The term ‘informal carer’ is a label. It was coined to describe people who take on unpaid responsibility for the welfare of another person. It is a term which has meaning only when the public world of care provision comes into contact with the private world of the family where caring is a day-to-day, unremarked-upon activity, like reminding a young child to clean her teeth. Labelling yourself as an informal carer requires a major shift in the way you see yourself, a shift neither Arthur nor Lynne has made.
Activity 5: Are you an informal carer?
Have you ever had ‘extra responsibilities’ for someone who cannot perform the tasks of daily living unaided, because of illness or disability? If so, did you call yourself an informal carer?
Perhaps you already saw yourself as a carer. Possibly you are now more likely to identify yourself as a carer than before you began to study this subject!
‘Carer’ is a word coined by professionals. It is a term that many ordinary people who fit the definition, like Lynne, do not apply to themselves. As Jill Pitkeathly, Director of the Carers National Association, put it:
Most of Great Britain's six million carers do not know that they are carers – ‘I'm not a carer, I'm a wife, a mother, a son’.
Pitkeathly, quoted in Burke and Signo, 1996, p. 24
It is sometimes quite hard to draw the line between what someone does as a member of a family and what constitutes being a carer. The task of recognising family carers has become more important as the importance of the job they do has been recognised. Carers are entitled to have their needs taken into account when decisions are made about what sort of extra help families need in caring for someone who is disabled or frail. Once they are identified, carers can be asked to take responsibility for someone who needs care. Carers can claim certain benefits like invalid care allowance, too. But to label yourself an informal carer means taking on a new identity.