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Time off

Getting time off

Grey-haired woman pruning roses: decorative image

Looking after a relative or friend can be exhausting and time off is vital. Carers who provide high levels of care are more than twice as likely to have poor health than people with no caring responsibilities. Occasionally, we all need some time to ourselves, whether it's an hour every day, a couple of hours a week, or a two-week holiday.

Looking after yourself if you're a carer is important. There are many ways to do this, from talking to friends about your experiences, to arranging a break for the person you're looking after (known as respite care). If you combine a paid job with caring, it's important to keep healthy while working.

Your friends and family may be able to help you with caring at home. If you need more help than that, you can ask the local authority of the person you're looking after to give you a carer's assessment.

Your needs

You can have your own needs assessed even if the person you're looking after isn't assessed. The social services department will then produce a care plan with details of the support and services you need to help you continue caring.

If you're the main carer of the person you look after, respite care is one way for you to have time off and look after yourself. You can use respite care to take a holiday or a break, or to recover from an illness of your own. These breaks can last for a week or two, or a morning every week, or both.

If you have a carer's assessment, or if the person you're looking after has a community care assessment, you may be offered respite care services free of charge by your local authority.

In this section, there's also information on different holidays that might be of interest to you and the person you care for. There's also information on getting funding for holidays and finding alternative care for the person you look after if you want to go on holiday without them.

Balancing your needs and caring for someone else show

Six million people in the UK are carers, looking after a parent, partner, child or friend. Caring differs from person to person. It can mean 24-hour care, seven days a week, or it can involve helping with the housework or shopping.

Carers often have to juggle other demands on their time, such as their work and their family. It's easy to run out of time for yourself, and you may have to give up your work or studies. Giving up your own life can leave you cut off from friends and workmates, and you may miss out on qualifications or get into financial difficulty.

Caring and work

Help is available to enable you to stay in work. Talk to your social worker or your local authority to see if they can give practical support, such as replacement care. If a paid care worker cares for the person you're looking after for at least part of the day, you may find it easier to continue working. Ask the local authority of the person you're looking after for a carer’s assessment for yourself, and an assessment for the person you look after.

An understanding employer can make a big difference to your life. Before you talk to your employer about the difficulties of juggling work and caring, think about what would make a difference, such as:

  • Changes to your working hours.
  • Practical help, such as replacement care.
  • Taking a break from work, such as a career break, or leaving work entirely. If you're considering the latter, ask about voluntary retirement or redundancy.

Learning

Taking a course, going to evening school, learning online or enrolling at a local college are all ways of learning something new and meeting new people. Learning can be a way of having time to yourself, and it can also be a step towards paid work or volunteering. If the idea of learning appeals to you, here are a few things to think about before you get started:

  • Do you want to learn a new skill or develop one you already have?
  • Where and how do you want to study: locally, distance or online?
  • How much time do you want to spend learning?
  • What help do you need to give you time for learning?

Leisure

Having interests of your own outside your caring role is important. If caring takes up most of your time, see if you can get support from family, friends, your local authority and support groups to allow you some time off. Respite care (alternative care for the person you're looking after so that you can have a break) can be arranged by getting an assessment for the person you're looking after.

Picking up old interests that you enjoy, such as reading, seeing friends, fishing or swimming, will probably improve your health, and will help you cope when caring becomes too much.

Many carers centres have activities, including days out, aromatherapy sessions and group meetings, which all give you the chance to make new friends. Find out if your local authority has a leisure discount card scheme or special concessions for carers and disabled people.

Your rights

The Carers Equal Opportunities Act was introduced to ensure that you have the support you need to achieve a better balance in your life. The Act gives you the right to ask the local authority of the person you look after for a carer’s assessment of your needs. During a carer’s assessment, the local authority will ask you about your work, learning and leisure requirements.

Help from your local authority

If you're a carer providing regular and substantial care, the law says you have a right to a carer’s assessment. This is the main way of getting help from the local authority. It gives you the chance to talk about the help you need with caring. The assessment should also look at your health requirements, and how you can balance other elements of your life, such as work and family.

Carers have the same rights as anyone else to pursue work, learning and leisure. The person carrying out the carer’s assessment should ask if you're willing and able to carry out all the tasks involved in caring. There may be some tasks that you find difficult, or you may find it too difficult to continue caring. It's important to tell the social worker if you're finding it hard to manage. Also discuss your health, how often you can take a break, and what support you would like during an emergency.

After the assessment, the local authority must consider your needs when it decides what help to give you and the person you look after. This is sometimes called a Care Plan. You should be given a copy of this.

The local authority sometimes charges for the services it provides you. The amount you're charged varies around the country. Make sure that you understand the charging policy, and ask to have it in writing.

Caring and learning

Barbara is a full-time carer for her autistic children. Watch how she keeps an outside interest by studying with the Open University.

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Last reviewed: 13/01/2010

Next review due: 13/01/2012

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