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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?

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 that you need, this guide 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 who they love.


But 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. 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.


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.


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. 


What does a carer do?


Each carer’s role is unique. 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.


How much time you spend caring will depend on your circumstances. If you’re caring for your partner, another family member or friend in a shared home, you might provide help and support 24/7. If you live separately, you might spend a few hours a day with the person, 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.


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, and are protected by certain rights in the workplace. See our guide to carers’ rights at work for more information.

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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.
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. So, we’ve created a practical guide on ...

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: 04 Feb 2019