Every year almost 2 million people in the UK become unpaid carers. They take on the responsibility for looking after another person who, due to ill health, disability of frailty, cannot look after themselves. At the same time, another 2 million people stop being unpaid carers each year. While, the experiences and needs of unpaid carers are relatively well documented, little is known about the increasingly large group of former carers.
This research study aims to determine whether there is life after caregiving. It will explore the experiences of former carers, people who once provided care for another person, but who are no longer doing so. Caregiving sometimes comes to an end because the person being looked after has died, gone into a nursing home or the care is being provided by another family member. But we don’t know much about what happens to unpaid carers after that.
Although there has been some research done in this area with ‘bereaved carers’ this has focused mainly on their views and experiences of services and support provided to the deceased person. The aim of such studies has been to evaluate and improve the quality of services provided rather than explore the lives of carers in the post-caring period.
So we know very little about what life is like for unpaid carers once caring comes to an end? Do they find it easy to pick up the threads of their former life? Has caregiving left them with a legacy of poor psychical or mental health? Is there adequate support and information available to help them with this transition? Do they take on responsibility for another person who requires help? Or do they go on to positively embrace new opportunities and put the skills and information gained during caregiving, to a new use? Our research project provides a unique opportunity to explore these questions in a way that will provide fresh insights into unpaid carers’ lives and contribute to improvements in the support available to help them successfully negotiate this major life transition.
The project has been developed in close partnership between former carers and researchers at The Open University. Former carers have been involved from the outset in exploring the original idea, the development of questions and in piloting the questionnaire. The research will be carried out across the UK and it is anticipated that national and local charities will support the project by alerting and encouraging members to respond to the online questionnaire.
The project will also include a comprehensive dissemination process aimed at sharing the findings of the research with a wide audience including professionals, policy-makers, employers, the media and the general public, with a view to increasing understanding of the issues and improving practice in work with former carers. The dissemination process will include conference papers, workshops and online discussions for carers and former carers, as well as written reports and publications.
Former carers: life after caring? started work in March 2014 and we are currently revisiting the academic and research literature and reviewing recent policy. We have also started this blog which we plan to use to publicise the progress of the study and highlight the issues as they arise. The blog also enables formers carers or other interested parties to comment on or ask questions about the study.