Being a carer for a family member is becoming more and more common. With developments in medicine enabling people to live longer, there are now around 6.5 million people providing care around the UK.
Although caring for loved ones can be very fulfilling, it can also be difficult at times, and being prepared for anything the role can bring will help you cope for every eventuality. Whether you’ve just started caring for a loved one or you’ve been doing so for a while, we have collated information and resources that you may find useful.
Who Is Considered a Carer?
Unfortunately, many carers don’t understand that they have taken on the role. On average, it takes them two years to acknowledge their role as a carer[i]. This is because the lines between taking on a caring role and the natural development of the relationship are often blurred.
According to the NHS, a carer is anyone who looks after a family member, partner or friend who isn’t able to do so themselves due to an illness, disability, infirmity, mental health issue or addiction[ii]. The person is unable to manage everyday tasks without the support of their carer. A carer can be anyone, including children or adults, who takes on these responsibilities. However, you cannot be considered a carer if the care you provide is through voluntary work or part of a contract of employment.
What Does a Carer Do?
There are many different responsibilities that unpaid carers take on when caring for someone else. Depending on the nature of the situation, these could take up some or all of your time. For example, it’s necessary for some carers to move in with their loved one to provide constant support, whereas other carers may only visit once a day. The amount of care provided depends upon the condition of your loved one, but being a carer for a family member may entail assisting with:
- Maintaining hygiene
- Mobility support
- Physical support
- Ordering medical supplies
- Arranging hospital appointments
- Household chores
- Meal preparation
- Managing the household budget
- Social interaction
- Emotional support
- Ensuring the rights of the person you care for are being met[iii]
How To Be a Carer for A Family Member
Although there’s no distinct guide to being a carer for a family member, there are several things you can do to make the role easier.
- Research Your Loved One’s Condition – Understanding as much as you can about the illness or disability of the person you are caring for will help you look after them more effectively
- Register As a Carer with Your GP – You may be entitled to additional health services as a carer. This includes support with physical health issues caused by caring, reminders to book in for a flu jab every year, flexible appointments that work around your care schedule and mental health support
- Talk To Other Caregivers – Being able to talk to others who understand your situation can help you to look after your own wellbeing
- Encourage Independence – Being a carer for a family member doesn’t mean you have to do everything for them. Encourage strategies and technologies that let your family member to remain as independent as possible
- Connect With The Person You Care For – taking the time each day to talk and connect with the person you are caring for can help both parties
- Inform Your Employer of Your Caring Responsibilities – Caregiving may affect your work life, so letting your employer know the responsibilities you’ve taken on can enable them to help you deal with any increased stress
- Take Care of Your Own Needs – Exhaustion, burn out, and distraction can make it difficult to connect with the person you are caring for and negatively affect your mental health. Attending to your own needs outside of caregiving will help you balance your life and de-stress
- Know Your Limits – Knowing your limitations will give you a healthy balance between caregiving and relaxing. Communicate your limits to all involved in caring, including doctors and family members, to set clear boundaries
How To Look After Yourself While Caring for A Family Member
Although naturally, your focus is on the well-being of the loved one you are caring for, it’s important to consider your own health too. Being a carer for a family member can be tough, but seeking extra support will help both you and them in the long run. There are several aids and benefits that you are eligible for as a carer, and the extra support could make a huge difference.
1) Carer’s Assessment
A carer’s assessment is an evaluation carried out by your local social services department. The assessment will investigate what help you may require in your caring position to help make your life easier. You can contact the adult social services at your local council to request and arrange a carer’s assessment.
The carer’s assessment involves someone from the council discussing how you are coping with caring, including how it is affecting your health and free time. Usually, this meeting will be face to face, although some councils are able to arrange it over the phone. If you’d like, you may bring someone with you to the assessment for support.
Social services also offer a needs assessment, which evaluates the needs of the person you are caring for. Then, they are able to recommend which services and further assistance may be required to help them. You may get a needs assessment at the same time as a carer’s assessment, but this isn’t a necessity.
2) Carer’s Benefits
Being a carer can be incredibly taxing in many ways, but a factor you may not have foreseen is the costs. Luckily, you may be entitled to financial support benefits to help with the costs of being a carer. These are the carer’s benefits that you may be entitled to, and how you can get them.
Carer’s Allowance – Carer’s allowance is the main state benefit for carers and pays £67.25 a week. You are eligible for a carer’s allowance if you care for someone longer than 35 hours a week and don’t receive more than that amount from other benefits[iv].
Carer’s Credit – Carer’s credit is a National Insurance credit that contributes to your National Insurance record to ensure you don’t lose out on certain social security benefits. For example, your state pension is based on your National Insurance record, and carer’s credit can ensure that you get it. You are eligible for carer’s credit if you look after someone for more than 20 hours a week and do not receive a carer’s allowance[v].
Carer Premium – A carer premium is an extra allowance you can receive on top of other state benefits. You may be eligible for a carer premium if you already receive another benefit, such as Income Support, Universal Credit, or Housing Benefit[vi].
As a carer, you may be able to claim other allowances besides specifically carers benefits. Check what benefits you are entitled to by using the government benefits calculators.
3) Respite Care
Maintaining your own health and wellbeing is vital to being able to fulfil your role as a carer well, since it keeps you from running yourself down and facing exhaustion. Taking a break from your caregiving duties can help you take care of yourself, recharge, and prepare to provide the best care you are able.
Respite care allows you to take a break from caring, meaning someone else will take over your caregiving duties for a time. There are plenty of respite care options for you to consider. They range from requesting that a volunteer stays with the loved one you look after for a few hours to a temporary stay in a care home while you have a rest yourself.
The main types of respite care are:
- Homecare from a paid carer
- Day care centres
- Sitting services
- Getting help from friends and family
- Respite holidays
- A short stay in a care home[vii]
The average cost of respite care is £700-800 a week. However, it can become as much as £1,500 a week should emergency care or a temporary care home stay be required[viii]. If you are able, you can pay for respite care yourself. However, you may be eligible for financial assistance from a charity or the council.
To find out more about your respite care options, consult your local social services team.
4) Asking For Help
Caring for loved ones isn’t an easy job, and although many people don’t like to ask for help, doing so can greatly relieve stress for you and your loved one. There are plenty of organisations that are there to aid you in your role as a carer while helping to maintain your own health.
Some useful contacts to help support you as a carer include:
- Carers UK – 0808 808 7777 (England), 029 2081 1370 (Wales)
- NHS – Social Care and Support Guide – 0300 123 1053
- The Mix – 0808 808 4994
- Citizens Advice – 0800 144 8848 (England), 0800 702 2020 (Wales)
- Money Helper – 0800 138 7777 (England), 0800 138 0555 (Wales)
- Samaritans – 116 123
- Rethink Mental Illness – 0808 801 0525
The Benefits of Caring for A Family Member
Being a carer for a family member may be a difficult job at times, but it can bring you and your loved one together in ways others wouldn’t understand. Also, the role of a caregiver will encourage direct conversations that bond you together, helping you focus on what’s really important to you. So, enjoy this incredible role as much as you can, but don’t be afraid to ask for help to protect both you and your loved one.
Do you have any tips for being a family caregiver? Let us know!