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Reconsidering the term ‘carer’: a critique of the universal adoption of the term ‘carer’

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 November 2010

Division of Health Research, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK. Mersey Care National Health Service Trust, Liverpool, UK.
Mersey Care National Health Service Trust, Liverpool, UK.
Division of Health Research, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK.
Division of Health Research, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK.
Address for correspondence: Victoria Molyneaux, Clinical Psychology Department, Oak House, University Hospital Aintree, Longmoor Lane, Liverpool L9 7AL, UK E-mail:


This critique of the term ‘carer’ argues that, although developed as a result of well-intentioned and socially-engaged research, it fails the people with whom it is most concerned, that is ‘carers’ and those who are cared for. The paper considers the historical and political development of the term ‘carer’ before examining research in various ‘carer’-related settings in the United Kingdom, namely mental health, physical and intellectual impairment, cancer and palliative care and older adulthood and dementia. The article concludes that the term ‘carer’ is ineffective and that its continued use should be reconsidered. This conclusion is based on the consistent failure of the term ‘carer’ as a recognisable and valid description of the relationship between ‘carers’ and those for whom they care. Furthermore, use of the term may imply burden and therefore devalue the individual who is cared for and in this way polarises two individuals who would otherwise work together. Consequently, this commentary suggests that descriptions of the caring relationship that focus on the relationship from which it arose would be both more acceptable and useful to those it concerns. Furthermore, a more accessible term may increase uptake of support services currently aimed at ‘carers’, therefore inadvertently meeting the original aims of the term, that is, to increase support for ‘carers’.

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2010

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