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What is a carer?

We explain what it means to be a carer and the many ways that the UK’s 6.5 million carers provide help and support for family members and friends.
3 min read
In this article
What is a carer? What does a carer do? What do caring duties include?
Help and support for carers

What is a carer?

Caring for a partner, relative or friend can be hugely rewarding, but it can be emotionally draining and isolating at times. If your caring responsibilities prevent you from carrying out a paid job, your financial situation may also be affected.

To help you find the information and support you need, this article discusses what it is to be an unpaid carer.

If you provide regular unpaid help and support to a partner, relative or friend who’s struggling to cope alone, then you’re a carer.

Many people don’t think of themselves as ‘carers’. They see themselves simply as a husband, wife, father, mother, son, daughter or friend looking after someone they love. But if you provide regular unpaid help and support to a loved one who’s struggling to cope alone, then you’re a carer.

It may feel like a lonely job at times, but as a carer you are far from alone. The 2011 Census showed that there were 6.5 million carers in the UK at that time and this figure is only rising. Carers UK research in 2018 (State of caring report) showed that more than 50% of carers are older than 55 years and 20% of carers are more than 65 years old.

What does a carer do?

Each carer’s role is unique and will depend on your circumstances.

If you’re caring for someone that you share a home with, you might provide help and support 24/7. If you live separately, you might spend a few hours a day with them, or just pop in once a week. In some cases, you might feel responsible for your friend or relative but live miles away. You might be the sole carer, or share responsibilities with several family members who help to look after the same person. 

There is no set job description and your role will be shaped by the needs of the person you are caring for, the help that you provide and your personal circumstances.

A person might need care due to:

A carer can be anyone of any age. You might be a young adult supporting a parent, or you might be retired yourself, providing care for a partner, sibling or friend.

You might have to take on responsibilities overnight if a family member is taken ill. In other cases, your role may evolve slowly over time as the health of a friend or family member gradually declines.

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What do caring duties include?

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 any of the following:

  • 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.

Help and support for carers

Recognising your role as a carer is an important step towards ensuring you get the right help and support.

  • All carers are entitled to a free carer’s assessment of their needs. This can be an important first step towards finding support.
  • Carers are protected by certain rights in the workplace. See our guide to carers’ rights at work for more information.
  • Being a carer can also bring particular financial pressures, so it's essential to find out if you are eligible for any extra financial support. For example, you may be able to claim benefits such as Carer’s Allowance or Carer’s Credit.


Read more about what’s available in our article Getting help with caring.

Which? Wills
Find out how setting up a Power of Attorney can help a loved one manage their money in the future, if they become unable to.

Further reading

Looking after yourself

If you care for a loved one, it can be easy to forget about your own needs. Find tips on how to look after yourself.

Getting help with caring

We explain your options for extra support if you’re struggling to provide care for a partner, relative or friend.

Carer’s Allowance

If you care for someone for more than 35 hours a week, find out if you could apply for Carer’s Allowance.

Last updated: 26 May 2021