Unpaid carers are the backbone of the health and social care system in Wales and across the United Kingdom. Under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, an unpaid carer is understood as an adult who provides care to another person who would not be able to cope without their support, whether due to physical illness, disability, mental illness or addiction. Unpaid carers may provide practical support, including housework, shopping and transportation, personal care, including washing, toileting and support with medical treatment (e.g., taking medication, managing dressings) and/or emotional support. People can become carers at any time in their lives and may find themselves responsible for the welfare of a partner, a parent, a disabled child, a relative, a friend or a neighbour with little or no prior preparation. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the responsibilities of unpaid carers have increased considerably. There are more unpaid carers than ever before, and most of those who provided unpaid care before the pandemic are now spending more time on providing care for another person. Despite the vital contributions they make on a day-to-day basis, unpaid carers are poorly recognised in public discussions of health and social care and have felt overlooked during the pandemic, in contrast to professional health and social care workers, whose efforts have received greater recognition.
Our study, which was funded by Public Health Wales, aimed to explore the experiences of unpaid adult carers across Wales during the COVID-19 pandemic. We carried out in-depth interviews, via video link or telephone, with a total of 47 participants, aged from 15 to 85 years. This work has helped to highlight the extent of challenges faced by carers prior to the pandemic, the nature of carers’ experiences during the pandemic, and what their hopes and concerns are for the future.