Being a carer

There are over a million carers in the UK and you may be one of them. If you provide unpaid practical and emotional support to a person who would not manage without your help, you’re a carer.

Caring for someone can be physically and emotionally demanding, but it can also be very rewarding. You may find that it has brought you closer to the person you’re caring for.

One of the challenges you may face could be combining work with your caring responsibilities. Estimates suggest that 500,000 people in employment are caring for someone with cancer. Many people may have to reduce their hours and some may decide to give up work. Support is available if you’re struggling to balance work and your caring responsibilities.

Caring for someone can mean:

  • being someone to talk to and a good listener
  • helping with everyday tasks
  • providing transport
  • helping with household jobs
  • helping with other healthcare tasks
  • babysitting for children
  • being there and giving general support.

It’s important to be aware of what you can and can’t do. There’s help available to support carers.

Are you a carer?

You may not think of yourself as a carer. But a carer is anyone who provides unpaid support to a partner, family member or friend who could not manage without this support.

Around 300,000 people are diagnosed with cancer in the UK each year. As treatments for cancer improve, more and more people who have cancer are learning to live with it as a long-term illness. So are their families, friends and colleagues.

Many people affected by cancer depend on the practical and emotional support of a carer. We know there are currently more than a million people in the UK caring for someone with cancer, and this number is going to increase.

The rewards of caring

Becoming a carer can be stressful and unsettling, especially as it can happen at any time and may not have been planned. However, caring can also be a positive and rewarding experience. Many people say they feel closer to the person they are caring for and feel good about knowing that they are helping.

Working while caring

Very often, carers have to combine working and earning an income with their new – and often unplanned – role as a carer.

Macmillan estimates that in the UK there are 500,000 people working full-time or part-time who are caring for someone with cancer.

Carers UK estimate that:

  • three million people in the UK juggle paid work with caring
  • around one in six of these carers may give up work to take on a caring role, and many will reduce their hours.

There are other useful organisations here to help you if you’re struggling to balance caring with work, or find more information on working while caring.

Different ways of caring

Caring means different things for every carer. What it involves will vary according to the needs of the person you’re caring for and what you’re able to do.

Caring can mean:

  • being someone to talk to and a good listener – someone they can bounce ideas off, or a shoulder to cry on
  • helping with shopping, collecting prescriptions and other errands
  • providing transport or going with them on trips or to appointments
  • helping with cooking, cleaning, laundry, gardening or other household jobs
  • talking to others on their behalf, such as healthcare staff or social workers
  • helping to get advice and information, for example about cancer, work or any support that is available
  • helping with making phone calls, writing letters and emails or filling in forms
  • giving medication, changing dressings and helping with other healthcare tasks
  • babysitting or caring for children and other dependants
  • sitting with or supervising them if they can’t be left alone
  • helping with washing, eating, dressing or using the toilet
  • looking after pets
  • helping with home or car maintenance, repairs and adaptations
  • helping with managing finances
  • being there and giving general support.

It’s important to understand the needs of the person, and to find a good balance between what you think is right for them and what they want. You should also try to be aware of the limitations of what you can and can’t do.


Remember that you don’t have to do everything yourself. There’s lots of help and support available.

Back to If you're a carer

Being there during diagnosis and treatment

When the person you care for is having tests or being treated for cancer, you may face a range of practical and emotional issues

Making decisions about care

If you’re a carer, you may sometimes find it difficult to know how much support you should and can provide.

Talking about your caring responsibilities at work

You don’t have to tell your employer about your caring responsibilities, but if you do, it can help them support you.

Caring when the illness gets worse

If cancer gets worse, you may no longer be able to care for your loved one at home. Support is available to help you.

Making decisions about work

If you’re a carer you may want to stop working temporarily or completely. It’s important to consider the implications of your decision.

Support for you

Caring for someone with cancer can be challenging and tiring. Help is available to support carers and enable them to look after their loved one.

Your rights at work

It's important to be aware of your legal rights as a carer. Your human resources department may be able to help you.