The contribution of unpaid carers in the UK

Stephen Ridley
Stephen Ridley

Unpaid carers play a crucial role in providing care and support to people with illnesses, disabilities, or other needs in the UK.

Despite the vital role that unpaid carers in the UK play, they often face significant challenges and barriers, including financial hardship, social isolation, and lack of access to support from social services. Many unpaid carers struggle to balance their caring responsibilities with work or education, which can lead to financial insecurity and a decline in mental and physical wellbeing. 

The value of unpaid carers in the UK

The contribution of unpaid carers in the UK is significant. According to a recent article by Sky News, the value of unpaid carers in England and Wales is equal to the NHS multi-billion-pound budget.

Following research by charity, Carers UK and the University of Sheffield, compared to an estimated £164bn in funding for the NHS in 2020-21, unpaid carers save the government £162bn per year. 

The figures show that within a decade, the economic value to the country of unpaid carers has increased by 29%. 

This government savings comes at a huge cost. Unpaid carers are giving up their lives, amid a declining availability of social care and support for families. All without the training needed to navigate the complexities of care. 

How many unpaid carers are in the UK?

According to Carers UK, the most recent Census 2021 data for England and Wales puts the estimated number of unpaid cares at 5 million That is 5 million people, including children as young as five, providing unpaid care, of some form, to people with long-term health conditions or problems related to old age. 

Let’s take a minute to digest that staggering number. 

If you’re wondering what qualifies as unpaid carers, it’s simple. Unpaid carers can be of any age, gender, or background, and they provide care to a wide range of people, including elderly relatives, children with disabilities, and people with chronic illnesses. Many unpaid carers work long hours and provide emotional, physical, and practical support to their loved ones, often at the expense of their own health and wellbeing.

Unpaid carers in the UK are struggling

A survey of more than 12,000 carers last year found that a quarter of unpaid carers were cutting back on food or heating. One third cited a decline in mental and general health, and 29% said they often or always felt lonely.

The reality is that unpaid cares in the UK are struggling. And there is no immediate resolution to this growing crisis. 

What’s more, with the significant rise in the cost of living, unpaid carers will inevitably feel the brunt. This is evidenced in research by Carers UK who found that between 2021 and 2022, there was a sharp increases in the numbers of unpaid carers eating into savings and cutting back on leisure, hobbies and seeing friends.

What support is available to unpaid carers in the UK?

Whilst there are a some government-funded services and support networks, such as respite care, support groups, and financial assistance, many unpaid carers still face significant challenges. As a result, there is a growing need for increased support and recognition for their important contribution to society.

Helen Walker, Carers UK chief executive has called on the government to create a funded national carers' strategy that supports those on low incomes.

The Department of Health & Social Care have set out a social care reform plan - Next Steps to Put People at the Heart of Care - which aims to deliver £700m in funding over the next two years - including up to an additional £25m for unpaid carers. 

But is it enough? It certainly doesn’t sound like it. 

Unpaid carers are stepping in to fill the void

Having to provide care for people around the clock has had significant implications on people’s ability to stay in paid work, remain financially resilient and maintain their health, says Helen Walker, Carers UK chief executive.

With the strain on social services, people are finding themselves in a position where there is a need for them to intervene, providing unpaid care to their loved ones. Often, to the detriment of their own financial and social situations, isolating them even further, in an already stressful and sometimes volatile situation. 

What’s next for unpaid carers in the UK?

Unpaid carers join the long queue of people in dire need of the government’s support. 

With shrinking support for families to lean on, the choice of becoming an unpaid carer is largely out of their hands. 

The reality is that we all owe unpaid carers a huge amount of respect and gratitude. But, let’s face it, a thank you just isn’t going to cut it. 

Steve Ridley
Business Director – Arch Resourcing

Sky News
Carers UK
Census 2021 – England & Wales
The Guardian

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The contribution of unpaid carers in the UK
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Unpaid carers play a crucial role in providing care and support to people with illnesses, disabilities, or other needs in the UK.