Unmasking the Invisible Heroes: The Plight of Hidden Unpaid Carers

In the quiet corners of our communities, unsung heroes labour tirelessly, their selflessness often hidden from view. Hidden carers provide essential support to loved ones without realising they bear the mantle of carering. During Carer’s Week this week, we shed light on their stories, challenges, and the need for recognition and support.

The Hidden Carer Crisis: A Statistical Reality

According to recent data, the United Kingdom has an estimated 5.7 million unpaid carers (1). These dedicated individuals, often spouses, parents, children, or close friends, quietly shoulder the responsibility of caring for someone with a long-term illness, disability, or age-related needs. Yet, a significant portion of them remain hidden.

Nearly three-quarters of people (73%) who provide, or have provided, unpaid care said they do not identify as, or call themselves, a carer (2). This suggests that a significant number of people providing care may not be receiving information, advice or support to help them with their caring role.

Among these hidden carers are 1.25 million carers who juggle caring for an older relative while raising their own families. 68% of these 'sandwich' carers are women (3).

The Implications of Remaining Hidden

The consequences of hidden caregiving ripple through the lives of carers and those they care for. Hidden carers suffer silently, missing out on vital support. Three-quarters of carers experience stress and anxiety due to their unmet needs (4). The little things – hobbies, socialising, self-care, also vanish from their lives. Although their caring responsibilities can be rewarding, hidden carers sacrifice their own well-being, neglecting themselves in service to others. They may also delay seeking medical attention for themselves or their cared-for individuals. Neglecting their own health can exacerbate existing conditions.

Many hidden carers provide support discreetly, with their caregiving roles remaining unrecognised due to a culture of privacy within families. Concerns about stigma or misunderstanding often deter them from identifying themselves as carers.

When carers remain hidden, although they are trying their best, the quality of care provided may suffer. Overburdened and unsupported, they struggle to meet the needs of their loved ones effectively.

Dorothy is 77 and cares for her husband, who cannot speak after a stroke. Dorothy's role as her husband's carer has, at times, been lonely and frustrating due to his inability to communicate. Dorothy cannot leave him alone, so she has no time for herself or the people around her.

n-compass is the largest provider of carers’ services in North England, supporting over 30,000 registered carers. Recognised as leaders in the field, we specialise in identifying, supporting, and empowering previously hidden carers of all ages and backgrounds, helping them receive additional benefits, access further support and resources, and introducing them to social networks and activity groups.

We want hidden carers to recognise their vital role. Their caregiving matters whether they're a spouse, parent, child, or friend; they don't have to do it alone.

Reaching out to Hidden Carers

We apply a multi-faceted approach. Our dedicated carer support teams spend time in places frequently visited by hidden carers, from GP surgeries and health centres to busy hospital waiting rooms and supermarkets. Here, we craft messages that resonate deeply with the caring role.

Our communication strategy is tailored to reflect the caring journey. Instead of direct questions like "Are you a carer?" we delicately probe, asking if they're currently looking after someone. We hope to strike a chord that leads to recognition by subtly portraying the caregiving role.

We collaborate with employers to identify and support carers within their workforce. Through observation, we help them spot subtle signs of caregiving responsibilities: frequent unplanned absences, weary appearances, or a pattern of missed social engagements. Empowering employers with insights, we advocate for carer-friendly policies to foster a more harmonious work-life balance.

Furthermore, we don't overlook the crucial role of friends in the lives of carers. Through grassroots networking, we encourage friends to become allies, prompting them to consider if someone in their circle might be silently shouldering caregiving responsibilities. Passing on our contact details can bridge hidden carers to the support they desperately need.

In each interaction, our aim remains steadfast: to identify the path for hidden carers, ensuring they realise the significance of their role and understand that they need not navigate this journey alone.

"I am grateful for the support. I no longer feel alone; we have made  new friends, and I can take a break from my caring role".