BBC: “Carer” and “care worker” are not synonymous

Dear BBC,

A person who provides care but who is not paid to do so is a carer. These people are normally relatives — spouses, parents, children, or siblings.

A person who provides care and who is paid to do so is caring, but is not a carer. They are a care worker, or care assistant, or personal care assistant, or health care assistant.

This is an important difference!

Care workers are employees and deserve all the protections that employees have. They often work for low pay and poor conditions — zero hour contracts are common. Some of them will work for organisations that are subject to regulation. One of the recommendations of the Francis Report was that HCAs are registered.

Carers are not employees. Carers are not paid for the work they do. (Although some carers can claim Carers Allowance). Not all carers are adults. There’s an estimated 1 in 12 children in secondary schools who have a care responsibility or who are “impacted by family ill health”. It takes on average 5 years to identify a child carer. It takes 2 years to identify an adult carer. This is partly because of the confusion caused by broadcasters misusing the words. Identification of carers is important because they are entitled to help and support for the important unpaid work that they do.

These are important details for any articles you broadcast. Your viewers, listeners, and readers need to know about the regulatory framework (or lack of) for care workers, or that you’re talking about elder abuse by their children and not elder abuse by a care worker.

So, just as “cardiac arrest” and “heart attack” are not synonymous you should add a note to your style guide saying that “carer” and “care worker” are not synonymous.

The BBC may say “we reflect current usage of the words. When we talk to people these are the words they use”. I have some sympathy with that view, but you don’t do it for “terrorism”. You say:

but its use can be a barrier rather than an aid to understanding

and:

We should not adopt other people’s language as our own. Our responsibility is to remain objective and report in ways that enable our audiences to make their own assessments about who is doing what to whom.

The way the BBC misuses these words causes harm, and causes confusion. Please add these notes to your Style Guide.

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