Unpaid carers

Unpaid carers provide care and support to family members, friends and neighbours. The people they care for may be affected by disability, physical or mental ill-health, frailty or substance misuse. A carer does not need to be living with the person they care for. Anybody can become a carer at any time in their life and sometimes for more than one person at a time. Carers can be any age from young children to very elderly people.

The actual number of unpaid carers living in Scotland is not known but it was estimated that there were around 700,000 to 800,000 before the COVID-19 pandemic. Survey work in September 2020 suggests the number of adult carers had grown to around 839,000.

The Scotland’s Carers research report (March 2015) and the latest update release (April 2022) brings together statistical analysis and research on caring and carers. We recognise the huge contribution made by unpaid carers and continue to work to improve support available to them.

Read the guidance for unpaid carers on COVID-19.


  • have established new rights to support under the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 and are working with partners to embed those rights
  • continue to work with young carers to develop the Young Scot Young Carers Package, which offers exclusive discounts and opportunities for all young carers aged 11 to 18
  • fund Carers Trust Scotland to run the Scottish Young Carers Festival to allow young carers to take a break
  • fund the facilitation of the Scottish Young Carer Services Alliance, a network of young carers services who share good practice and influence national policy development
  • fund a full time Education Officer based at Carers Trust Scotland and the launch of an education resource hub
  • fund the Carer Positive accreditation scheme to recognise employers who provide a supportive working environment for those balancing caring and employment
  • support the Triangle of Care project to support carers of those with mental health issues
  • fund the Carers Parliament, an annual one day engagement event for carers
  • provide funding, increased to £8 million in 2022-23 for the voluntary sector Short Breaks Fund, delivered by Shared Care Scotland and Family Fund
  • fund Respitality - a project which offers carers free short breaks and opportunities donated by the hospitality sector

More information is in the following sections:


We have also improved carer benefits. We have:

  • increased Carer’s Allowance by 13% through Carer's Allowance Supplement, benefitting around 120,000 of Scotland’s unpaid carers. In June 2020 and December 2021, we provided an extra Coronavirus Carer’s Allowance Supplement to carers in receipt of Carer’s Allowance
  • introduced Young Carer Grant for 16, 17 and 18 year olds with significant caring responsibilities in autumn 2019

We will introduce a new payment for those looking after more than one disabled person and we will also consult on the eligibility criteria for Carer’s Allowance.

More information on benefits for carers is in our social security policy.

Carers' charter

Our Carers' Charter (published March 2018) sets out carers' rights under the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016.


  • all carers have the right to a personalised plan to identify what is important to them
  • carers also have the right to support to meet their eligible needs and to choose how that support is delivered through self-directed support
  • every area must have a local carer strategy and carer information and advice service
  • carers also have rights to be involved in assessing the needs of the cared-for person and in decisions about discharging the cared-for person from hospital

Carers Act implementation

Our current Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 Implementation Plan (2021) sets out priorities for implementing the Act.

The Carers Rights and Support Steering Group (previously Carers Act Implementation Steering Group) is supporting ongoing implementation of the Carer's Act and wider policy for unpaid carers. This group includes local authorities, health boards, COSLA, third sector and carer representatives.

A range of local third sector and community support is available to carers and what’s on offer will vary depending on where you live. More information about what is available in your local area is on mygov.scot. 

Guidance for practitioners

Carer organisations

The national carer organisations are:

Other organisations:

  • Family Fund is the UK’s largest charity providing grants for families raising disabled or seriously ill children and young people
  • Care Information Scotland (CIS) is a phone, webchat and website service providing information about care services for people living in Scotland
Back to top