Double life of a devoted helper

ALANA ROBERTSON has the household responsibilities of someone twice her age. She is the type of young carer the Government is worried about.

At 13, she cooks and cleans and helps look after her 10-year-old brother, William, because her divorced mother, Susan, has osteoarthritis and diabetes and cannot lift anything heavy.

"Alana has had to grow up quicker than her time," Ms Robertson said.

Alana claims not to mind, because she loves her mother. But she admits sometimes it is hard.

"I do quite a lot," she said from their home near Kilmarnock. She makes her brother's breakfast and dinner and puts him to bed. All the effort makes it difficult sometimes to study. If she cannot find time for her homework in the evenings, she gets up at 6.30am to do it.

"I sometimes feel I'm missing out on life," she said. "Most people don't normally do as much as I do around the house and they go out. I just sit in most of the time."

Ms Robertson, 37, feels guilty Alana does so much but is trapped by her own immobility. Their only support is a cleaner for two hours a week. "Sometimes I wish Alana would let go the reins ... a bit. But she feels that she has always got to be there. She worries."