What does a young carer do?

If you are under the age of 18 and spend time looking after someone who is ill, you are a young carer. Across the UK, about 1 in 5 children and young people are young carers.

You may not have realised that you are a young carer, or ever called yourself this before. But, as a young carer, you may do extra things to help your family. These may be things that your friends are not doing. For example, you might:

  • clean or do other jobs around the house
  • prepare meals
  • wash the dishes
  • do the food shopping
  • go out with the person who is ill to help them with shopping or other tasks
  • help look after your brothers or sisters.

You could be giving personal care to a family member who has cancer. For example, you might:

  • help them get dressed
  • give them their medicines
  • change their bandages.

You may also give emotional support to the person who is ill. For example, you might:

  • comfort them when they are upset
  • listen when they need to talk.

When you are not with them, you may worry about how they are coping.

Booklets and resources

Understanding cancer

When someone you know is diagnosed with cancer, you may have a lot of questions. We have more information about what cancer is, including an animated video.

Some people also worry that they will get cancer, because a family member has it. We have more information about cancers like this. Most cancers are not caused by inherited cancer genes. Doctors think that only between 3 and 10 in every 100 cancers may be an inherited cancer.

Cancer is not contagious. This means it cannot be passed from one person to another.

Impact of being a young carer

Emotional and practical impacts of being a young carer

Being a young carer can affect your life in many ways. You may have lots of different feelings and emotions and it can affect your mental health.

It can be hard to concentrate at school or college, find time to study or keep in touch with friends. Sometimes you may have to cancel plans to look after the person who has cancer. It can even feel like being a carer has taken over your life.

You may also worry about what is happening at home. At times, you may feel angry with the person you look after. You might feel that you are not getting enough attention, but then feel guilty for thinking that way. These are all normal reactions.

We have more information about:

Sometimes, your caring responsibilities change or you are not acting as a carer anymore. We also have more information about life after being a carer.

Money worries

When someone has cancer, it can affect how much money everyone in the family has. The person who is ill may have to stop working for a while. Other people in the family may also have to stop working, or work less, so that they can be carers.

There can also be extra costs, such as travelling to hospital or higher heating bills. These changes to the family budget can affect you if you are a young carer. But help is available if you or your family are having money problems because of cancer.

The government makes payments to people who need financial help. These are called benefits. Some benefits you may be able to get include the following:

  • Carer’s Allowance

    To get Carer’s Allowance, you must be aged 16 or over and not be in full-time education. The person who you care for must also get a certain disability benefit. If you are entitled to Carer’s Allowance, you may be able to get extra money added to certain other means-tested benefits. This is called Carer Premium. We have more information about Carer's Allowance.

  • Young Carer Grant (Scotland)

    This is a yearly payment for young carers aged 16 to 18 in Scotland, who are not entitled to Carer’s Allowance. You must spend an average of 16 hours a week caring for someone who gets a certain disability benefit. Find out more about Young Carer Grants.

  • Young Carers Package of Opportunities (Scotland)

    If you are a young carer aged 11 to 18 in Scotland, you can get a package of non-cash benefits. These include, cinema tickets, 50% off meals out, discounted study guides and first-aid training. To sign up for the package, you need a Young Scot National Entitlement Card.

  • Carer’s Credit

    To get Carer’s Credit, you must look after at least one person for 20 hours or more a week. We have more information about Carer's Credit.

We have a team of experts who can help with cancer and money problems. You can call our Macmillan Support Line free on 0808 808 00 00 to find out more about benefits. You can also chat to our experts online.

The person with cancer may want to apply for a Macmillan Grant through a health or social care professional. You or the person with cancer may be able to get help from a charitable fund. For more information, contact the charity Turn2Us. They can also call us on 0808 808 00 00 for financial advice.

Booklets and resources

Understanding healthcare

When you look after someone with cancer, you will probably meet lots of different professionals. It can help to write down the names and details of the professionals you meet, in case you need to contact them.

If you want to know about the health problems of the person you look after, doctors and nurses are the best person to ask. You may worry that you are bothering them. But it is still important to ask if there is something you need to know. You can also speak to our cancer experts on the Macmillan Support Line.

As a young carer you may have to manage some medicine for the person you look after. It is important to handle medicines safely. It is a good idea to make sure an adult knows you are helping with the person’s medicines.

We have more information about understanding healthcare, including a list of professionals you may meet, information for talking to doctors and nurses and information about managing medicines.

Your rights and choices as a young carer

As a young carer, you have the right to be supported and have the same chances as other people your age. We have more information about your rights and choices as a young person looking after someone with cancer.

Coping with being a young carer

As a young carer, you may feel overwhelmed by everything that is happening at home. Remember to look after yourself and ask for support if you need it.

Look after your health

It is important to look after your own mental and physical health, even if you are busy caring for someone with cancer. Getting support from others and having regular breaks can help you stay well.

It is a good idea to tell your GP that you are a young carer. They can give you support and advice. Tell them if you have problems eating or sleeping, or if you are struggling with difficult feelings or finding it hard to cope. You can also speak to a school nurse about any health concerns.

You can also call our Support Line free on 0808 808 00 00 or chat to us online (7 days a week, 8am to 8pm) for a confidential conversation.

Make time for yourself

If you do not look after yourself, you will not be able to help the person with cancer.

Try to set aside some regular time to do things you enjoy. This can help you relax and take your mind off the situation. We have more information about looking after yourself as a carer. The information is aimed at adults but there are ideas for you too.

Remember, you are still allowed to enjoy yourself and you do not need to feel guilty about this. Young carers’ services can help you take a break from caring, make new friends and have some fun.

Talk to someone

You could talk to a family member, friend or teacher about anything that is worrying you. Talking about your situation at home may help you deal with problems and get support.

Tell your school college or work

You may want to tell your school, college or manager at work that you are caring for someone with cancer. There may be times when you need extra help with your work or time off. If you are open about what is happening and the situation at home, your teachers or employer can support you.

We have more information about talking to your school and your work.

If the person you care for is nearing the end of life

Many people with cancer get better and recover from treatment. But sadly, some people do not. If someone you love is going to die of cancer, it can be very difficult to cope. Remember there is help and support available.

We have more information about what to expect when someone dies, and about grief when you are a young carer.

Where can I get support as a young carer?

When you are caring for someone with cancer, you may not be sure how to get the information you need. If you search the internet, you may sometimes find unhelpful websites that do not give accurate or reliable information. The Macmillan website has lots of information about different types of cancer, that you can trust.

You can call our helpline, the Macmillan Support Line free on 0808 808 00 00 or chat to us online (7 days a week, 8am to 8pm). Our experienced cancer nurses can answer your questions, give you guidance and help you find support services in your local area.

Many professionals and organisations help young carers, including social workers, hospices and charities. You may want to join a local support group, young carers’ project or an online forum.

We have more information about support for young carers.

About our information

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Chief Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 January 2021
Next review: 01 January 2024

This content is currently being reviewed. New information will be coming soon.

Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.