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Here we explain what it means to be a carer and the many ways that the UK’s seven million carers provide help and support for family members and friends.

We know that caring for an elderly or ill loved one can be hugely rewarding, but also emotionally draining and isolating at times. To help you find the information and support that you need, we've created a new hub for carers. 

With advice on everything from benefits for carers and carers' rights at work, to how to arrange a break from caring and discuss care options with your relative or friend, we hope that you'll find it a useful resource at this time in your life.

On this page we give you information about:

1. What is a carer?
 What does a carer do?
3. Caring duties

What is a carer?

Many people don’t  think of themselves as ‘carers’. They simply see themselves as a husband, wife, father, mother, son, daughter or friend looking after someone that they love.

But if you provide regular unpaid help and support to a partner, relative or friend who suffers from an illness or disability and can’t cope alone, then you are a carer.

A carer is different to someone who provides care professionally or via a voluntary organisation because you have an emotional connection with the person you care for. This connection can make caring more rewarding, yet more difficult at the same time.

If you’re a carer, you’re far from alone. There are almost seven million carers in the UK right now and this number is rising. A report from the charity the Royal Voluntary Service of 1,000 people with parents aged over 75 years published in December 2015, found that 28% of the study said juggling work with their caring responsibilities adds pressure to their lives. In addition, 30% believed that they needed external help and one in five people said they felt guilty about not being able to do more to help older relatives.

Recognising your role as a carer is important so that you can get the right help and support. All carers are entitled to a free Carer's assessment of their needs, and are protected by certain rights in the workplace. See our guide to Carers’ rights at work for more information.

What does a carer do?

There is no set ‘job description’ for a carer. Every caring situation is different. The needs of the person you are caring for, the help that you provide and your personal circumstances will all shape your own unique role.

A person might need care due to: 

  • a short term illness
  • a physical disability 
  • reduced mobility (see our guide to Mobility aids)
  • dementia
  • learning difficulties.

Carers come in all different age groups. You might be a pensioner caring for your partner or friend, a young adult supporting your parent or a child providing care for a sibling.

The way you become a carer can also vary. In some situations you might have to take on caring responsibilities overnight if a family member is taken ill, in other cases your caring role has evolved gradually over time.

Similarly, how much time you spend with your relative or friend can also be very different depending on your circumstances. You might be a carer looking after your partner in the home the two of you share, but it can just as well be a situation where you live separately but you spend time with with the person you care for every day, or even just pop in once a week. In some cases, you might feel responsible for your friend and relative but live miles away. Sometimes you're the sole carer but in other cases one of several family members helping to look after the same person

Caring duties

A carer helps someone cope with day-to-day living. Depending on their condition, the person you care for might require more help on some days than others. All circumstances are different but a carer might help with:

  • personal care: washing, dressing, taking medication
  • household tasks: shopping, cleaning, cooking, laundry
  • financial matters: dealing with bills, writing letters
  • supervision: watching over someone who can't be left alone
  • travel assistance: getting out and about, going to appointments
  • emotional support: friendship, listening and advice.

More information

Page first published: December 2015
Next review due: July 2017