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Family and friends as carers

Close family members and friends have difficult choices to make if they are considering caring for a loved one, as Jessica Tomlin explains.

Supporting son

When a loved one becomes incapable of looking after themselves, a close family member - and sometimes a close friend - will take on the responsbility to care for that person.

It is a big responsibility. It may mean living with the person being cared for, or spending many hours every day looking after the person.

For the person whose health is failing to the extent that they have to be cared for, asking a family member or friend is a difficult thing to do.

Key issues

Before asking a close family member or a friend to care for you, consider the following questions:

  • Does the carer work? If so, will he or she need to give up their job/reduce their hours?
  • Do you get on well enough with your prospective carer to want him or her to be your carer?
  • Have you had a care assessment to determine whether you need a full-time carer?
  • Is there anyone with whom your prospective carer could share their responsibility?
  • Do you think they will be able to handle the emotional pressure and stress?
  • What effect will it have on their immediate family?
  • How will other family member react? 
  • Can the prospective carer handle the tasks that you can no longer do? This doesn't just involve physical tasks, but personal, often intimate, care.

Caring for a loved one

Deciding to care for another person full-time or part time is a difficult decision.

You may feel obliged to care for a family member and see it as your duty. However, before you commit to becoming a carer you must be aware of how it will alter your life and that of the person you will be caring for.

When you are caring for someone, the relationship between you may change. You are likely to have less free time. The person you are caring for may often show resentment and frustration, through the realisation that they now have to depend on someone when previously they were able to cope.

And it is probable that because it is a family relationship, the carer and the cared for are more likely to express their frustration and annoyance, and less likely to express gratitude and tolerance. Families, hey?

Caring can be a lonely experience. It is a good idea to have a network of friends who are in similar situations and with whom you can share your experiences.

Ask yourself the following questions when deciding whether to become a carer:

  • Do you get on well enough with that person to warrant living together?
  • Has the person you will be caring for had a care assessment to determine what their care needs are?
  • Is there anyone you can share the responsibility with?
  • Can you deal with the emotional stress?
  • Can you accept having less time to yourself?
  • If you work, will this have an effect on your employment - will you need to give up your job or cut down the hours you work?
  • Could you handle having to carry out intimate, often embarrassing, personal care tasks for the person you are caring for?
  • How will other members of your family feel about you becoming a carer?
  • Is your decision influenced by feelings of guilt, duty, family pressure and if so, do you have the ability and strength to 'say no'?
  • If you don't want to act as a carer, what alternatives can you put forward?

Carers Allowance

The main state benefit is the Carers Allowance. To qualify, you must meet the following criteria:

  • You must be over 16 years old;
  • You must be caring for somebody for at least 35 hours per week;
  • The person you are caring for must receive a qualifying disability benefit;
  • You must not be earning more than £95 per week;
  • You must live in the UK.

You can apply for Carers Allowance in one of three ways:

  • ask for form DS700 at your local Social Security Office;
  • call the Benefit Enquiry line on 0800 882 200 (or 0800 220 674 in Northern Ireland); or
  • fill the form online

Direct Payments

If you are caring for someone, contact your local council's social services department to be assessed to qualify for Direct Payments.

These are paid to you in order to buy services directly from other companies or to employ your own help. For example, you may need some domestic help, or you may need to take a holiday.

Help with council tax

As a carer, you may qualify for council tax benefit if your income and capital (which includes your savings and investments) are less than £16,000.

However, people over 60 who are receiving the 'guarantee credit' of the Pension Credit may also be eligible even if they have savings of more than £16,000.

The local authority council tax office will be able to provide information about council tax reductions.

Disability Living Allowance

There are two components of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) - the 'mobility' component and the 'care' component.

If you have a physical or mental disability and need help with personal care and/or mobility, you may be entitled to one or both components.

Apply online by visiting the Government's benefits website.  The website also has details of the different weekly rates that you can expect to receive.

Alternatively, you can fill in a Disability Living Allowance form available from the local social security office or Job Centre Plus office.

A claim can take up to ten weeks to process, so don't delay if you think you may be entitled to this benefit.

If you are terminally ill, and are not expected to live for more than six months, there are special rules to help you get your claim through quicker.

Emotional support

There are many organisations and charities that offer support and advice to carers and the people being cared for. These include Help the Aged and Age Concern (now joined together); Alzheimer's Society; Independent Age; Mencap; Carers UK; Counsel and Care; The Princess Royal Trust for Carers; and Relatives and Residents Association.

Campaign for a better deal for carers

Carers UK, Mencap and the Alzheimer's Society are among nine leading charities behind a move to get a tetter deal for carers. They have drawn up a carer's charter, calling for improved benefits, including an increase on the weekly carer's allowance of £53.10.

They say that the six million carers who look after family members or friends at home often struggle to pay for their basic needs.

The charities complain that the carer's allowance is insufficient and too difficult to claim. 

For more information see the Carers UK website.

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