carersDo you know the difference between a care worker and carer?

Often the terms are used interchangeably, and although their roles do overlap, there's a significant difference between them.

In this article, we'll look at the crucial role carers play in the UK health and social care system and how in the future, they may become even more important.

Even though as a charity, we don't provide financial assistance to unpaid carers, their hard work and dedication, especially in the support of our care worker community, cannot be underestimated.

Read on to discover more.

What Is a Carer?

A carer is anyone who, in an unpaid capacity, supports a loved one suffering from an illness, physical disability, mental health condition or addiction.

A care worker, on the other hand, is a paid professional who works in a variety of settings, from home care agencies and residential care facilities to nursing homes.

As carers are unpaid, they often don't recognise their role or importance in our health and social care system. Indeed, there are currently 6.5 million carers in the UK and the number is continually rising.

Due to our ageing population, adults are increasingly relied upon to provide extra support to their parents in old age. Carers UK indicate that three out of every five people will be carers at some point in their lives.

The importance of our carers can't be underestimated. In a health and social care sector that struggles to meet the growing demand on its services, carers, operating in conjunction with our own 1.5 million professional care workers, constitute an essential part of the UK caring workforce. 

Who Are the Different Types of Carers? 

Just as each person who requires care is different, so too there is no typical carer. 

Every individual has a different role and provides unique support depending on their situation, whether they have additional help from friends and family or if professional care workers are involved through a service like home care.

Here are some examples of different types of carers:

  • Children caring for parents with disabilities or addiction.
  • Friends offering companionship or help around the house for an elderly neighbour 
  • Adults providing support for their ageing parents with illnesses or mobility problems
  • A partner looking after a spouse who suffers from a complex medical condition such as Dementia or Multiple Sclerosis

What Do Carers Do?

Carers provide all kinds of support to loved ones who may be struggling with their activities of daily living.

It might be shopping, preparing food and cooking. If they're finding it difficult keeping their house tidy, carers might help with cleaning. 

For those with greater needs, it might extend to help with personal care, such as washing, tooth brushing, hair combing and dressing. 

If a friend or relative has a medical condition which limits their mobility, carers may assist them in transferring from their bed to the toilet and then to their chair.

Additionally, a carer might be responsible for much of the household administration, from organising gardening services, house maintenance, pet care to paying the bills.

If the person you're caring for has social engagements or appointments, you might be responsible for driving or accompanying them. This could be to see their friends, attend a day care facility, a GP surgery or hospital appointment.

The needs of people receiving care vary hugely depending upon their circumstances, from an elderly parent with dementia to a relative with a chronic medical condition. 

Sometimes a little companionship is all that's required, while at other times, a loved one may require a full spectrum of care, which is supported by professional care services.

How Does Being a Carer Affect Your Life?

While there are many rewarding aspects of being a carer and providing for a friend or relative in need, there are also challenging parts of the role.


If a loved one's care needs are great, you may be unable to work, which can have a significant monetary impact on your life. You'll undoubtedly have financial obligations, such as looking after your children, to paying the mortgage and saving for retirement.


You may find that the time dedicated to supporting your loved one causes your own health to suffer. Perhaps you don't have time to attend the gym or participate in classes, or maybe you find it harder to see your GP and attend hospital appointments.


Caring for another individual can prove physically and psychologically draining. If a child is caring for a disabled parent, they may not have time to socialise with their friends. Caring in any capacity can be isolating and lonely, especially if you're unable to talk to anyone or share the burden.

Future Opportunity

Many carers may be unable to pursue their ambitions due to their present responsibilities. This might be true for young carers who are unable to attend further education or training, and also adult carers who may have to reject job opportunities and career advancement due to their care role.

care workers charity donation

What Carer Support Are You Entitled To?

Care Act 2014

Previously, support for carers wasn't legally recognised. Although some local authorities could provide discretionary support, such services varied on a case by case basis and depending on where you lived.

With the introduction of the Care Act, all carers, regardless of the level of support they provide, are entitled to a carers assessment to determine if they need help.

Carer's Assessment

If you're over 18 and are caring for a person over 18, you're entitled to a carers assessment, whatever your circumstances. This assessment is performed by your local authority and will focus on the impact your caring has on you.

It's important to note that you're still eligible to receive an assessment, even if the person you support has had their own needs assessment and receives support from the local authority.

Although you may prefer it to be separate, you can organise a joint carers and needs assessment with the consent of the person you're supporting.

The assessment will consider:

  • If your needs are caused by your caring role
  • If your caring role is having an effect on you
  • If caring has any effect on your health and wellbeing
The care assessment will determine whether you want or are able to continue in the role and if you have outside needs that are being met, such as the desire to work or study and whether you're fulfilling your social needs.

If you're deemed eligible to receive support, it may be provided in various ways:

Alternative Care

There are times when you may need a break to run errands or attend appointments, and require someone to supervise your friend or relative. For longer breaks or if you need a holiday, respite care might be an option, where your loved one enters a residential care facility for a short time.

Practical Support

This could include any support to help you with your caring role, such as carer training to educate you in aspects of manual handling and supervision.

Alternatively, it can include support that focuses on your own health and wellbeing, such as a gym membership or if you'd like to return to work, preparatory computer training or courses.

Other services might include taxi fares to help with travel and attending appointments, and practical assistance around the house, such as domestic help or gardening cover.

Practical support may be provided directly from the local authority or possibly direct payments which allow you to allocate the assistance yourself.

Financial Assistance

Caring for another person can require a significant time investment and mean that you're unable to apply for jobs or save for retirement.

This is where financial support comes in. If you provide caring services over a certain number of hours each week, you may be eligible to receive carer's credit or carer's allowance.

Carer's Credit

If you're older than 16, under the state pension age and provide care for at least 20 hours a week, you may be entitled to carer's credit. 

For those that are unable to work to provide National Insurance contributions towards their retirement, carer's credit allows you to fill any gaps in your record and therefore qualify for the basic state pension if you're eligible.

Carer's Allowance

Carer's Allowance is a financial benefit available if you care for a friend or relative for at least 35 hours a week and you meet certain eligibility requirements.

The Carer's Allowance rate for 2017/18 is £62.70 per week with a £10 Christmas bonus.

If you'd like more information about the carers allowance, click here. Contact the Carer's Allowance Unit on the Carer's Allowance Number: 0800 731 0297.

Opening times are:

Monday to Thursday, 8:30 am to 5 pm
Friday, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm 

The postal address is:

Carers Allowance Unit 
Mail Handling Site A 
WV98 2AB

Author: Joel Key

Help care workers change lives by becoming a supporter of The Care Workers Charity today. If you’re a caregiver, check if you qualify for support here.