Should we care? Why many carers have no choice

Family members shouldn’t be pressured to take on the caring responsibilities of relatives.

Increasingly, governments rely on family carers to provide aged and disability care services. For many, family care is a demonstration of love and duty, but often there is little choice.

The word carer is an awkward bureaucratic term that helped to make unpaid work visible. It was first used in the United Kingdom in the 1980s to describe unpaid family care tasks and responsibilities.

In a 1971 British Medical Journal article titled “The forgotten”, an unnamed special correspondent tells the story of Miss E. F. Like many unmarried women of that time, Miss E. F. had to “sacrifice her own interests for those of her parents” and give up “an active life of work in a busy office” to care for her elderly mother.

The article highlighted the work of the National Council for the Single Woman and her Dependants (NCSWD), which was established in the early 1960s. The NCSWD successfully advocated for single women like Miss E. F. and, in 1971, an Attendance Allowance for people who needed ongoing care was introduced in the UK.

Five years later, carers were awarded an Invalid Care Allowance. This payment was seen as compensation for giving up paid work to care, but was only payable to single women.

By the 1980s, the specific concern of single women with care responsibilities had spread to other family members and in 1986 the Invalid Care Allowance was extended to married women. A new, more broadly defined category of carers emerged in UK social policy.

Paid and unpaid care work remains undervalued. Flickr/simaje