Myths about carers

There are 1.2 million people in the UK who care for others full-time and 4.8 million who care for others part-time, but carers are often overlooked. Although they make a major contribution, not just to the lives of others but to the economy, they are the butt of jokes and stereotyping. We bust the myths about carers.

Myth 1: Carers cost the state money 

This is not true. Carers work unpaid (and for little recognition) and make a huge contribution to Britain’s economy. 

“The myth is ridiculous,” said Gordon Conochie, former parliamentary and policy officer for Crossroads and the Princess Royal Trust for Carers (now the Carers Trust). “Research conducted by Leeds University in 2007 shows that carers now save the state £87 billion a year.” To put that sum into context, it’s more than the entire annual NHS budget.

Myth 2: Carers are figures of fun like Lou and Andy from Little Britain

Carers are no different to anyone else. One in eight of us will become a carer at some point in our lives, and this figure is growing all the time as the population ages. Every year, over two million people become carers, about 42% of them men. Who the responsibility falls on is a lottery and one day “it could be you”.

The types of care people provide is diverse and often surprising. While many people care for ageing parents and disabled children, increasing numbers of pensioners also now care for their partners and their grandchildren.

There are also an estimated 175,000 young carers in Britain. These are young people under 16 who have taken on the responsibility to care for disabled parents and siblings.

Myth 3: Carers want to avoid working

There are about 3 million carers (one in seven of the working population) who juggle part- or full-time work with looking after someone. Many are in the prime of their working lives and occupy senior positions in different businesses and industries. The only real difference between carers and non-carers in this respect is that when carers return home from their job, they must begin the work of looking after someone.

While a huge number of carers do work, it is "simply impossible" for some carers to combine being a carer with paid work because of the level and intensity of their caring role, according to Emily Holzhausen, director of policy and public affairs at Carers UK. “For many carers their responsibilities are 24/7, which is already more than a full-time job.”

Myth 4: Carers are only carers out of choice

Most people who become carers never anticipate being a carer. Usually, it is a job that lands on them as a result of changing, and often tragic, circumstances. A partner suffering a stroke or developing dementia, a child born with cerebral palsy, a friend or neighbour confined to a wheelchair after a debilitating accident could all potentially force any one of us into a carer’s role at any time.

"No one plans to become a carer and for many people there is little alternative. They need recognition and support so that they don't feel totally alone," says Anne Roberts, chief executive of Crossroads.

Myth 5: Britain doesn’t care for carers 

This is not true. If you read the papers regularly, you will often find stories praising the hard work carers do, and you’ll often find that carers have won awards because others have recognised their commitment and dedication.

Each local authority in England has a social services department which can provide many free services to carers and the people they look after. This can range from brief respite breaks to telecare gadgets to long-term residential care.

It is true that not everyone in every part of the country will be offered the same services. However, because local authorities are trying to tailor services to everyone's individual needs, carers need to speak up and tell their local authority exactly what they need.

Alongside your local authority, there are many local charity-run support organisations ranging from volunteers who can help out in the home to specialist advice on benefits. Many of these local services will rely on public donations and local authority funding. Many are also members of national networks such as the Carers Trust.

At a national level, organisations that provide invaluable advice and support to carers include Carers UK, the Carers Trust, Parkinson’s UK and Mencap. They also have a role in lobbying on behalf of carers, influencing policies such as the recent consultation on the "Shaping the Future of Care Together" green paper.

The government has funded a variety of schemes to help carers, through charities and local authorities. For more details of these schemes, visit GOV.UK. In summer 2008, the government launched a national carers strategy. As part of that strategy, the Carers Direct service was created to empower carers by providing information on all aspects of caring.

This website provides a full range of information and support for carers including articles, blogs, interactive tools, videos and a directory of local carers services. The dedicated freephone helpline (with email and postal service) offers carers the chance to discuss their individual caring needs with specially trained advisers who can quickly find the right information.