Care work is one of the most crucial yet undervalued, underpaid (usually unpaid) and unseen forms of labour that our society depends on. According to the 2020 Carers Week report, there are an estimated 13 million people with unpaid caring responsibilities in the UK. As the introduction to this BBC drama (9 February, 2.15pm) tells us, there are an estimated 700,000 young carers – children and teenagers who are the primary carer for a disabled or vulnerable family member – in the UK. And 70 per cent of them are “hidden”: almost no one outside of their home is aware of their situation. In 2015 the writer and director Matt Woodhead, who introduces the drama, conducted 200 hours of interviews with four young carers from Salford (Antonia Rae, Ciaron, Kerry and Paige) and worked with them to produce a “verbatim play” for the Lowry theatre based on their experiences. It went on to tour theatres and schools across the country and was performed at the House of Lords.
Now adapted for BBC radio, Who Cares follows three young carers: Nicole, Jade and Connor. After her mum left the family, it falls to Jade to look after her deaf brother Will and her father, who was left partially paralysed by a motorcycle accident. Connor cares first for his mother, who has serious mental health problems, and then his father when he is diagnosed with fibromyalgia. After Nicole’s mother experienced a stroke while dropping her off at play group, Nicole started caring for her at just four years old.
Framed around a typical day in their lives, we follow the three young carers as they juggle feeding their families, attending doctor’s appointments, fielding calls and texts from their parents and doing their schoolwork. Each is isolated from their peers, told off by teachers for lateness or absence and patronised by healthcare professionals. They are all frustrated by the cluelessness of the adults who are meant to look out for them.
Who Cares is at times a hard listen: there are graphic descriptions of multiple suicide attempts. But it also has a breezy directness, and a striking lack of self-pity – surely a result of how closely Woodhead worked with such remarkable young people to uncover their own life stories.
BBC Radio 4
This article appears in the 03 Feb 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Europe’s tragedy