Caring: A Family Affair
Caring: A Family Affair

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Caring: A Family Affair

2.4 Defining terms

Why are we spending so much time and energy on asking whether Lynne is a carer? Does it matter? It would matter if Lynne wanted to apply for financial or practical support as a carer. It matters to budget holders to know how many people qualify, because carers are eligible for financial assistance. It would also matter to organisations which campaign for the needs of carers – organisations like the Carers National Association, Mencap, Age Concern or MIND. It would matter to a social worker making an assessment of the Durrants’ situation.

A National Strategy for Carers

In 1999 the UK Department of Health published its National Strategy for Carers which recognised that ‘Carers play a vital role – looking after those who are sick, disabled, vulnerable or frail. The government believes that caring is something which people do with pride. We value the work that carers do. So we are giving new support to carers. Carers care for those in need of care. We now need to care about the carers.’ (Department of Health, 2000, p.11)

The Strategy has three elements:

  • Information, including a new charter laying down what help and support carers can expect.

  • Support – carers need to be involved in planning and providing services, and should be consulted.

  • Care – carers should have their own health needs met, should be able to expect services to help them care, and should be able to take a break.

The Strategy covers all four countries of the UK.

National Strategy for Carers, accessed 15 May 2002

Nowadays the internet is a major study resource. We include website links like the one above just in case you want to follow up a particular interest in a topic. Whether you do is entirely your choice.

If we are to understand society we need to be as clear as we can be about the meaning of the words we use. When discussing something as complex and controversial as society and social policy, there are very few words whose definition is universally agreed. People alter definitions to develop new arguments. Although we are never likely to come to a watertight definition of any word – as the philosopher said, ‘I know what a mountain is, but that doesn't mean I can define it’ - understanding the different meanings words carry is something that merits attention.

My definition of an informal carer sounds fairly straightforward, but there are problems. Here I will consider four complications:

  1. interdependence

  2. duration and frequency

  3. labelling

  4. networks.

After considering these in turn, I will return to the definition and try it out in a different context.

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