What is a carer – the blurred definition

Hello fellow unpaid carers, new blog from Matthew McKenzie carer activist. I have not blogged in a while, because I am so busy writing my books about unpaid care. The thing is, while I am writing stories about the experience of providing care, I could not help think about the term ‘carer’. I could be more clearer and say what does the word ‘carer’ mean.

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If i Google the term ‘what is a carer‘ The following turns up.

Wikipedia states the following

“A caregiver or carer is a paid or unpaid member of a person’s social network who helps them with activities of daily living.”

NHS England focuses the word ‘carer’ as the following.

‘A carer is anyone, including children and adults who looks after a family member, partner or friend who needs help because of their illness, frailty, disability, a mental health problem or an addiction and cannot cope without their support’

Come to think of it, if I google the word carer then most if not all of the following links agree with NHS England’s definition of a carer. The following links (subject to change) are from

Bristol and South Gloucestershire carers centre on “What is a carer”
Caring together – Cambridgeshire on – “who is a carer”
Carers Trust on Caring as an Unpaid Carer
Even the citizens advice site has a section on Carers: help and support

So ok, why am I blogging about the definition of carers? Well as you can see things are not all that simple. Get ready because it gets political, but that is nothing new here.

The word ‘carer’ is shared depending on who uses it and why they are using the word. As far as I know, carer workers use the term carer. I run a carers stall at some hospitals and people often come up to me asking the following.

“Do you have the number of a carer to help with looking after someone?”. I then explain the stall is for unpaid carers.

Others ask

“Do you have a job for working as a carer?”
“How much does it pay to be a carer?”
“Can you be my carer?”

Well, the above highlights there are some concerns, because to be fair paid carers / careworkers do care for people, but they are paid to do so. We also have to notice the word ‘carer’ carries with it a vast amount of prestige. It becomes political if people hijack the word to push out those who are providing unpaid care. There is a tug of war between those who want to be defined as carer. Do not get me wrong, as many in the professional sector are vocal that the word should belong to unpaid carers. Still, another problem I am aware of is that those providing unpaid care do not often recognise themselves as a carer. Some even deem the word as an insult because they are caring for someone as a family member and want to be recognised as that first. This is fine and there should be little arguements of this, except what happens if the person continues to struggle providing unpaid care? They are not recognised by certain health and social care systems as needed support.

With the blurred term of ‘carer’, it means not only the carer suffers, but the person needing the care might also suffer because the strain on the family member becomes challenging. We also now have the word ‘carer’ being used for those who work in the NHS. It is true nurses and doctors ‘care’ for their patients, but even that causes problems because what happens when a health professional has to provide care for someone at home or close to them? How would they be identified? Would the strain of care push them out of the health profession?

It gets worse, even if you someone become aware you are a carer caring for someone in the family, what are your duties? Another google search of “carer duties” or “duties as a carer” brings up the duties of care workers. So someone provding unpaid or informal care will get stuck, because sometimes they have no idea what to do.

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This is all confusing, I do not have the answers and I am sure someone out there does. Come to think of it, The care act 2014 is under scrunity. The House of Lords adult social care committee released a report in December 2022. The report mentioned that the government’s white paper does not go far enough.

There is a risk more unpaid carers and those they provide care for will suffer. It was stated that more support from health and social care professionals is needed to identify unpaid carers. As too many carers lose out on support, even if referred a large number might not be able to access support. I did warn it would get political.

To be honest, my thoughts on solutions would be education, education and campaigning. The big hurdle is getting others to scream that they are carers and that they need support. The cost of living, strain on health services and pandemic have highlighted the need for unpaid carers to get support. If the NHS continues to struggle it can only mean one thing, the community has to pick up the slack. That means carers will have to do more and also understand the health and social care system.

You can read the House of Lords adult social care committee report below from section 123 – What does it feel like to be an unpaid carer today?