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Financial support is lacking for carers, thousands of whom are hard-pressed battling against stress and loneliness.

A national campaign to target the "hidden carers" was launched yesterday, aimed at the 50,000 people who are eligible for invalid care allowance but do not claim it because they are unaware of their entitlement. The Caring for Carers Campaign, organised by the Carers National Association, revolves around a freephone number - 0800 100 000 - which will tell people which benefits they may claim. Funded by British Gas, the national call bureau will be manned by volunteers.

"Many carers see what they do as a labour of love, or as a family responsibility - mostly because they are caring for a loved one and for that reason do not seek out the help that is widely available to them," said Jill Pitkeathley, chief executive of the Carers National Association.