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Being a carer for a family member means providing crucial care and support to your loved ones. This includes help with things like cooking, personal hygiene and providing transport. There are now around 6.5 million people providing unpaid care around the UK.
Whether you’re due to become a carer for a family member, or you’ve been supporting them for a while, we’ve shared tips, advice and the support available.
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There are no requirements to become an unpaid or informal carer for a family member or parent. Many people don’t recognise their role as a carer until they’ve been doing it for several months or even multiple years.
This is especially likely to be the case if the amount of care you’re providing to a loved one starts small and then gradually increases over time. What’s more, the lines between taking on a care role and the relationship you have with a family member are often blurred.
A carer is somebody who looks after a family member, partner or friend who is unable to properly care for themselves. This person may have an illness, a disability or other medical condition. Without your support, this person will find daily life difficult.
As a carer, you may support a loved one with day-to-day tasks, such as with their shopping or housework. You may also assist with personal care tasks like washing and getting dressed.
A carer could take on any of the following responsibilities:
Here are the first steps you should take when beginning to care for your elderly parents or a different family member. These tips will help you become a carer:
To provide compassionate care for your loved one, you should first learn as much as possible about their condition.
Getting in touch with organisations such as your GP and telling them about the person you care for will entitle you to additional support. This includes yearly reminders to book in for a flu jab, mental health support and flexible appointments that fit around your care schedule.
Balancing a full-time job and caregiving responsibilities may affect your work life, so letting your employer know about these additional responsibilities enables them to help you out where possible.
Talking to other carers who are going through something similar can make a huge difference when it comes to looking after your own wellbeing.
You should think about your own circumstances, your loved one’s situation and how much you’ll be able to contribute to their care. Knowing your limitations will make finding the right balance much easier.
Finding the best way of caring for your family members isn’t easy. Speak with your elderly parents about their care needs, as any decisions made will affect them more than they’ll affect you.
Being a carer for a family member doesn't mean you have to do everything for them either. Be sure to encourage your family member to remain as independent in care as possible.
Exhaustion, burn out and feeling distracted are all common among unpaid carers. To avoid these feelings, you should make sure you’re properly taking care of your own needs outside of caregiving.
Your loved ones have probably been independent their entire adult lives, so we fully understand why they might not be keen to begin relying on somebody else. They may also be worried about leaving their beloved home and familiar surroundings.
Taking some time out to openly talk and connect with your family member can help you both feel more comfortable about the situation.
Your loved ones may have been needing some extra help for a while now, or perhaps they’ve recently had a fall or suddenly become unwell. Either way, when long-term care is needed, you’ll want to compassionately but quickly have the necessary conversations so you can make important decisions.
While persuading parents to accept help can be tricky, remember there are ways to lead this conversation so everyone is open and honest about how they’re feeling.
Though family caregiving can be a genuinely fulfilling and rewarding experience, you’ll still be faced with challenges that make it clear how big a responsibility caring for a family member like a parent can be. The biggest challenges include time management, emotional and physical stress, a lack of privacy and sleep, financial difficulties, not wanting to ask for help and feelings of isolation.
Some of the biggest challenges include:
Caregivers often have less time for themselves and other family members. Spending too much time caring for your loved one can lead to things like hobbies and holidays being sacrificed.
Caring for someone with a condition like dementia can cause emotional stress and difficulties. Meanwhile, physical demands like helping with mobility can also take a toll on unpaid carers. If you’re looking after your loved one and feeling overwhelmed, stressed, anxious or worn out, there’s support available.
Family caregivers often say that a lack of privacy can make it difficult to set boundaries and take time for themselves.
If your loved one’s sleep-wake cycle is out of line with the norm then your own sleeping schedule may be affected as a result.
The vast majority of family carers are unpaid which can lead to a financial strain, especially if caregiving takes you away from a paid job.
Caregivers often find asking for help a difficult task, instead feeling it necessary to fully assume the burden of being a carer without assistance from anyone else.
Depending on how much time caregiving is taking up, you could struggle to maintain social connections outside of your parent’s home.
The biggest challenge of being a carer for a loved one is seeking a balance between caregiving and taking time for yourself. This is why respite services are so important to family caregivers. Respite care homes or respite care at home will allow you to take a break from caregiving duties and tend to your own needs, whether this is going on holiday, focusing on health or pursuing other interests.
Unpaid carers take on several responsibilities when looking after someone else.
Depending on your family member’s requirements, this could take up a little bit, most or all of your time. Some people choose to move in with their family members, while others will visit once a day or so.
Your responsibilities as a carer for a family member could include:
These tasks can also be divided into three main categories:
There are several ways that you can roll up your sleeves and help out with the practical side of care. Arranging other forms of social care like a care home, adapting your loved one’s own home, keeping this home safe and providing personal care can all make a big difference in creating a comfortable environment.
Looking after your family member’s finances could prove invaluable. By arranging the payment of social care, helping with paperwork and looking after their bank account, you’ll take away heaps of stress that can be caused by having to deal with money-related tasks.
We understand that taking care of your loved one’s mental health is just as important as other care needs. Encouraging your parent to take regular walks and interact with others will work wonders for their wellbeing.
Every elderly parent and family member is different, so the care you provide needs to be tailored to their requirements. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation, which is why getting your parents’ needs assessed is essential.
Some of this assessment will look at whether your parents require professional help, along with other options like at-home care and residential care. Living in a care home may reassure your parents and other family members that they can remain in familiar surroundings while being supported by friendly staff.
Getting a needs assessment will result in your parents having a care plan made for them. This important document will set out the support your parents need and will include recommendations on what support is required. It’ll also set out a ‘personal budget’, with this being the amount that the local council will contribute towards paying for care.
Unpaid care costs vary, depending on the type of support you're providing.
If your family member lives independently, your home or theirs may need adapting to accommodate changing circumstances. You might need to purchase specialist equipment like handrails (£50 to £150 each), stairlifts (£900 and up), accessible shower facilities (£200 and up) or ramps (around £40 each).
There are also lots of small expenses, like shopping, bills and petrol, and these can quickly add up.
One of the biggest decisions you and your loved ones will need to make is whether you’ll care for them at home, or whether they’ll move into a residential care home or something similar. Care homes are a great choice as they offer more opportunities for social interaction, along with expert and dedicated staff. Meanwhile, home care will allow your parents to remain in familiar surroundings.
Care options include:
Residential care homes provide accommodation and care support when your loved ones are no longer able to live on their own.
An adult day care centre is somewhere that elderly loved ones can go during the day to receive social support, meet like-minded people and enjoy some new surroundings.
Talk to specialists and anyone else involved in your loved one’s care; such as their GP, social workers and staff at respite homes that they may have stayed at for short periods in the past. See what these different people would recommend.
Most importantly of all, have an in-depth talk with your parents about what they have planned and how they’d like their care to pan out. If they’ve seen their friends and acquaintances receiving care then they’ll probably have opinions and concerns regarding their care, all of which should be addressed.
An often unforeseen factor in being a carer is the costs and fees involved. This can be especially tricky to navigate if you’re having to work less to keep up with your family member’s care needs.
Thankfully, providing care at home will likely entitle you to financial support and benefits to help with the costs of being a carer. If your loved one enters a care home then there are also several care home benefits they can claim.
A carer’s assessment works out if you qualify for council support as an unpaid carer. To arrange an assessment, get in touch with your local council’s adult social services department. Here, you’ll be asked how you’re managing in your caregiving role, including how your health and personal life are affected.
Some of the main benefits available to carers are carer’s allowance, carer’s credit and carer premium.
Here are the carer’s benefits that you could be entitled to and how you can get them:
This is the main state benefit for carers and currently pays £69.70 per week. Generally speaking, you’re eligible for carer’s allowance when caring for someone longer than 35 hours a week. Similarly, there's also Carer's Allowance Supplement for those in Scotland.
This is a National Insurance credit that contributes to your National Insurance record and makes sure you don’t lose out on certain social security benefits.
This extra allowance can be received on top of other state benefits. You could be eligible for a carer premium if you already receive a benefit like Income Support, Universal Credit or Housing Benefit.
We’ve gone over these three benefits in more detail below. As a carer, you may be able to claim other allowances besides the ones that are specifically aimed at the carers. You can check what benefits you’re entitled to by using the Government’s benefits calculator.
If you care for your loved one at least 35 hours a week and they receive certain benefits then you'll usually be eligible for Carer’s Allowance. This benefit is worth £76.75 per week for April 2023 to 2024 and is normally paid every four weeks.
You’ll likely be eligible for a carer’s allowance if:
You can claim this via GOV.UK.
In Scotland, you can also receive a Carer's Allowance Supplement. This increases Carer's Allowance by 13%. Eligible carers get two payments a year - in June and December. These supplement payments were £231.40 in 2021 and £237.90 in 2022.
Since 2018, over £188 million has been invested in this supplement, providing additional support to more than 126,000 carers.
This is a weekly Class 3 National Insurance credit for carers which will protect your future entitlement to State Pension and any bereavement benefits. Carer’s credit can also be helpful if your spouse or partner needs to claim bereavement benefits. Your state pension is based on your National Insurance record and is logged through your National Insurance number.
You’ll be eligible for carer’s credit if you’re aged 16 or over and look after one or more people for a total of at least 20 hours a week. The family members who you care for will need to claim any of:
If your loved one isn’t getting any of these benefits then you may still be able to get carer’s credit if they’ve been certified by a health or social care professional as requiring the hours of care being provided each week.
The carer premium is an additional amount of money which is paid on top of other benefits you might already be claiming.
The benefits you can get a carer premium added to are:
Also known as Carer Addition and the Carer Element (depending on which benefit you claim), the carer premium is £42.75 a week for 2023/2024. This is instead paid at £185.86 a month for people on Universal Credit. Here are all the other Universal Credit rates for 2023.
If you’re a mental health carer then you may qualify for a carer premium. You may also qualify if you or your partner are entitled to a carer’s allowance.
With that being said, you don’t have to be receiving a carer’s allowance to receive the carer premium. However, to get the premium added to your benefit, you should still apply for a carer’s allowance first.
Professional carers can relieve some of the pressure, while there are plenty of other avenues for getting help and support as an unpaid carer.
If you feel that your physical or mental health is being impacted by your caring responsibilities then consider one of the following options:
Respite care will allow you to take a break from caring while your loved one is looked after by someone else. Taking some time for yourself or going on holiday will help you feel re-energised.
If your family member suddenly requires more support than previously, you can request compassionate leave. This will give you the time to look after them until care is in place.
When you have a few minutes spare, try out short bursts of meditation or breathing exercises for relaxation.
Write what you’re going through and how it’s making you feel. Getting these thoughts off of your chest can make a big difference.
Know when you’re working, when you’re caring for your family members and when you’ll be relaxing. Make a list and cross things off when they’re taken care of. Being eligible for a blue badge can help to minimise your journey times from place to place.
Keeping fit can have a massive impact on your mental wellbeing.
You might also want to contact the following organisations which can offer you information and access to local support groups:
If providing care for a family member becomes too much then searching for an elderly care home is often the next port of call. Thankfully, Lottie removes much of the difficulty from this process by combining years of human expertise and smart technology to connect elderly people with the UK’s very best residential care homes!