When we think of someone who provides care for the vulnerable, we think of those who devote their careers to the National Health Service. We think of those who work long hours for little pay. We think of everyone we clapped for during COVID.
However, the silent majority of those performing care roles are unpaid and usually undocumented.
National Family Carers Month, each November, draws attention to “family carers.” The term has a broad definition and can encompass a range of roles and responsibilities. A family member may require care in the short-term following an accident or injury, or care that spans months to years. From cooking meals, to delivering highly technical care, one thing is certain: family carers take on the onus of care where local authorities cannot.
The National Institute for Health and Care Research estimates that 6.5 million people in the UK provide unremunerated care—that is one in every eight people. Over one-third of people identify as “sandwich carers,” having to split their time between children and adult family members.
While the government offers Carers Allowance to those providing unpaid care, eligibility is stringent. Carers must provide at least 35 hours per week of care before they are entitled to their fortnightly £152. If a carer is in education or employment for more than 21 hours per week, this impacts their eligibility. It is common for the DWP to refuse applications from those in employment, despite this not being a listed exemption. This forces carers to choose between paid employment and providing unpaid care, or unemployment and remuneration for their care. This is notwithstanding the body of research that indicates that poorer communities have less health and social care funding to begin with.
When we refer to “family carers,” we do not always mean adults. Over 160,000 children identify as family carers. Although local governments estimate that some young carers do not disclose their duties for fear of unwanted Social Service attention. Sadly, local governments recognise and accept children as valid sources of care; it acts as a plaster on the gaping wound of the current care crisis.
For those providing gratuitous care to family member seriously injured in an accident, there are multiple proverbial hoops to jump through. Once they have provided details of the type of care given and a log of times, dates, and duration for every instance of care, they must prove that their care is supported by medical evidence and is reasonable when considering the type of injury. Only then will a family carer have a chance of reclaiming their time and expenses, which defendant solicitors usually value less than care provided by a professional.
Unpaid care undoubtedly needs more recognition, not only on an interpersonal level but also governmentally – and National Family Carers Month, every November, is as good a start as any.