Press Office

Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

Press Release

"Hidden Army" of young carers could be four times as high as official figures

Up to 700,000 children could be acting as carers for members of their families, more than four times the previous official estimate. A survey of over 4,000 secondary school pupils across the UK for BBC News suggested that 8% of them – around one in 12 – had moderate or high levels of care responsibilities.

Translated across the UK as a whole that would mean 700,000 children under 18 are regularly caring intimately for a close relative, including helping them bathe, dress or go to the toliet. The previous estimate, based on the 2001 census, put the figure at 175,000.

A survey of 4,029 pupils from 10 UK secondary schools asked about the level of responsibility a young person has in the home and the types of caring activity undertaken by the young person. Of these 4,029 school pupils, 337 (8%, or 1 in 12) said they had over the preceding month carried out personal care of someone in their home either "a lot of the time" or "some of the time". This includes helping the person they care for to dress, undress, wash, bath or shower. These types of personal or intimate tasks are recognised as the most difficult and embarrassing types of care both for young people to give, and for adults to receive.

Of those who responded to the survey, 29% said they had carried out "emotional care or supervision" of someone in their home either "a lot of the time" or "some of the time" over the preceding month. This includes keeping the person they care for company (eg. sitting with them, reading to them, talking to them), keeping an eye on the person to make sure they are alright, and taking the person they care for out (eg. for a walk or to visit friends or relatives). While it's impossible to class all of these as young carers, many will be coping with mental illness or substance abuse in their homes.

Leigh Killorn is an almost full-time carer for her mum, Kirsty. She wakes her in the morning, makes breakfast, helps with the shopping, washing and taking out the rubbish. But she says: "I just think of it as helping my mum through hard times."

But Kirsty – who suffers from manic depression – says the practical support is only a small part of the difference Leigh makes. She says: "The main part is the emotional support. She knows when I'm up and she knows when I'm down. She knows when to give me that extra cuddle, or say something that will make me smile."

Children's Minister, Sarah Teather, said: "This research from BBC News shows the reality of what is really going on with young carers. Many young people are happy and proud to care for a family member, but it is shocking to see that they don't get the support they need or the recognition they deserve.

"The Government wants to help which is why we are launching a new strategy for carers later today (Tuesday 16 November), which makes it clear that everyone working with young people and their families including GPs and teachers must do more to identify and support young carers."

Andy Burnham, Shadow Secretary of State for Education, said: "Few of us could imagine the lives of most young carers. The pressures they face on a daily basis represent a burden that we would all prefer young people did not have to take on. It is absolutely crucial that young carers are identified and supported by schools, local authorities and local health services in the tireless and often unrecognised work they do. Where the Government introduces policies which we think will support young carers they will have our backing.

"However, the removal of the 'duty to cooperate' across local services, coupled with ill-thought-through reforms in health and education, risk disjointed and fragmented local services. If partnership working is abandoned, there is a risk that young carers could slip through the net."

Professor Saul Becker, professor of social policy at Nottingham University, calls the BBC survey "a wake up call to governments and carers organisations" and says it points to a "hidden army" of UK young carers.

He says: "What these kind of figures are showing is the real underbelly, if you like, of what young carers in the UK are having to do – very difficult, very personal, very intimate, very draining care giving tasks and responsibilities which in many circumstances, deprives them of their childhood."

"These figures show that many children in the United Kingdom go unrecognised in official statistics and in service delivery. They will be providing care for other family members unassisted and unaided. And the cost of that is the deprivations of their childhood."


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