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After successful trial, Sainsbury’s and Department of Health to roll out ‘hidden carers’ initiative across UK

Sainsbury’s has launched an initiative to help identify and support the nation’s ‘hidden carers’.

Hidden carers are people who, despite having a caring responsibility, do not recognise themselves as carers. Encouraged by the results of a successful trial earlier this year, where Sainsbury's stores in the South West worked with the Torbay Care Trust to identify hidden carers, Sainsbury's has agreed to partner with the Department of Health (DoH) to roll out a similar scheme nationwide.

Sainsbury's identified hidden carers by first looking at research which showed that a typical supermarket has hundreds of customers each week who purchase groceries separately for others while doing their own shopping, a practice common amongst carers. Sainsbury's colleagues were then coached by the Torbay Care Trust (TCT) to identify these customers and to ask them whether they had caring responsibilities. If a customer indicated that they did have caring responsibilities, they were pointed towards trained members of TCT team who were based in the store.

Pharmacists working in these stores also received coaching to help identify customers that provide care for ill or disabled loved ones. If a customer collected a prescription on behalf of another person, the pharmacist would simply direct them to the TCT staff again based in-store. Carers often collect prescriptions for those they have responsibility for, with up to 85% of prescriptions nationwide not collected by the patient.

These two simple initiatives led to over 140 people signing up to the Torbay Carers Register in a couple of months, around double the number of new joiners the register would typically expect. Signing up to the register meant carers could gain access to the help, support and expert advice they need from local carers' organisations. By expanding the initiative, it is hoped that Sainsbury's and the DoH will be able to identify many more hidden carers.

As well as this new initiative, a number of Sainsbury's stores across the UK will also be actively supporting local caring organisations during Carers Week (13 June-19 June). Colleagues in the stores, led by Sainsbury's 'diversity champions', will be raising money for local carers' organisations and stores will also host representatives from carers' organisations, in an effort to increase awareness of the valuable work they do in the local community.

Jacki Connor, Sainsbury's colleague engagement director, said: "All our stores play an active role in the communities they serve, so we are delighted to announce this initiative. Research shows that around 6.4 million people in the UK care for sick or disabled loved ones, but many are not receiving the help and support they need. When we launched the trial in Torbay, we learnt that not only were many of our customers carers, but a number of our colleagues working in store too. Simple initiatives such as this can make a big difference and we hope it will play a part in identifying thousands of hidden carers across the country.

"I hope that this partnership will help increase awareness of an issue that affects millions of people across the country."

Paul Burstow, minister of state for care services, added: "I am delighted to support Sainsbury's on this valuable work. We know that many people with caring responsibilities do not identify with being a carer - they see themselves first and foremost as a mother, father, son or daughter. This means they can miss out on accessing vital information, advice and support.

"Sainsbury's work with Torbay Care Trust is a fantastic example of how business can link up with the public and voluntary sector to support carers within the local community."

Imelda Redmond, chief executive, Carers UK, said: "Carers UK welcomes this announcement - all such initiatives which help carers to identify themselves and come forward for support are to be applauded. We also welcome the recognition of our recent research, which highlights the massive contribution that unpaid carers make and the importance of ensuring they get the help they so urgently need and deserve. We look forward to continuing to work in partnership with Sainsbury's on this and other initiatives to support carers in the workplace and beyond."

In December last year, Sainsbury's signed a partnership with Carers UK. As a result of this, Sainsbury's has joined the leadership group of Employers for Carers, a membership forum of employers committed to working carers, chaired by BT and supported by the specialist knowledge of Carers UK. Sainsbury's is now working with Employers for Carers and Carers UK to ensure all of its HR policies are carer-friendly.

The care provided by the UK's 6.4 million carers is worth £119 billion each year, an increase of a third on the 2007 figure of £87 billion. The research from Carers UK shows that each carer saves the state on average £18,473 each year.