Academics and alumni help uncover the true number of young carers

16 Nov 2010 12:46:24.750

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The University of Nottingham has helped to uncover new evidence that the number of young carers in the UK is way beyond original official estimates and could be as many 700,000 — eight per cent of all children and four times more than originally thought.

The BBC surveyed more than 4,000 young people in secondary schools across the country using a special psychometric test — the Multidimensional Assessment of Caring Activities for young carers (MACA YC18) — devised by Professors Saul Becker and Stephen Joseph, and Fiona Becker in the School of Sociology and Social Policy.

Professor Becker said: “I think the figures published by the BBC today are a wake-up call to governments, to carers organisations, to civil society as a whole — that in our midst are many children — over half a million children in the United Kingdom, who are providing care to other family members, often at the expense of their own childhood. Is this a situation that we can tolerate in our society, that children are giving up to a large extent, their childhood?"

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Young carers are children and young people under 18 who provide substantial and regular caring to other family members on an unpaid basis.

The MACA YC18 is an unique research instrument which is being used in the UK and around the world to assess children with caring responsibilities. The tool has also helped to uncover the true number of young people who have these caring roles within the family — roles which often go unrecognised and for which they get little support.

Professor Becker said: “Young people complete an 18-item questionnaire which then allows us to identify whether or not they are carers and then the type of care that they provide to other family members. We can see if they provide personal and intimate care, emotional support, household and financial management, and other roles and responsibilities.”

The BBC survey reveals that these young carers, aged between five and 17, are helping the person they care for to dress or undress, have a bath or shower, or wash. Many more children are also involved in keeping an eye on the person they care for to make sure that they are alright, read to the person they care for, take them out for a walk or to see friends, and generally watch over them.

The result of this survey has been a revelation to Professor Becker. Only last year he and his team published new research, based on the 2001Census and other surveys that showed for the first time the extent of caring amongst young adult carers aged 16 to 24 years, and how they too are often invisible to service providers. The study revealed that many young carers and young adult carers have little, if any, choice about caring and experience difficult transitions to adulthood, work and in their own personal lives.

Two journalists who co-ordinated the latest research for the BBC are graduates of The University of Nottingham.


David Howard, who studied English is now a reporter for BBC’s Radio 1 Newsbeat programme. He said: “The idea of this project was to make a big impression across the whole of BBC News — TV, radio and online . We wanted the issues facing young carers to be discussed everywhere from the Breakfast sofa to local radio stations and the News at 10. We've met one little girl who — at just eight years of age — is an almost full time carer for her mum, who's got manic depression and other problems.  Elsewhere, carers in their teens are having to ask if their families will cope if they leave home to go to work or college. We've heard first-hand from incredible young people who lead difficult lives full of responsibility. But what has struck me more than anything is how many of them cope and even thrive under the most difficult of circumstances.”

Theology graduate, Jonathan Wells, who now works on the BBC One and Six o’clock news, said:  “From the eight year old in Dundee caring for her Mum with manic depression in a single parent household to a 13 year old in Blackpool looking after her Mum who’s a heroin addict and alcoholic Dad; over the last two months we have met some incredible children doing some amazing things.  Most of them are mature beyond their years and aren’t looking for pity. They are looking for better recognition and support from the wider public for the work they do.”

Professor Becker said: “The BBC findings reveal that there is an invisible army of children in the UK who provide unpaid care to other family members. The number of children involved is far higher than many people expected and this must be a wake-up call for all those in contact with children, in schools, health care, social care, careers services and so on, to recognise the young carers in their midst and to do something for them, especially to reduce the inappropriate caring responsibilities that many children have to carry.”

The University of Nottingham has a broad research portfolio but has also identified and badged 13 research priority groups, in which a concentration of expertise, collaboration and resources create significant critical mass. Key research areas at Nottingham include energy, drug discovery, global food security, biomedical imaging, advanced manufacturing, integrating global society, operations in a digital world, science, technology & society and children and childhood.

Through these groups, Nottingham researchers will continue to make a major impact on global challenges.


— Ends —




Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham, described by The Times as “the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, has award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and the QS World University Rankings.

The University is committed to providing a truly international education for its 39,000 students, producing world-leading research and benefiting the communities around its campuses in the UK and Asia.



More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranked the University 7th in the UK by research power.


The University’s vision is to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health.

More news from the University at:

University facts and figures at:

Story credits

More information is available from Professor Saul Becker on +44 (0)115 951 4546, 07970 861944,
Lindsay Brooke

Lindsay Brooke - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5751 Location: University Park

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