It is estimated that one in ten people in the UK is a carer at any given time. Over our whole lives, two thirds of us will have been a carer. Sadly, many of us who are carers are not getting the support we need, simply because we don’t see ourselves as carers. Fortunately, the charities that support carers understand the barriers to accessing the right help. And by understanding these barriers, we can overcome them.

What are the barriers to support?

There are many reasons carers don’t ask for help. In some cases this has to do with the way that we become carers. Many of us start off by taking on a little more responsibility for another person, maybe collecting medication and taking them to hospital appointments, but gradually the amount of care we give increases. While some of us have never consciously crossed the line between being a family member and being a carer, in fact we have become carers without realising it.

Even for carers who have recognised their new role, it can still be difficult to talk to other people about it. This might be because we are afraid others might think we’re just complaining, or because the other person might not understand and belittle the situation, which can be painful.

Not talking to others about life as a carer can also be an act of self-preservation. If life at home is difficult, going to work or enjoying a hobby can be a welcome break.

It’s easy to see why some carers are “hidden” – caring for loved ones without friends or colleagues having any idea we are doing so. Unfortunately, this can also mean that some of us don’t get the support we are entitled to.

Why do carers need support?

No one can pour from an empty cup. When we give care, we give of ourselves too and it can be exhausting. Even if the care itself is straightforward, many carers are also juggling a job and family responsibilities. Carers need support to ensure that we can go on looking after our loved ones without the rest of our lives grinding to a halt.

Carers are also entitled to certain benefits. The carer’s allowance is a financial benefit, recognising the extra expenses that can arise from caring for another. There are other benefits too: for example, in the current pandemic, carers are prioritised for vaccinations. Crossroads supports carers in a variety of ways, from providing an extra pair of hands at home to respite care. However, we can only provide this help if carers come forward.

Are you a hidden carer? Or do you have a friend who is?

If you think you are a hidden carer, it might be time to open up. Depending on your route into caring, it might not be easy, but it is the right thing to do because it will get you the support you need. The easiest way to start is to contact your GP. Your GP can register you as a carer, which is the first step to getting the right financial and practical support.

If a friend or colleague opens up to you about the care they give, be there for them and be ready to listen.

When we open up about our lives as carers, it makes it easier for other hidden carers to speak up too. The more we can all work to bring this issue out into the open, the more we can remove the stigma of care. We also hope that spreading the word will encourage more people to support the UK’s registered carers as their numbers grow.

Register as a carer

If you believe you’re a hidden carer, or you know someone who is, the time to register is now. You may not feel you need help immediately, but it is important not to wait until it is too late. Charities like Crossroads are here to help, and you’ll probably find friends and colleagues are supportive too. When you register as a carer, you join an amazing community of people doing one of the most important jobs there is – register today and get the support you need.

“While some of us have never consciously crossed the line between being a family member and being a carer, in fact we have become carers without realising it.”