"It's harder than anyone understands, and I feel like I’m drowning"

New survey identifies steep rise in caring hours for young carers.

Carers Trust calls for more support for young carers after survey finds many feeling stressed, lonely and worried.

  • More than half (53%) of young carers and young adult carers said the amount of time they spend caring per week had increased in the past year.
  • At least a third of respondents said their caring role resulted in them either ‘always’ or ‘usually’ feeling ‘worried’ (36%), ‘lonely’ (33%) or ‘stressed’ (42%).
  • 40% of young carers and young adult carers responding to the survey said they ‘never’ or ‘not often’ had someone to talk to at school about being a young carer.
  • 52% of young carers and young adult carers responding to the survey said they ‘never’ or ‘not often’ got support from their school, college or university in balancing study with their caring role.

Findings from a new Carers Trust survey reveal how an alarming lack of support, coupled with a dramatic rise in time spent caring, is leaving thousands of young carers across the UK feeling ‘lonely’, ‘exhausted’, ‘worried’, ‘burned out’ and ‘stressed’.

The findings are published today to mark Young Carers Action Day, an annual event led and organised by Carers Trust to raise awareness of young carers and the challenges they face.

Carers Trust recommendations

Carers Trust is responding to the survey findings by calling on the UK government, the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and other stakeholders, to take action to address isolation among young carers and young adult carers. Recommended action includes:

  • More commissioned breaks and respite for young carers and young adult carers. Local carer organisations who provide dedicated young carer and young adult carer services are well placed to deliver these, in partnership with local authorities and the wider voluntary sector.
  • The UK government and the devolved administrations to do more to monitor how local authorities are meeting statutory duties to identify and support young carers and young adult carers, including funded support packages which help young carers, young adult carers and their families.
  • Education providers, whether schools, colleges or universities, need to take a more integrated and collaborative approach to support. This includes working in partnership with the NHS, local authorities and local carer organisations.

Survey findings

More than half (53%) of the young carers (aged 18 or under) and young adult carers (aged 16-25) responding to the survey had experienced an increase over the last year in the amount of time they spend supporting siblings and parents with care and support needs.

And one in five of those reporting an increase said they were caring for as much as 20 to 49 hours more per week.

Even before Coronavirus, pressures on the health and social care services meant increasing levels of caring responsibilities were falling too heavily on young carers’ shoulders.

The impact of this overwhelming burden of responsibility was made clear in many of the written responses to the survey.

One young carer said “it’s harder than anyone understands and I feel like I’m drowning”.

Another said: “It's too much pressure and responsibility for something I didn't choose.”

And a third young carer revealed “It affected my friendships as they didn't understand why they couldn't come inside the house.”

Coronavirus exacerbates existing pressures on young carers

Those pressures have been greatly exacerbated by the pandemic. Many essential services for those being cared for by young carers were closed because of lockdown. That left young carers and young adult carers to take on even further caring responsibilities.

And while the pandemic is moving into a less acute phase, Covid continues to negatively impact the lives of young carers and young adult carers. As a result of the pandemic:

  • 59% said they felt more stressed
  • 47% said they felt less connected to others
  • 46% said their education was suffering
  • 44% said their mental health is worse
  •  41% said they were concerned about their future prospects.

Widespread lack of support to help young people manage their caring role

The survey also highlights how society is systematically failing to provide even the most basic level of support to this vulnerable group of young people.

More than half (52%) of all young carers and young adult carers completing the survey said they either ‘never’ got support balancing studies with their caring role, or ‘not enough’. And 40% said they either ‘never’ or ‘not often’ had someone to talk to at school about being a young carer or young adult carer.

Schools, colleges and other educational settings are well placed to offer a student carer support policy. This would have a big impact in helping many young carers juggle their caring role with their studies, as well as preventing many from feeling overwhelmed.

But all too often, the opposite is true, as revealed in just a few of the written responses:

“They don't understand when I'm late arriving to school … my mum can't get up most mornings.”

“My school doesn't care that I'm a young carer, they force me to come to school even when I've been up all night looking after [the person I care for], I am so burned out.”

“We have a no phones rule which makes it difficult to keep in contact if needed.”

Responding to the survey findings, Carers Trust’s CEO, Kirsty McHugh, said:

'These stark findings underline the plight of young carers. Too many are left unsupported, struggling to access the services they need with knock on effects to their education, mental health and well-being. 

'We need more investment in social care generally and local care organisations specifically to relieve young carers of the overwhelming pressure so many are under. In addition, the NHS must ensure its mental health services prioritise young carer support. Otherwise young carers will continue to be left alone to cope with complex problems and responsibilities that would overwhelm most adults, let alone young people.'

Ends

For further information, and to arrange interviews with Carers Trust spokespeople, contact: 
About Young Carers Action Day

Young Carers Action Day is an annual event led and organised by Carers Trust. This year Young Carers Action Day takes place on March 16. The day aims to raise awareness of the pressures experienced by young carers – children who need to look after someone in their family, or a friend, who is ill, disabled or misuses drugs or alcohol. 

Notes to Editor:

Full research findings, analysis and recommendations from the survey are available in a Carers Trust report. 

Read our full report on the survey findings (English version).

Read our full report on the survey findings (Welsh version).

Number of young carers in the UK

In September 2018 Nottingham University and BBC News released figures suggesting there were 800,000 young carers aged 11-16 in England. When all young carers in England aged either 17 or under 11 are factored in and combined with all young carers living in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, it is not unreasonable to assume there are over one million young carers in the UK.

A note on survey methodology

To obtain the qualitative and quantitative data used in this report, we asked young carers and young adult carers to complete a survey.  

571 young carers and young adult carers, aged 12-25 across the UK, completed the survey on our invitation: 342 from England, 170 from Scotland and 48 from Wales.  

The survey was anonymous, and no identifying data is held about any of these children and young people.  

Young carers and young adult carers self-identified as young carers or young adult carers, in the UK, aged 12-25. A short definition of a young carer and young adult carer was provided in the introductory text of the survey.  

Survey completion was voluntary. Carers Trust offered a prize of a £25 value wellbeing box for young carers or young adult carers who wished to supply their email address (not stored with their data). Not all young carers or young adult carers chose to enter their email. No other reward or remuneration from Carers Trust was offered to complete the survey.  

For our fieldwork, we collected responses via Microsoft Forms from 12 January to 3 February 2022. The survey had 32 questions of various types, such as: radio buttons, free text, Likert scales. The survey was available in English and Welsh.  

While the survey results haven’t been weighted by demographics and so are not necessarily nationally representative, it is nevertheless intended to provide an invaluable snapshot of young carers and young adult carers’ experiences and views from across the UK. There were not stark differences of the results across nations, which is why a breakdown of nation specific data has not been presented in the main report.  

About Carers Trust

Carers Trust is a major charity for, with and about carers. We work to improve support, services and recognition for anyone living with the challenges of caring, unpaid, for a family member or friend who is ill, frail, disabled or has mental health or addiction problems.   

We do this with a UK wide network of quality assured independent partners and through the provision of grants to help carers get the extra help they need to live their own lives. With locally based Network Partners we are able to support carers in their homes through the provision of replacement care, and in the community with information, advice, emotional support, hands on practical help and access to much needed breaks. We offer specialist services for carers of people of all ages and conditions and a range of individual tailored support and group activities.  

Our vision is that unpaid carers count and can access the help they need to live their lives.  

Topics

UK / Young Carers Action Day / Young adult carers / Young carers

 

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