Half of young carers feel responsible for giving their family a good Christmas

Friday 20 December 2019

Nearly half of young carers feel responsible for giving their family a good Christmas, according to a new survey (1) released today Action for Children.

While other children and young people spend their time enjoying the Christmas festivities and a break from school, hundreds of thousands of young carers will be at home cooking, cleaning and looking after loved ones.

The UK-wide poll of young carers under 18 found one in five (21%) is looking after a loved one for longer than most people spend at work, as they care for 11 hours or more a day over the Christmas break. This would mean these young carers spend the equivalent of 10 days out of their two-week holiday caring (2).

44% of young carers surveyed by the charity said they have missed out on Christmas social activities in the past due to their caring duties and their isolation during the holidays leaves one in five young carers feeling stressed (20%) or lonely (19%).

Case study: Eleven-year-old Marissa Salter from St Ives in Cornwall cares for her mum, Suzanna, 51, who was left with serious spinal damage and arthritis following a car accident several years ago. Suzanna also suffers with a long-term lung disease, COPD, which causes severe shortness of breath.

Marissa’s older sister recently moved to the US, and Suzanna has a personal caring assistant from the NHS who visits for 8 hours a week to help out while Marissa is at school with bigger jobs like stripping the beds. 

Marissa said: “I’m really looking forward to Christmas because I’m getting a bike but sometimes it’s hard because I’ll be upstairs playing and then Mum will ask me to do something, so I have to go and do that instead. I feel it is my duty to keep mum happy over Christmas by helping out because if I don’t, I know she will be in more pain and that upsets me.

“In the mornings I have to get her out of bed, help her put her socks on and make her coffee. I also do the washing up, help with cleaning and the laundry and cooking. And I walk down to the shops to do the shopping because Mum isn’t supposed to lift anything.

“I get upset sometimes because I go online and see all my friends are going to places that I want to go to, and they haven’t told me about it because they know I can’t go.”

Julie Bentley, chief executive at Action for Children, said: “While most children spend their Christmas holidays decorating the tree, unwrapping presents or having fun with friends, it’s desperately sad that so many young carers feel it falls on their shoulders to give their families a happy Christmas.

“This time of year can be incredibly tough for young carers who are often isolated and missing out and at home cooking or cleaning instead of enjoying the festivities.

“The services currently available just aren’t enough to support the number of young carers (3). The new government must introduce a National Childhood Strategy to help them have a safe and happy childhood. But until all vulnerable children get the support they need, we will be there for them. And that’s why we’re asking the public to get behind our Secret Santa campaign.” 

Young carer services offer carers a break from their caring responsibilities, as well as providing practical and emotional support to enjoy life, just like their friends at school. Projects include day trips and residential breaks as well as help to access education and mental health services. This Christmas Action for Children is asking the public to Become a Secret Santa to support children like these young carers by texting CHILD to 70607 to donate £10 or by visiting


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Notes to Editors

(1) Action for Children polled 347 young carers across the UK in November and December 2019 via a Survey Monkey online and hard copy print-outs which were uploaded onto the Survey Monkey platform. Due to their isolation, lack of internet access and infrequent engagement with services, there are significant difficulties in reaching young carers.

(2) If a young carer cares for 11 hours a day, that’s equal to 154 hours over a typical two-week Christmas break (11 hours x 14 days). Divide 154 hours by 15 hours (assumption of waking hours, based on NHS sleep guidelines) = 10.26 days (about three quarters of the 14 days / the two-week holidays)

(3) Based on research by the Children’s Commissioner, it is estimated that only 20% of young carers receive support from their local authority (p. 2).

About Action for Children

Action for Children protects and supports vulnerable children and young people by providing practical and emotional care and support, ensuring their voices are heard and campaigning to bring lasting improvements to their lives. With 476 services in communities across the country, the charity helps more than 387,000 children, teenagers, parents and carers a year.