Within this essay I aim to explore the valuable role unpaid carers play, their responsibilities, rights and entitlements. To do this I aim to examine the impact their caring role can have on their life, in terms of giving up employment, social activities, emotional and physical health and the lack of funding available for them to cope. The current legislation and recent polices will be examined to explore how they have developed to focus on the rights and recognition of unpaid carers. I hope to highlight the importance of the caring role and how new strategies and support needs to be implemented to enable carers to have a life alongside their caring role.

Around 6.8million adults in Britain are carers. They provide care and support, on an unpaid basis, to relatives, friends and neighbours who are sick, disabled or elderly and who would not otherwise be able to manage (Brammer, 2010). For such a long time, carers have been almost invisible – taken for granted by those who provide services, or patronised, or (worst of all) treated as ‘part of the problem’. Carers make sacrifices of money, energy and time, and have been left unsupported, right up to the point where their own health has collapsed and they themselves have required care (Jordan, 1990:26). The caring role can for some individuals take over their entire life. Carers may have to give up employment to become a full time carer as they could be the only person who is available to care for the individual and their caring role could be up to 24 hours a day. Everyone has different experiences of caring and carers come from a diversity of differing lifestyles and circumstances. Some carers have a passion to help others and will provide unconditional amounts of care and time not only to their direct family, but also to neighbours, friends and members of the community.

However, in some cases, carers feel they have a duty to provide care for the individual because it’s their partner, sibling or parent and can see it as more of a burden. Caring, like many other roles has it advantages and disadvantages. Some carers get a great sense of achievement when the service user responds to them in a positive way. In some cases days out with the rest of the family, shopping duties or group sessions may be disrupted or not as frequent due to the capabilities of the person they are caring for. Carers want a good quality of life for the service user and will put as much effort into achieving that as possible. They also want to know that the person they are caring for will be taken care of when they are unable to continue to provide care for them. Carers are able to speak on behalf of people who are unable to speak for themselves, which allows their views, needs and wishes to be taken into consideration. Support groups and support networks are a key factor for carers. Carers feel empowered when they receive help and support from other groups of carers. Therefore, more funding needs to be made available; this will enable more support centres to open and to stay open.

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Still in 2010, unpaid carers have few entitlements, some are available to all carers without an assessment and some are available via a carer’s assessment. The East Riding Carers Support Service offers advice and information to all carers about benefits, knowledge about support groups and where to find them and how to access them. They also offer information regarding stress-busting and relaxation sessions to enable the carer to have a brake from their role. A quarterly newsletter has been produced for carers, designed to keep them informed of any changes and details of carer’s emergency cover register in case they require emergency care. East Riding Carers Support offers services which are available through a carer’s assessment these include: relief sitting service, short flexible breaks, Direct Payments instead of social care and internet shopping (60+ only).

It is recognised through an assessment of needs that it is vitally important to ensure the carer is taken care of physically and emotionally. There are also voluntary services which offer support through carer’s centres and carers support services. These have been put in place to offer help and support to carers to enable them to ensure they are receiving the correct benefits. It also gives them a chance to meet with other carers and get advice and support from them. These services are often funded out of carers grants (approx £225million) or lottery related. The future of these services is uncertain as the funding is very scarce and often disappears quickly. However, studies have highlighted the government has realised how important these services are to the wellbeing of carers and aims to implement new policies and strategies by 2018 to combat this.

Carers often find respite care to be beneficial to themselves and the person they care for. Respite care provides the carer with short-term, temporary relief from their caring role; they may wish to go out shopping, socializing or complete an educational course. Respite may be provided through the local authority as a result of the carers’ assessment. There are different forms of respite care available to carers (The Royal Princes Trust for Carers, 2005-2010). Firstly, there is residential respite where the service user goes away to be looked after by someone else for a period of time. This could be residential, nursing care or even on holiday. Secondly, there is Domiciliary care is where someone comes into their home and takes over the caring role for a period of time, to enable the carer to have some time to themselves, go to a carers support group or go out socialising. Carers may sometimes get a break when the person being cared for is involved in other activities for example, at school, at a day Centre or other activities. This time for carers is crucial, it enables them to have them few moments to relax. Caring for someone can be both physically and emotionally exhausting (Living Caring Working 2009). Regular breaks from caring can help relieve the stress and demands carers may feel from time to time. Respite care also provides positive experiences to the person receiving care.

Individuals may be entitled to direct payment (cheque); these are issued if the carer is aged 17 years or older. They are payments made by the Local Authority for carers who have been assessed and require help from social services. They are designed to help individuals buy services and resources from organisations, it could be used to employ someone to provide assistance and give flexibility to organise support services for them. An assessment needs to be carried out to ensure that that individual requires support in their caring role. This can be support that may help maintain the carers’ health and wellbeing such as; gym memberships, weekend breaks, driving lessons, evening courses or a holiday so they can relax and take a break from their caring role (Carers Direct, 2010).

If the assessment highlights the individual requires domestic help then they are entitled to a direct payment to buy the support services they require. According to Jordan (1990:23)… ‘People in a prosperous, modern society can meet their own needs best by having the maximum choice over how to use their resources’. This means enabling individuals to organise their lives as much as possible, which allows them to decide how and what they are going to spend their money on. They may require help to organise and prioritise their budget but not to be told how or what it should be spent on. This view recognises that the state may have a part to play when caring for basic needs- for health and education for example- but insists on getting value for money from these areas. However, it does accept that some families may not be self-sufficient and independent, no matter how hard they try. Therefore, for these families it allows the state to provide services to meet the needs that others would meet and to grow more independent (Jordan, 1990).

Carers may be entitled to a carer’s allowance (£53.90) if they provide substantial and regular care for 35 hours a week or more (Direct Gov, 2010). There is a checklist of other parts which must be met for example; they must be on a low income (£100 per week or less after tax and expenses), and the person they are caring for is receiving Disability Living Allowance at the middle or highest rate for care. Carers allowance is usually paid directly into an account of their choice which accepts Direct Payment of benefits. Carers have many roles and responsibilities, finding the time to manage accounts and income can be very challenging and daunting for many people. Help and support should be provided to ensure they are receiving the correct benefits at the right level. Income support may be available for individuals who do not have to sign on for job seekers allowance.

Working tax credits may be available for individuals who carry on working. Council tax reductions and possible exemptions may be available. The money carers receive often enables them to take time out of their caring role and have some time to themselves. Carers should be offered as much financial support as necessary to enable them to have as ‘normal’ life as possible, as well as looking after the person they care for. If they do not take care of themselves how are they able to continue to care for someone else? The government recognised this and has devised strategies for future plans around unpaid carers which will aim to be in force by 2018. Which raises further questions why has this not been a primary concern before and strategies put in place to ensure carers are a main priority? Carers have been made a prime focus in recent strategies, but in the past even though there has been numerous research projects (primarily around carers’ experiences) which has highlighted the lack of support they received, it has still taken until now before their wishes and needs have been fully recognised.

Getting assessed by the local authority social services department enables carers and the people they care for to gain access to the help and support they need. Two assessments may be carried out: a community care assessment of the needs of the person being cared for, as well as a separate assessment of the carers needs. Community care assessments are carried out on the individual if it appears they may be in need of community care services.

They may require community care services due to a disability, being frail because of old age, or a health condition (NHS 2010). Carers’ assessments are carried out on individuals 16 years or over who are providing regular and substantial care to someone 18 years or over. The carers’ assessment is designed to gain access to support and services that will help the individual with their caring role, plus to maintain their own health and balance caring with their lifestyle, work and family commitments (Carers UK, 2010). Assessments are useful for exploring how the individual feels about caring with a professional. They examine the housing situation and the health of the person caring; this is to ensure they maintain full health and wellbeing throughout their caring role and where possible support should be provided to ensure this. The care the individual is providing and how much they provide is also taken into consideration. They also consider any work, study or leisure activities the individual wishes to do.

There is support available to carers such as, local Carers Centres, advice and support via the internet (e.g. Carers Direct and Direct Gov), group sessions and other forms of community support. Support for carers is not advertised to its full advantage and many carers are unsure where or how to seek the support they require. A recent study (Carers Speak out Project, 31) highlighted that 73% of the carers who participated knew about the support and services available to them. The Government believes that ‘local support services for carers are best run by the voluntary sector…’ and that all cares should have access to the support services they require (Carers Speak out Project: 31). Why is the funding for these sectors so scarce when it has been highlighted that it is so desperately needed? Some services have closed due to the lack of funding available.

This means the carers will no longer be able to get the support and help they require from these centres. If the Government believes that services are best run by the voluntary sector, more funding should be made available to these areas, which will enable them to open more carers centres and provide them with the help and support they need. Moreover, there have been some recent improvements for the funding of local services. £25 million has been given to councils in England for emergency care cover, £150 million to fund more planned breaks for carers (from NHS budgets), existing Carers Grants of £224 million to councils to support carers to open local support groups. Personalisation and individual budgets are being piloted and will be available to all in the future. This is to provide flexible and practical help to carers. A training programme for GP’s is being piloted to assess the health of carers and meet their needs. Young carers will also be a main aim in the governments new policies, research is being conducted to identify what works well and to build on these services. Money will then be invested into these to ensure young carers are able to cope. Recent studies suggest the Government will ensure that health and social services identify carers support services in their area and in their joint investment plans will give priority to funding these services.

Carers have specific legal rights and entitlements. The rights of carers include: Their right to have an assessment of needs by their local authority, the right to receive direct payments so the carer can decide what services they wish to have, and rights in the work place (Carers Direct, 2010). The right to have an assessment of their needs is set out in the Carers and Disabled Children Act 2000. This states that all carers aged 16 or above, who provide ‘regular and substantial amount of care’ for someone who is aged 18 or over, has the right to an assessment of their needs as a carer (Carers Direct). This assessment is conducted by the local authority and is designed to aid carers in their role. It authorises local authorities to make direct payments to carers (Brammer, 2010:405). The National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 asked local authorities to take into account the wishes of individual carers and their ability to provide care completing the Community Care Assessment.

According to Brammer (2010:404) ‘the act introduced new provisions for the assessment of eligibility for ‘community care’ services provided’. The Carers (Equal opportunities) Act 2004 came into force in April 2005. This Act helps to ensure that carers are not disadvantaged because they are caring for another person (Carers Direct, 2010). It also places a duty on local authorities to ensure that all carers are aware of their right to an assessment. It ensures local authorities consider carers wishes in respect of work, training, leisure and education. The Carers (Recognition and services) Act 1995 states local authorities should make an assessment of a carers ability to provide and continue to provide care for a person (when assessing the needs of the person they care for) (Brammer, 2010:405). The Employment Act 2002 states parents of disabled children under the age of 18 years who are working, have the right to ask for flexible working arrangements. However, employers are not bound to grant these requests but, must provide business explanations for refusing them. Carers also have the right to take unpaid time off work for dependents (the people they care for) in an emergency (NHS 2010).

The focus of government policies are around enabling carers to live a life of their own alongside their caring role, and to not be forced into a life of poverty to become a carer. By 2018, the government has a vision that all carers will be respected as expert care partners and will have access to the integrated and personalised services they need to support them in their caring role. Also for carers to be supported to ensure they stay mentally and physically well and treated with respect and dignity. Children and young people will be protected from inappropriate caring and have the support they need to learn, develop and thrive, to enjoy positive childhoods and to achieve against all five of the Every Child Matters outcomes. Tony Blair backed carers in 1999 stating ‘carers need to be placed at the heart of 21st century families and communities’. Continuing by claiming carers need “a caring system on your side, a life of your own” (Caring for Carers DoH, 1999). It then took a further 10 years for the next strategy to become effective and make any changes. Why has this taken so long when there is evidence and research that highlights how carers often struggle?

A New Deal for Carers launched a list of needs carers require, it is as follows: Carers want recognition of their own contribution and their own needs to be addressed. Carers require services which reflect an awareness of differing racial, cultural and religious backgrounds, opportunities to have a break from their caring role, to be provided with information regarding benefits and services and about the conditions of the individual they care for, in easy to understand terminology, to have someone to speak to about their own emotional and physical needs, an income which covers the cost of caring, not pushing them into poverty. In some circumstances the carer will have had to give up work to care for the individual (Jordan, 1990:23). This list shows that carers do a valuable job on a shared, not contractual basis; they ask the rest of society to recognise their needs, rather than demand a series of rights (Jordan, 1990:23).

In conclusion carers play a valuable role in society and have many roles and responsibilities. There have been developments in the help and support they require. However, it still proving not to be adequate. I feel the support they require from services, which will enable them to have a life alongside their caring role is also inadequate. Research highlights that carer’s centres and support groups have been forced to close down due to the lack of funding available. I feel more funding needs to be provided to the voluntary sector, which will allow them to open more local services and offer help and support to carers who require it. The visions which the government hope to implement by 2018 I feel are overdue. Carers should have been a main priority a long time ago and these visions should already be in place to fully support and empower carers. The Report of the Standing Commission on Carers (2007-2009) highlighted 68% of carers provided care for up to 19 hours per week, 11% for 20-49 hours and 21% for 50 or more hours. A commitment needs to be made to carers to ensure that their wants and needs will be placed at the centre of any major changes and campaigns. Carers need to be given more choice and control over their lives and are empowered to have a life outside caring (National Carers Strategy, 2008).

Reference list:

Brammer, A (2010) Social Work Law: 3rd edition. London: Pearson Longmann

Bowey, L and Mc Glaughlin, A (2006) older carers of adults with a learning disability confront the future: issues and preferences in planning. British Journal of Social Work: Oxford University Press.

Department of Health (1995) Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995, London: Department of Health.

Department of Health (1999) Caring about Carers a National Strategy for Carers, London: Department of Health

Jordan, B (1990) Project paper (81) Value for Caring: recognising unpaid carers. London: GS Litho Ltd

Keeley, B. and Clarke, M. () Carers Speak out Project: Report on findings and recommendations. London. The Princes Royal Trust for Carers


CARERS UK (2007) Carers and their Rights (2nd Edition) www.carersuk.org {Accessed 05.05.10}

Department of Health, (2008) Carers at the heart of 21st- century families and communities: a caring system on your side, a life of your own. www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Publications/PublicationsPolicyAndGuidance/DH_085345 {Accessed 05.05.10}

Direct Gov (2010) Carer’s benefits and entitlements

www.directgov.co.uk/carers {Accessed 20.05.2010}

Living Caring Working (2006) being a carer: looking after yourself emotionally. www.livingcaringworking.com {Accessed 05.05.10}

The National Health Service (2010) Carers Direct: money and legal, guide to caring. www.nhs.uk/CarersDirect {Accessed 26.04.10}


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