a mental health problem) they provide a large amount of emotional support which can be as impactful on their wellbeing as those performing physical activities.

Myth 5: All carers choose to be carers

Most become carers without realising it: someone becomes ill, has an accident, develops or is born with a disability or becomes frail as they get older and other people step in to support them. Lots of carers don’t recognise themselves as carers, many feel they are just fulfilling their “duty” so do not think they need to be recognised as such. Although legislation states it is important that carers have the choice about being a carer, it’s often far more complex than that. However, it is important for carers to know they can make clear the tasks and responsibilities that they are not willing to undertake.

Best practice makes it clear that all health and social care staff should be able to identify who carers are and ensure that they are given them information and advice they need to undertake their caring role, as well as given access to support to i.e. a carer’s assessment to maintain their own wellbeing.

Myth 6: They are young or middle-aged

Carers can be any age, ethnicity or gender. Age UK recently reported a nearly 40% rise in carers over 80 in seven years and that one in seven people aged 80 or over provide some sort of care for a loved one. Overall, carers over the age of 80 are saving the health and care system £5.9bn a year by providing unpaid care.

Whether they’re eight or 80, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be ensuring they all are given the information and support they need. Young Carers especially need to be referred to support in their own right to prevent their caring role adversely impacting on their own wellbeing.

Myth 7: They are in good health themselves

The majority of carers when consulted have stated they not only have their own health problems but that caring has adversely impacted their own physical and mental health. A report by The Princess Royal Trust for Carers found that 70% of carers over 60 years old suffer a devastating impact on their health due to their caring role and 65% of them have long term health problems or a disability themselves. It’s not just the older carers who face this negative effect on their health. Those under 24-years-old are almost five times more likely to report ill health than their non-carer counterparts.

Myth 8: There is no support for the carers, only for those being cared for

Over half (55%) of carers do not receive any support at all, but the problem is not so much lack of availability as it is lack of awareness. Fran says,

“One of the reasons carers don’t get support is because they don’t know it’s available. In fact, many don’t consider themselves to be carers because they’re acting out of kindness and love.