2.4.2 Duration and frequency
The second complication associated with identifying carers is related to how much caring they do and how often they do it. This aspect came to the fore when carers were first identified in the 1985 General Household Survey, an annual statistical survey carried out by the Office of Population, Censuses and Surveys in the UK (Green, 1988). From answers to a question in the survey which asked if respondents took on ‘extra responsibilities’ for someone who was ‘sick, handicapped or elderly’, it emerged that there were over six million carers in the UK. This figure was estimated at 5.7 million in 2000 (Department of Health, 2000). In a UK population of 55 million people, that amounts to around one person in every 10.
Stop for a moment and think of 20 people that you know of all ages. Are two of them informal carers?
This estimate has been modified by refining the category of carer to mean a person who both is the main carer and also spends 20 hours a week or more on caring. It is calculated that there were approximately 1.5 million people in this category in 1995 (Bytheway and Johnson, 1997).
Adding this requirement to the definition makes it easier to target services and support, but excludes many people who, like Lynne, do work of considerable importance but do not get recognition. Indeed, the Carers National Association, the main group campaigning for the needs of carers, resists this narrower definition, and still quotes the figure of seven million in its publicity and press releases.